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Northeast Michigan groups work to feed needy for Thanksgiving

News Photo by Julie Riddle At the Sunrise Mission Educational Center in Alpena, mission director Barbara Matheran displays pictures colored by children in a room set up for a Thanksgiving dinner to be cooked by mission residents.

ALPENA — Thanksgiving, traditionally a time of gathering in homes with loved ones, looks different when you don’t have a home.

Most years, the Sunrise Mission homeless shelter in Alpena provides a Thanksgiving feast to help its residents celebrate the day.

With the coronavirus pandemic changing the rules for get-togethers during the holiday, the mission had to adjust plans this year.

But, the feasting continues, according to Barbara Matheran, director of the mission.

The mission is among the Alpena-area groups that, despite a need for Thanksgiving separation for the sake of safety, are working to make sure the day is stuffed with good food and as much togetherness as possible for those with no place to call home.

News Photo by Julie Riddle At the Sunrise Mission Educational Center in Alpena, mission director Barbara Matheran displays a room ready for a Thanksgiving dinner to be cooked by mission residents.

Last week, Sunrise Mission staff prepared a holiday meal with turkey and all the trimmings — courtesy of financial donations from the community — for residents and former residents of the mission.

To stay safe, diners ate in shifts, with a limit of 10 in a room at once.

On Thanksgiving itself, six or seven residents who have expressed interest will cook their own Thanksgiving meal together in the kitchen of the mission’s educational center, located next door to the residential building on Chisholm Street.

If they like, the chefs can enjoy the meal together in the decorated dining area.

The residents may not have family members to invite, but they can be each other’s temporary families for the season, Matheran said.

News Photo by Julie Riddle At the Sunrise Mission Educational Center in Alpena, mission director Barbara Matheran reads a card from area children who donated money to the mission to help residents enjoy their holidays.

Other residents will be gone that day, spending the holiday with families of their own.

“Just because you’re in a mission, that doesn’t mean you don’t have family you want to share holidays with,” Matheran said.

The mission is currently at roughly half capacity, or 17 residents, though that number varies by day as people come and go.

The mission has to follow health protocols, minimizing the number of people in one place at a time, and one room usually used for families has to be kept open as a COVID-19 quarantine room.

The shelter recently started providing care packages for local folks who don’t qualify to stay there, including non-perishable items, a blanket, and a coat.

News Photo by Julie Riddle Mike Fisher, assistant director at Sunrise Mission in Alpena, shows a sampling of food that will be used by mission residents to make their own Thanksgiving meal on Thursday.

No residents are being accepted from downstate, where infection rates are higher, although the shelter gets calls from all over the country asking if they have room to take in a few more people.

“We’re just a little house,” Matheran said. “We’re not a one-stop-fits-all. Our obligation is to make sure the people under our care are safe.”

In the attractive rooms of the educational center, residents of the mission who sit down for Thanksgiving dinner will feel a little more like the house is a home.

Pictures colored with crayon and marker by the children of some of the dinner’s donors decorate the wall “to let people know that they’re cared about,” Matheran said.

Down the street, at the St. Bernard Catholic Church parish hall, a full Thanksgiving meal will be provided to anyone who needs it.

In the early hours this morning, Director Randy MacAulay will start preparing 10 turkeys for the portable feast, enough for about 135 meals.

The St. Bernard’s Friendship Room has been serving to-go meals to the homeless and other people in need since April, feeding about 120 people a day.

More people are coming for the free meals since before the pandemic, when sit-down meals averaged 90 diners.

In coming weeks, as temperatures drop, the not-just-soup soup kitchen will have to decide how to safely provide bagged meals that have been set on tables in the open double doors of the parish hall.

In the meantime, turkeys and other treats are being readied for Thanksgiving takeout.

“Nobody’s going to go hungry, that’s for sure,” MacAulay said.

In the dining area of the Sunrise Mission Educational Center, Matheran grinned as she held up a fall-colored card and envelope. School children in Rogers City held a penny drive, she said, and raised $2,000 for the shelter.

That money will probably provide shelter residents a very nice Christmas dinner, she said.

“It’s just unbelievable how generous and kind people in this community are,” Matheran said. “It’s amazing.”

At last week’s dinner, one guest looked at the tables loaded with turkey and all the side dishes and said, “This is food for homeless people?”

“I’m like, ‘Hey, we want you to feel like you’re important to us,'” Matheran said. “Because you are.”

Julie Riddle can be reached at 989-358-5693, jriddle@thealpenanews.com or on Twitter @jriddleX.

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