Tia Staples, one of the owners of 7 Senses catering and event services in Homewood, has in the past organized programs around Thanksgiving for the elderly and people who were homeless.
But she wanted to do something different this year, so she drew on her own life experience to help a different set of people.
“This year we decided to focus on the children of incarcerated parents just because that was a topic that touched home to us,” Ms. Staples said Wednesday. “I personally know how hard it is raising kids with just one parent.”
Ms. Staples fiance, Willie Miles, was recently released after serving seven years in prison, and she acknowledged how much of a financial burden it is around the holidays for parents raising kids when their partners are incarcerated.
So she and Mr. Miles, as well as Amber Sloan, teamed up to hold a Thanksgiving dinner Wednesday night at The Shop in Homewood for families with an incarcerated parent. Ms. Sloan is founder and director of an organization called M.A.D.E.I.T, or Making Alternative Decisions Effectively Impacting Teens.
“Sometimes we’re the forgotten families,” said Latoya Punch, 38, of Homewood. “People don’t realize what we go through just being single parents and not being single for any other reason but them being incarcerated.”
Ms. Punch, whose family was one of about 15 that signed up to participate in the traditional Thansgiving meal, said she thought the father of her three children was going to be released from prison before the holidays this year after six years of incarceration.
But when things didn’t work out as planned, disappointment started to set in for her and Raymon, 12, Damon, 11, and Raquell, 6.
The dinner, though, complete with everything from turkey, to ham, to pie and cobbler mostly donated by Homewood restaurants, made things a little easier for the family, she said.
“It’s really super that she thought about us, the families that go through this at the holiday time,” Ms. Punch said of Ms. Staples.
Ladasha Clark said her children — 4-year-old Taionna and 2-year-old Taimer — had a hard time adjusting to life without their father. The gathering, though, gave her and the children an opportunity to enjoy an evening.
“I think it’s great and it’s lovely — it’s awesome,” she said. “The kids look happy.”
The gathering wasn’t strictly a holiday meal. Parents and children were also able to pick up gift bags, hygiene products, shoes and other items.
Children could also make holiday cards to send to their parents in prison.
Leon Ford, who was shot and paralyzed by a Pittsburgh police officer in 2012 and recently launched a campaign for Pittsburgh City Council, spoke about his experience of having a parent incarcerated.
When he was 6 years old, Mr. Ford said, his father was sentenced to 14 years in federal prison.
“It’s definitely a challenge,” Mr. Ford said. “That’s the importance of community and the importance of an event like this where we can wrap our arms not only around the children, but around all families who may have a family member incarcerated.”
Andrew Goldstein: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1352.