Each year the Wednesday before Thanksgiving I find myself walking into Florian Hall in Dorchester along with dozens of volunteers from the Department Mental Health, kids from local schools, members of the Boston Fire Department Local 718, Friends of Metro Boston, State Senator Jack Hart, and other friends of the mental health community. We proudly welcome and serve a Thanksgiving meal to more than 500 DMH consumers from all over the Metro Boston area. It’s become a much-anticipated and fun DMH holiday tradition.
With Friends of Metro Boston as co-host of this large-scale annual feast, I’ve had the honor as a DMH staff member to be one of the event volunteers. Every year we put on our chef’s hats (although we leave the cooking to the pros) and happily join the assembly line piling plates high with turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and all the fixings, to deliver them to each of the guests at their seats as the sounds of live Irish and American folk music, laughter and conversation fill the room. It’s one big giant Thanksgiving table where everyone congregates and gets to enjoy themselves!
It always amazes and humbles me how we all come together. We are a community, honoring our fellow community members who every day live with mental illness and work very hard toward a successful recovery. Individuals in DMH services often have a challenging road ahead as they surmount their illness and the stigma of mental illness that is unfortunately still prevalent in our society. Many are living in poverty, and working and dreaming of the kinds of things we so often take for granted including: a meaningful job, a sense of community, family and friendship. As I thought about my own family’s Thanksgiving feast that Wednesday morning, I realized how privileged I am to spend a few hours helping to build, and more importantly, sustain that community.
This year’s DMH Thanksgiving Dinner was personally special for many reasons; here are just a few memories that stand out in my mind, the client who recognized me from last year and thanked me for coming again, the Boston firefighters who I have come to know from year to year who bring their own children — each having grown taller and more mature– and the glee of a 5th grader who got to eagerly devour her own piece of pie after serving dozens of guests. It seemed this year there were more school kids helping to serve dinner – even a group from Medfield High School that joined us and provided smiles and hard work. And of course, the satisfaction of having made a difference, even for one day, stays with me throughout the year.
It doesn’t take much effort to give a little of ourselves – but it is that effort, especially at this time of year, that reminds us how important our work is to the lives of the people we serve, and the honor it is to serve them. I want to thank everyone who was able to attend the event this year and helped make it an event to remember!
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