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Helpers among us — collecting for the homeless

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Second in a series of articles about residents helping those in need.

By Joyce Westner | Winchester News Staff Writer Jan 11, 2024

On a cold, clear Wednesday evening, Mary Carroll Monteiro and her husband Fred loaded their truck with clothing donated by Winchester residents. They stopped to pick up a Medford High School freshman and continued onto a street next to South Station. The minute Mary stepped out of her truck, several people rushed over to hug her and to welcome her back.  

Monteiro volunteers for Quincy COPE (Communities Offer Practical Encouragement), started by a school nurse 10 years ago. Monteiro said she started helping BonnieJean Butler until Butler decided to devote all her energies collecting for Ukrainians (see https://www.winchesternews.org/dec-21-edition/helpers-among-us-collecting-for-ukrainians.) 

“South Station is the focus,” Monteiro said. “There are homeless people everywhere and the group started helping those in Quincy, then moved their efforts into Boston.”   

She asks on the Everything Is Free Winchester Facebook page for donations of winter outerwear, as well as hoodies, jeans, shoes and even backpacks and small rolling suitcases.  “I also get donations through the Winchester Interact Club,” she said, explaining Interact is a branch of the Winchester Rotary Club for high school kids.  “In January, they ask for sleeping bags.”

Butler and Monteiro often give each other extra items. She rolls up most clothing, applies masking tape to the roll, and labels it, for example, “Women’s top medium,” and puts it into a plastic bin.

At South Station, the Monteiros wait a bit before bringing out the bins.  “The first half hour, the other COPE volunteers serve sandwiches, hot meals and beverages,” she said, adding those are set up on folding tables.  

At 7:30, the food is put away and the clothing comes out. Their clients eagerly look through the bins and bags, with help from the volunteers who wear headlamps to help find the right sizes.  Some weeks the group also gives out hotel-sized toiletries, new underwear adult diapers, and gift cards for Dunkin Donuts and McDonald’s.  “The gift cards mean the homeless folks can not only buy a hot meal, but stay inside the restaurant and use the restrooms,” Monteiro said.

The Boston Police overlook the double-parked vehicles during the hour and a half, and a Transit Police Officer comes by from South Station to make sure nobody’s causing trouble.   

Monteiro is always eager to have other Winchester residents help on these outings.  “Annie Elizabeth Athyal and her son made food and came in one night,” she said. “And Jennie JH Kim-Song made food a few times and dropped it off at my house.”  

It’s clear watching the COPE group that volunteers enjoy their time with each other, and it’s equally clear that the homeless folks do the same.  “They really look out for each other,” Monteiro said.

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