‘Share my blessings’: Homeless advocate Mike Lee raises money to host Christmas dinner for homeless people

James Cartmill/Courtesy

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Homeless advocate Guy “Mike” Lee said he will wake up at 4 a.m. on Christmas Day to start cooking dinner for Berkeley’s homeless community.

Lee, who ran for mayor in 2016, is well-known for his activism for homeless rights in Berkeley. He has spent much of his time living on the streets since he moved to Berkeley about 45 years ago at the age of 17. But this September, Lee moved into permanent housing. In his new apartment, Lee hosted Thanksgiving dinner for homeless community members this year, which he said was a way for him to “share my blessings” with people who are still living on the streets.

“I’m fortunate enough to be inside,” Lee said. “I’m truly blessed. … I just want to share my good fortune with other people.”

James Cartmill, a homeless navy veteran who attended Lee’s Thanksgiving dinner, described the difficulties of being on the streets during the holiday season. He said he has spent many birthdays and Christmases outside.

“It is difficult being alone,” Cartmill said. “Just thinking about it, I’ll start crying.”

Lee said he decided to raise money for the upcoming Christmas dinner through GoFundMe so that it could be bigger than the Thanksgiving meal, which he paid for with his personal grocery budget. As of press time, $100 has been raised through the GoFundMe, which Lee estimated will feed more than 100 people.

For the Christmas dinner, Lee and community members from homeless encampments will start baking cookies three days in advance. Lee said they plan to wake up early and spend 12 to 16 hours on Christmas day to cook the dinner, as they did on Thanksgiving. When Lee went to Smart & Final and saw a 40-pound ham, he knew they had to cook it for the dinner.

Lee said any leftover money will be used to purchase tarps and tents to help homeless individuals survive the winter.

“We are going to get people through this winter. I don’t want to see anybody dying on the streets this year,” Lee said.

Homeless community members from five different encampments across Berkeley and North Oakland attended the Thanksgiving dinner. People came in and out of Lee’s apartment all day, taking showers and eating food, according to Lee.

“(My apartment) was like Grand Central Station,” Lee said.

Homeless community member Michelle Lot, who helped cook the Thanksgiving dinner, said it can be “isolating” and “depressing” to be without family or friends during the holidays. She said the meals provide a sense of community and togetherness for the homeless.

South Berkeley encampment resident Rachael Kuebler also attended the Thanksgiving dinner, where she helped peel potatoes and clean dishes. Kuebler said she enjoyed dressing up in nice clothes and feeling welcome. She said holidays have made her sad in past years because they felt just like any other day, as if the holiday never even happened.

“I miss having a place to cook a hot meal,” Kuebler said. “I even miss doing dishes.”

Cartmill said attending Lee’s Thanksgiving dinner revealed the “beauty of humanity” because Lee opened his doors while he is also struggling to survive.

“(The Christmas dinner) will be another fantastic time to open the doors to strangers and let them in and hear their stories and rejoice for a new year and for friendship,” Cartmill said.

Contact Hannah Piette at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @Hannah_PietteDC.