City, shelters prepare for bitter cold Thanksgiving with outreach to Philly’s homeless

Homeless men crowd into the dining room of the Sunday Breakfast Association, where a prayer service was being held.

Homeless men crowd into the dining room of the Sunday Breakfast Association, where a prayer service was being held. On Thursday, the shelter in Philadelphia will be serving Thanksgiving meals to an expected 500 guests. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

This Thanksgiving will be the coldest in Philadelphia in about 100 years with daytime highs not expected to exceed 30 degrees. Wednesday morning, the city pre-emptively declared a Code Blue for the holiday.

Albert DiSanti is currently living in the men’s shelter at the Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission, Philadelphia’s oldest homeless services provider.

Sitting in the cafeteria the day before Thanksgiving, paging through a scuffed-up fashion magazine, he thought  back on just how awful it is to be outside on a Code Blue day.

“It’s ugly out there when it is cold and you have nowhere to go,” said DiSanti. “If you have no money, you can’t go places, even to get a cup of coffee. You can get that hypothermia. I’ve seen guys with their fingers cut off from that. It’s real bad.”

When the Code Blue starts Thursday at 7 a.m., 14 homeless outreach teams — four more than usual — will spread out though the city. Emergency shelters are being set up to ensure that no one has to sleep outside.

The newly expanded Hub of Hope below Suburban Station will be open as well, serving coffee and offering meals.

The city’s shelters, including the rescue mission, have been preparing. Although the shelter beds here are only for men, the cafeteria is open to all.

“This year, we are expecting a record number of guests to come to Sunday Breakfast [for the holiday],” Elizabeth Hefner, director of advancement for the organization, said Wednesday. “We are already seeing those numbers rise. Last night, our shelter was already full, 225 beds with 33 overflow beds. And we know tomorrow we are expecting to see even more guests.”

The Thanksgiving meal will be served at lunchtime Thursday at the mission, and the chefs in the shelter’s kitchens have been cooking since Monday in preparation for the event and the 500 guests expected throughout the day.

They have 25 turkeys and 200 pounds of sweet potatoes on hand. Pumpkin, pecan, and sweet potato pies are being prepared, along with macaroni-and-cheese and fresh garden salads (without romaine lettuce, Hefner made sure to note).

For those seeking volunteer opportunities, however, the mission is not the right place to go.

“We have had our volunteer times for Thanksgiving filled since August,” said Hefner. “We don’t have a hard time finding volunteers at any time of the year, but the holidays are always [booked up].”

Asked if there is any particular Thanksgiving meal he is hoping for, DiSanti shook his head.

“Just to have something to eat tomorrow is fine with me,” he said. “I’m not even trying to go outside. I’m going to try and warm, stay with people, maybe even get to know a few guys.”

If you see anyone who seems to be homeless and in need of a place to stay, call the city’s code blue emergency hotline: 215-232-1984

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