By James Coughlin
For more than four years, All Saints Episcopal Church on Irving Street has hosted a free community meal for members of Worcester’s homeless community.
Held from 12:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Thursdays, church staffers and volunteers give a generous welcome to the guests. A line began to form at one of the church’s auxilliary entrances at noon. The doors opened promptly at 12:30.
Arriving guests were asked to give only their first names and register with the reception desk. They were each given a nametag. There is also an area where the guests can freely help themselves to all kinds of free clothing, including underwear, socks, gloves and scarves.
Sandwiches, ranging from turkey and cheese to tuna fish,were served initially along with soup and a small salad; later, a main dish consisting of some kind of pasta or eggplant was provided.
About 10 volunteers who prepared the food and acted as hosts and hostesses were dressed in their “Sunday best,” and wore bright yellow vests.
Not officially part of All Saints Church the volunteers are part of an association known as but rather “Worcester Fellowship Interfaith Hospitality.”
The Rev. Lyanna Johnson, pastor of the hospitality program, has overseen the effort for the past four years. She is planning to leave in two weeks to take up a ministry in Austin, Texas. “We are offering this program because they are our brothers and sisters,” she said. “Our being here is a way of reminding each of them that they are God’s beloved children.”
Johnson is being replaced by Pastor Zach Kerzee of the Simple Church in Grafton.
Several of those whom I initially asked to be interviewed declined to talk and I totally honored their “No.” Eventually, I met a couple, a man and a woman who agreed to be interviewed. For the purpose of my article, they went by their first names of Dave and Amy.
Dave told me that he has been coming to the All Saints lunch for about two years. He said that he has been “homeless for about two years” and has been staying at a “combination of shelters and living outside.”
However, he said that within the fairly recent past he has been staying in subsidized housing in Worcester that has been provided by South Middlesex Opportunity Council, SMOC.
Dave said he had formerly been successful as an electrical engineer,“working all over the country” for IBM, and in several states including North Carolina, Texas, Georgia and New York.
When asked to go on the record about the weekly meal, he said, “This place helps a lot of people with mental illness because there is a stigma involving mental illness and being homeless.”
“I developed a problem with anxiety, and with my concentration and could not do the job,” he said. He added that he does not currently work and but plans to interview for day labor jobs
“It’s the only thing I have enough concentration to do,” he said.Amy, his friend, has been homeless “off and on” and she, too, is also living in SMOC housing.
She has had similar experience with being homeless, “off on on” and she too is also living in SMOC Housing, (off Queen Street in Worcester.) She formerly worked as a Corrections Officer at MCI – Framinghhman for six years and in law enforcement. She also said that she previously worked as a Paralegal.
Amy, like David said she became homeless “because of a mental breakdown.” One of the guests who freely identified himself for this article was Julian Burgos who has lived in Worcester for two months. He said he has been homeless for only about a week and became homeless as a result “of drinking and said something, and the landlord called the police and I spent the night in jail.”
For the time being, he has been staying at both the Hotel Grace near St. John’s Catholic Church on Temple Street and the Queen Street Shelter across from the site of the former Worcester City Hospital.
Burgos, born in Westchester, PA said he was previously jailed for a short time in Pennsylvania and among those who were being held at the facility where he was staying was the former TV sitcom actor and comedian Bill Cosby, (formerly known as “America’s Dad) who was sentenced in 2004 for up to ten years in prison for aggravated sexual assault.
He said he saw the former actor, now visually impaired, behind a glass partition and was happy to meet him “because he was a major part of my life.”
Burgos said, “Cosby was a nice guy.”
Among the crew of volunteers at the lunch on Thursday, January 23rd were Page Cassidy and Vulia Nguyen, two students from Worcester’s Bancroft School, who said they are in the process of getting other students from their school to donate blankets and other articles of clothing for the guests at theHospitality Program.
Retired Episcopal Bishop Mark Beckwith greeted the guests as they came into the meal. He previously served as the bishop for the Newark Diocese, from which he retired in 2010. Other volunteers who have been helping from the very beginning of the program included Larry Schuyler, formerly of Worcester, and his wife, Lynne. The couple now lives is Oakham
At the conclusion of the meal, when the volunteers were doing the breakdown of the meal, Schuyler briefly organized the volunteers for a “laying on of hands and prayer” for retiring Pastor Johnson who is returning to her home in Austin, Texas.
This was a very touching moment for some of the volunteers, along with this reporter, in saying good bye to her because she touched the members of the program so deeply.
“Via con dios,” Pastor Johnson: Spanish for “Go with God.”
Make our city a better city!
This city is challenged – social ills, broken families, welfare cheats – dysfunction junction! This doesn’t mean we give up! Two great city depts:
IF YOUR NEIGHBORS ARE HURTING YOU OR YOUR PETS … IF YOUR BUILDING IS A DUMP – AND YOUR LANDLORD IS A SLUMLORD – YOU HAVE RIGHTS!
For your building/three decker: Call the City of Worcester Inspectional Services. Good peeps who know the challenges. They will come down to your apartment and check it out FROM TOP TO BOTTOM … and the City WILL cite your lanlord if there are code violations! Their phone number: (508) 929-1300
And … NON-EMERGENCY WORC POLICE – TO TALK WITH A POLICE OFFICER AND FILE A REPORT with WPD: Call (508) 799-8606
– Rose T.
Dorrie gave me two blankets, a comforter, jacket, mittens and more to hand out to Worcester’s homeless youth and street people – which I did! ALWAYS AN AWESOME EXPERIENCE! THE LOVE, the high of giving!! Feels great to connect one on one – chat and see folks immediately wear/use what you just handed them. Every face unforgettable … so beat up, missing teeth, squinted eyes, red eyes …
❄️Rose: Can you use this blanket?
Guy: You bet!! Thank you!
Grabs the blanket and places near his backpack.
❄️Rose: Do you need mittens and this comforter?
Gal: Everything! (and she walks to my car and reaches in to pet my dogs. Lilac gives her kisses!♥️) She says: YOU HAVE THE BEST DOGS!
Her face is covered with little red spots and a bigger red blotch – she is suffering. The women on the streets have it so hard!! Pray for them!! Help them!! Last week one girl I gave a scarf and hat to had a black eye and bruises on her face!
– text/pics: Rose T.