Barros, Santiago help stuff gift bags for senior mothers as part of ‘I Remember Mama’ event

JP-based nonprofit Volunteers of America of Massachusetts (VOAMASS) held its 26th annual ‘I Remember Mama’ event on May 8, but this year, the event looked a little different.

The program is typically a brunch held at a hotel for around 200 senior mothers who live in public housing in Boston, but this year, because of the pandemic, volunteers and mayoral candidates John Barros and Jon Santiago created 200 gift bags that were delivered to the women instead. The event took place at VOAMASS’s Shiloh House on Parley Vale, a place for women recovering from substance abuse disorder and behavioral health conditions. 

VOAMASS offers programs and services for behavioral health, veterans, seniors, and re-entry services for formerly incarcerated individuals. 

“As a candidate for mayor of Boston, it’s really important that we learn what’s happening in the community, and more importantly,” what else can be done to support residents, John Barros said at the event. “The ‘I Remember Mama’ event and tradition is amazing.” He spoke about his grandmother, who passed away from COVID-19, and thanked VOAMASS for the opportunity to give back to the community. 

“I work in the emergency department twice a week,” Jon Santiago said, adding that he sees people with mental health and substance abuse disorders day in and day out. He said it’s “not just about them, it’s about the veterans,” and his “worlds intersecting with Shiloh and the work that you do.” 

He also thanked VOAMASS for the opportunity to “come and participate and volunteer, put socks in a bag,” he said, acknowledging his duty as the sock stuffer in the git bag assembly line.  

Chares Gagnon, CEO and President of VOAMASS, said,  “I’m so glad we got to do this in person. I*m really hopeful for the city because we have such fine, talented, passionate people that are wanting to become mayor, but also wanting to be leaders and make our place better for everyone, not just a few, but for everyone.”

He said that the ‘I Remember Mama’ event began with Mayor Menino, and it’s a “tradition we want to carry on. We’re in the business to help the frailest people in the community. I think here at Shiloh House, we really believe that we want to address the root causes: mental health, coupled with substance abuse disorder.” 

Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz also stopped by the event, adding that she is “grateful for the event” and “to recognize and celebrate the mothers in our communities.”

She said her own mother is a social worker and “she raised me right.” Chang-Diaz added that “being on the right side of the issues for the marginalized, for racial justice, for women, for children in our society; it’s the right thing to do obviously.” 

Volunteers and the mayoral candidates then stuffed gift bags with fuzzy socks, chocolates, and hand sanitizer to be delivered to the senior mothers. 

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