Cheesesteaks aren’t exactly a delicacy in Philadelphia, and neither is ice cream on a hot June night, but at the Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission on Monday evening it was the thought behind the meal that had the homeless men who live there smiling and dancing.
The good times unfolded in the parking lot of the Center City men’s shelter on Vine Street during a Game 4 watch party (pitting the 76ers against the Atlanta Hawks) paid for by the 76ers’ biggest star, Joel Embiid. Before the game, he spoke to the 108 invited guests in a prerecorded message played on a large flat-screen TV:
“We appreciate all the love and support that you give us, and we wanted to do something fun to say thank you for being the best fans in the world,” Embiid told the fans before taking to the court.
In March, Embiid announced that he would donate $100,000 to local shelters, a sum that has since been matched by the 76ers organization.
The hoop star’s generosity was greatly appreciated at Sunday Breakfast, the city’s largest emergency shelter for homeless men with 260 beds, and the only shelter that provides three meals a day 365 days a year, said Jeremy Montgomery, the mission’s president and CEO.
“Serving people experiencing homelessness requires the entire community. Everyday we give love and care and respect. What better way to show respect than for a professional basketball player, Joel Embiid and the 76ers organization, to make the men here feel special,” said Montgomery, who told the gathering that he has lived through homelessness twice in his life.
“I’ve enjoyed it to the maximum. I’ve recorded everything possible. It’s like a dream come true,” said Alvin Hazim, 57, who has lived at the shelter for two months.
David Fera, 54, who has been at the shelter for two weeks, but has been at other homeless facilities off and on for much of the last five years, said the pumping DJ music, food, and 76ers T-shirts, towels and posters served as a much-needed distraction.
“This gave us a chance to put down our guard, let loose, do a little dancing and cheer on our Sixers. It’s a beautiful thing,” said Fera, a high school dropout who lives on Social Security payments which he saves with the goal of getting a place of his own.
Not even Monday night’s downpour stopped the party. At halftime, before the first buckets of rain fell, the watch party moved inside to the shelter’s cafeteria.