LEWISTON, Maine — Jennifer Hayes was surprised by the large number of people already lined up in Kennedy Park Friday afternoon when she arrived to set up tables to hand out warm clothing and food to those in need.
“The 34 Christmas stockings filled with snacks went within minutes,” said Hayes, 43, who set up the gifts with her 45-year-old sister, Amy. “This is the best Christmas gift ever.”
The Hayes sisters set up the tables with hot cocoa, snacks, baggies full of soap and other hygiene products, socks and homemade scarfs and hats in front of the gazebo in Lewiston’s Kennedy Park at 1 p.m. Within an hour, a lot of the handouts were gone.
“We are doing this in honor of our father, who passed away six years ago today,” Hayes said. “This is something he would have done.”
She also was celebrating her own triumph over seven years of homelessness and getting sober. Seeing so many people benefit from the donations made her happy, Hayes said.
The sisters held a similar event in Portland two years ago because there are more homeless in that city, but decided to bring the event closer to their home in Auburn this year.
“They all said ‘thank you,’” Amy Hayes said of the people who took a stocking or other gift and then disappeared as quickly as they had appeared in the park.
“You’re a sweetheart,” Jesse Kontoes, 59, of Auburn told Jennifer Hayes as he pushed his walker toward the table with the drinks and food. Hayes explained that Kontoes is mentally challenged.
Kontoes said he was hit by a car last year, and pulls up his pant leg to show a big bump that necessitates his continued use of the walker.
He opted for a drink of juice and a pre-cooked pepperoni pizza.
“I’m having pizza tonight,” he beamed.
Mickaela Tirel, 20, of Auburn took her time sorting through the remaining items in the boxes on the table. She picked up mostly baggies full of hygiene products.
“I’m pregnant and homeless,” Tirel said. Her baby is due in late summer.
This holiday season Tirel’s needs are especially pressing, as her 3-year-old son is coming for Christmas.
“I need a place to go for my family,” she said. “I have no place [where] he can go.”
Jennifer Hayes could relate to Tirel.
“I was addicted to drugs and homeless for seven years while I was in Boston,” she said. “I moved back here eight years ago and moved in with my mom until I saved enough to get my own place. I now rent a home with my fiance.”
Related: Carolyn Fish talks about being homeless in Bangor for years