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Food and Sharing Mark Thanksgiving at Bethlehem House

Nov. 24, 2005 – When Richard Gomez noticed that many of the island's homeless weren't showing up for Thanksgiving dinner at Bethlehem House, he delivered.
"I took about 30 or 40 dinners out to my outreach clients," he said Thursday afternoon.
He found them congregated together in various groups, he said, around Simmonds Alley, lower Kronpridsens Gade, and in Contant by the car wash.
Gomez, assistant manager of the shelter in Hospital Ground, said he thought the inclement weather had kept some from showing up for dinner at the shelter. And, he said, of those that did show many got their dinners and left. Some were from the neighborhood, Michael Akin speculated. Akin is executive director of Catholic Charities of the Virgin Islands – the umbrella agency for Bethlehem House.
Akin, who was at the shelter Thursday midday to help serve the meals, said later, "You could tell they really needed it [the food], and that's good."
But several former shelter residents and volunteers were still gathered mid-afternoon, eating and reminiscing about what it was like to be homeless, and how they found shelter and stability.
Lowe Murray said a divorce drove him to the streets in the late 90s. "I was working two jobs and still couldn't afford a place." Eventually, Murray found his way to Bethlehem House, where he now volunteers. "From here I got my apartment," he said. "I've been pretty stable since 2000."
Wilfredo Sanchez lived in a van, "that didn't move," for eight months.
"Boy was it hot," he said, "and full of mosquitoes."
Gomez, who also once was a resident of the shelter he now manages, said, "Even though we're okay now, we're always a paycheck away from being homeless again."
But Gomez takes comfort in knowing that Bethlehem House is there. "We always have a place to call home."
Larry Buckney agreed. Buckney, who also got back on his feet at the shelter after living in a car in Hospital Ground — a few blocks from the shelter, now also volunteers. "I will do anything," he said, as did Sanchez.
"I want to pay back," Sanchez said, "and I feel good about it."
The shelter served about 70 Thanksgiving meals on Thursday. Turkeys, hams, stuffing, macaroni and cheese, and pies, made up the fare.
Prime Foods, Quality Foods and Pueblo all made food donations.
All Saints Cathedral School, Joseph Sibilly Elementary School, Addelita Cancryn Junior High School and Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic School, donated canned goods.
Six volunteers did the cooking and serving, Akin said.
"We were going to Pueblo to buy pies, but they just gave them to us," Akin said.
And, a local businessman and his family showed up with an already-prepared turkey, Akin said. "It smelled great."
A woman recently arrived on the island from Boston, who gave her name only as Mary, said goody bags had also been handed out earlier. "There was all kinds of stuff," she said.
No one knew who had donated the bags.
Mary and a friend were robbed as soon as they arrived on island, she said. She's been staying at the shelter for about a week, while deciding whether to remain on St. Thomas or try to find her way back to Boston.
The group of four of five former residents sat, full from their dinners, discussing the reality and causes of homelessness. "Bad luck," said one.
"These are intelligent people, " Gomez said."Situations like the ones we've faced make you stronger," he said, but added, the Legislature needs to address the problem of high rents in the territory. "We need affordable housing in the Virgin Islands."

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