“I am an immigrant. The first year as an immigrant is the hardest. I cannot close my eyes to these people.”
Nayara Berrouet is a manager at the TJ Maxx store in the Great Road Shopping Center, where she has met migrant families living in the Bedford Plaza Hotel – designated an emergency shelter by state agencies – across the street.
In the store, “I get called to translate,” said Berrouet, who moved to this country from Brazil years ago. Her husband Wolff, a sergeant with the Somerville Police Department, came from Haiti. They reside in Carlisle. She pointed out that some of the migrants in Bedford traveled from Haiti via Brazil, and “that speaks to me so loud.”
After meeting other recent arrivals while having lunch at Chipotle, Berrouet decided that the more than 200 residents of the shelter should have at least a taste of an American Thanksgiving.
“I didn’t know where to start – all I knew is I wanted to do it,” she said.
So, she enlisted help from her personal network.
“I got together some friends and we all embraced the cause,” Berrouet said. “We have a team of 12,” family and close friends.
One of them is Nelson Oliveira, co-owner of Alma Gaucha, the Brazilian steakhouse in Boston’s Seaport district. She arranged for about 100 family-style trays from the restaurant, covered by donations from the volunteer team.
“It’s going to be Brazilian barbecue with rice and beans,” said Oliveira, who immigrated from Brazil when he was 19. “We’re going to bring it out to them.”
An anonymous local business is donating bottled water for everyone.
The festivities are planned for Thanksgiving next Thursday because “that is the meaning of the whole thing,” said Berrouet.
Oliveira calls himself “a man of faith.” In 2017, he visited Malawi in central Africa and subsequently started a foundation, nelsonfoundationkids.org, that its website says “helps transform the lives of the neglected and forgotten children, providing food and education, build infrastructure, source food and materials, educate, and care for the children.”
He explained his philanthropic practice. People enter life with nothing and leave the same way, Oliveira explained. “I thank God for the things with which He has provided me. God blesses us a lot so we can bless others.”
Berrouet has been consulting with Marisa Morello, the town’s Assistant Director of Health. Her role is “strictly advisory,” Morello said. “We may also offer recommendations to the person in charge to help streamline the process while maintaining good safety measures.”
The hotel doesn’t have enough space to accommodate the migrant population in a communal meal. Berrouet said families will be invited to a common area to collect their trays and eat in their rooms.
She said she and some of her crew plan to come by the shelter on Wednesday to decorate the serving area.
Berrouet said she is spreading the word among the residents primarily through the WhatsApp group that residents with cellphones have established, as well as with flyers distributed to the population.
She said she hopes they realize that this holiday gesture “is all from the heart.”