Hot meals, warm clothes provided to Phoenix unsheltered community

Lynn Reece doesn’t go home to a warm bed and familiar faces every night.

She sleeps in a Phoenix shelter that houses up to 700 people daily and carries a couple of bags with her filled with every one of her belongings.

This Thanksgiving, Reece was given a warm meal, a sense of community and new winter clothes during the Nick Lowery Youth Foundation’s Champions for the Homeless event hosted at the Society of St. Vincent de Paul’s Human Services Campus in Phoenix.

Thursday marked the 60th “Champions for the Homeless” event, which is hosted by the Nick Lowery Youth Foundation five to six times a year. Organizers aim to provide “humanization of the homeless,” according to Nick Lowery, former Kansas City Chiefs kicker and the founder of the event.

“The most important thing is looking at everybody in the eyes and treating everybody with respect and love,” Lowery said. “We hope to create and re-create normalcy and hope for them.”

The event was hosted in the dining room part of the campus, the same property where the Central Arizona Shelter Services sits and where Reece lives in transitional housing.

“I think you can always find something to be thankful for,” Reece said. “Community and coming together is a part of what I’m thankful for. I’m thankful for all the blessings today.”

Reece received a long sleeve shirt to combat the cold, gift cards to McDonald’s, a stuffed animal to keep her company, a fresh and warm Thanksgiving meal made by volunteers, a backpack and other necessities.

Reece was one of a thousand other people experiencing homelessness who benefited from the event.

A live band played in the dining room and attendees were offered colorful and fragrant carnations from volunteers as they entered. Reece said that gesture immediately put a smile on her face.

Attendees received a traditional Thanksgiving meal made and provided by volunteers and then sat in the company of others in the dining room or outside. Volunteers gave out mint chocolate chip ice cream and engaged in conversation, creating a warm and welcoming environment reminiscent of a big family gathering on Thanksgiving.

Outside of the dining room, the complex was transformed into a makeshift hair salon and massage studio with hairstylists and masseuses offering their services. Rows upon rows of shoes, clothes, undergarments, sanitary kits and backpacks filled the space for guests to pick out what they liked and needed.

Coleen Nelson, who lives in a low-income apartment and is currently unemployed, has a special appreciation for the volunteers, staff and the Nick Lowery Youth Foundation for making this event possible.

“They make time just to see our faces light up and say, ‘Welcome, we want to feed you and let you feel the love and appreciation that you are here. You made it through another year,'” Nelson said.

Reece said it was a “touching experience” to see volunteers helping people experiencing homelessness.

“Thanksgiving is always a really special event. It tends to bring out a ton of volunteers and community support,” said Danielle McMahon, associate chief operations officer at St. Vincent de Paul. “Everyone is here to really help our guests feel loved and feel special.”

Volunteers range from families donating their time, young adults wanting to give back and members of the unsheltered community who live on the St. Vincent de Paul Phoenix campus.

Tyrone Allen, who stays at the 100-bed shelter Respiro off Ninth Avenue and Jackson Street, chose to volunteer Thursday as a way to give back to St. Vincent de Paul for the help it has provided him with.

“I’m in my final stages (of being without a permanent home) … They have helped in every aspect: emotionally, mentally, financially,” Allen said. “With my days off, I come back here and help when I can.”

Allen also hopes to inspire those receiving services at the shelters or dining hall because he is in the same place as them and is working to find a way out of homelessness.

The St. Vincent de Paul Human Services Campus provides about 1,000 beds every night and two meals a day for Phoenix’s growing unsheltered population. The nonprofit organization provides medical, dental and wellness services and other resources for people wanting to exit homelessness.

The event on Thursday came one day before Nelson’s birthday, which she said was the greatest gift, holding her bags of new clothes and stuffed animals to give to her kids on Christmas.

“Hopefully, this is my last year here. I’m grateful for everything. The community really comes together and pulls through for us,” Nelson said.

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