Volunteering with the New England Patriots Foundation at the Pine Street Inn on Tuesday, linebacker Ja'Whaun Bentley had more in common with clients of the shelter than some may have realized.
The visit was to amplify World Homeless Day. Along with teammates Deatrich Wise Jr. and Myles Bryant, he attended to help pack outreach kits and give out sleeping bag coats for those living on the streets of Boston.
Having experienced homelessness himself, Bentley knew he was also handing out hope.
"My family went through tough times," Bentley said, of the almost eight years that he, his parents, and little brother endured without a home after his mother lost her job.
"It was definitely a rough patch, but it was something that we always fought through, we stayed together and took it on and got out to the other side. Being able to hear this and experience this, being able to be of service, is definitely huge for me. Seeing all the people that it takes – people in this community coming together for one common goal, and it's to serve – it's huge."
Players got a tour of the Pine Street Inn, where individuals experiencing homelessness are not only provided shelter, but a pathway to get off the streets and rebuild their life.
The organization provides street outreach, emergency services, supportive housing, job training, and connections to employment across its five locations. As the largest homeless shelter in New England, the Pine Street Inn helps 1,400 homeless individuals daily with 410 emergency shelter beds, 850 units of permanent supportive housing, and 2,700 meals prepared every day in its Harrison Avenue kitchen.
"In order to impact a community – the only way to impact a community – is bringing like-minded, caring people together," said Josh Kraft, president of the Patriots Foundation. "There's no more caring person or institution in the city than the Pine Street Inn."
The event certainly was a great result of collaboration towards a common goal.
Dellbrook|JKS, a cornerstone partner of the Patriots Foundation, was there to help pack bags filled with hygiene products and other essential items. Both organizations also helped provide a third outreach van for the Pine Street Inn to expand its impact further. The Empowerment Plan, whom the Patriots Foundation has worked closely with since 2015, tagged along to load 100 of their special Empowerment sleeping bag coats into the vans.
"I know how the winters get, and it's very unfortunate that some people don't have shelters and homes. For us to come out here and give them these bags is important," said defensive back Myles Bryant, who got to try on one of the sleeping bag coats.
"I think I could have fallen asleep right there. It was pretty comfortable. It's a pretty big coat and I think it's a neat idea – just the fact that it can go from being a coat then turning into a sleeping bag. It's a great idea and I'm glad we were able to come out here and give them away."
The Empowerment Plan has distributed 65 thousand coats globally in the last 10 years. What started as a manufacturing endeavor to help the homeless population in Detroit turned into a means of hiring and training single mothers in shelters as seamstresses.
For John, who has been a client of the Pine Street Inn for the last three months, the coat is a blessing; the shelter, a godsend.
"In a city that's so expensive, and with so much homelessness, to be able to have a place like Pine Street Inn that is clean, and the staff here, they don't treat you like some mystery inn or anything," John said.
"We're just down on our luck, and instead of getting a handout, they've given us a hand up to stand up on my own two feet. That's important, because anybody could give you anything, but it's about what you maintain along the way."