Fostering a sense of community, let alone holiday spirit, has required some innovation from Bethesda Project.
The organization operates 14 locations for the homeless in Center City — ranging from an emergency shelter to small, independent living spaces.
In a year without COVID-19, Bethesda Project would bring in volunteers to host meals, sing carols and decorate the organization’s residences.
But, since March, they have prohibited in-person visitors, including volunteers, to prevent the spread of the virus.
Still, there are ways to help.
Bethesda Project is looking for volunteers to prepare food to drop off or hire local restaurants to cater meals. They are also taking donations of backpacks, gift cards, belts and winter coats, gloves, hats and scarves, among other items.
In addition, the organization is interested in having groups host online carolling and bingo nights and drop off arts and crafts supplies and holiday decorations.
“There’s lots of different ways that people can still get involved even if they can’t be on-site and in-person, interacting,” said Tina Pagotto, Bethesda Project’s CEO.
Many Philadelphians, heeding the advice of public health officials, spent Thanksgiving away from family, and they fear having to spend Christmas or Hanukkah at home.
For homeless people who have lost touch with their families, that’s the reality every year, and it can leave them feeling disconnected, Pagotto said.
“As much joy as the holidays can bring, they can also bring a deep sense of sadness and loss for people that have experienced trauma,” Pagotto told Metro.
Even little gestures, such as dropping off candy canes or mailing cards to residents, can make a big difference.
“These small acts of kindness go a long way in helping people to recognize their humanity and to regain their sense of dignity and self-worth,” Pagotto said.
Every year, the organization gives out gifts to everyone staying at their facilities, and volunteers play a big role in supplying those items.
Individuals or groups, like those connected with churches or companies, are encouraged to “adopt” one of the sites and provide the gifts. They’re looking for backpacks, wallets, belts, earplugs, blankets, men’s socks and underwear and $25 gift cards to places like Wawa and Target.
It may seem daunting, cooking a meal or purchasing items for an entire shelter, but Bethesda Project’s locations range in size, with some accommodating as few as four people.
“There’s lots of room in between based on what people are able to do and what needs they might have,” Pagotto said.
The organization’s emergency shelter, called Our Brothers’ Place, usually has 150 beds, but its capacity has been reduced in accordance with social distancing.
Pagotto has been pleased with the support Bethesda Project has received so far this holiday season. A Giving Tuesday fundraiser on Facebook generated more than $16,000, and a donor has offered to match that total.
“As a community, Philadelphians really care and look out for one another, and we’re certainly seeing that at Bethesda Project with the amount of support and interest people have in caring for the people that we serve,” she said.
For more information, visit www.bethesdaproject.org.