By Ken Bell
“We rise by lifting others.”
– Robert Ingersoll
Part of the call for any community of faith is to serve God and serve one another. On the first Thursday of each month, representatives of most all the area churches meet with staff from West Bay Community Action, the RI Food Bank, EG Housing and the Interfaith Counseling Center in order to find ways to better serve East Greenwich and our surrounding area.
Churches continually look for effective ways to help others. That desire to serve has become more of a challenge in the current world of maintaining your distance in order to avoid getting the highly contagious Coronavirus.
With town resources stretched thin, new Town Manager Andrew Nota asked the faith community to be ready to respond to needs of the residents and that is happening. Churches, synagogues and people of faith in general have stepped up, delivering meals, shopping for shut-ins and the elderly, giving rides, picking up prescriptions and helping people facing emergencies.
Here are some ways the faith community is responding to the crisis:
Chris and Steve Bartlett from the United Methodist Church oversee the EG Food Cupboard located at St. Luke’s Episcopal at 99 Pierce Street. Steve says, “The East Greenwich Interfaith Food Cupboard remains open for clients on its normal schedule of Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 10:30 a.m. until noon. We have altered our procedure to allow only one client at a time to enter the Food Cupboard space. At this point we have not seen a surge of people needing food, but we have had several clients from out of town. We continue to provide people in our town with bags of food and for those people who have called the town looking food. For now, we are OK for volunteers, however, most of our volunteers are over 60 and based on their personal situation, a few have elected to not work for a few weeks.”
He added, “Through the RI Food Bank, I was able to connect the town so that on Wednesday, around 2,000 Meals Ready to Eat (MREs) were delivered to Swift Gym. MREs aren’t gourmet dinners, but they fill you up and are a lot better than the old Army C rations.”
Steve and Chris do a tremendous job working with the RI Food Bank and other community partners in order to meet the needs of those in our town who depend on the pantry. Steve says they are determined to keep the Cupboard open during this crisis. (Steve and Chris can be contacted at [email protected].)
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church (99 Pierce Street), a centerpiece of outreach in East Greenwich has been forced to scale back during the current crisis. Lunch on the Hill has been suspended for now. This program provides lunch for seniors and others looking for food and fellowship each Wednesday from 11:15 to 12:15 p.m. Various churches provide volunteers to serve meals generously donated by restaurants in East Greenwich. The monthly dinner program Christ Community Kitchen has also been cancelled until the crisis passes. East Greenwich churches volunteer to provide a meal and volunteers for the last Monday of each month.
St. Luke’s has also been forced to suspend its Loaves and Fishes RI ministry, which brings food, clothing and encouragement to the homeless on the streets on Woonsocket on the third Saturday of each month. Steve McLoughlin, an outstanding volunteer says, “St. Luke’s is now calling every member of the church to see how they are doing and to find out if they need anything. One man said he would love to have a turkey sandwich on a roll from Panera,” said Steve with a chuckle. And, you guessed it. Steve immediately went to Panera and then delivered the man a turkey sandwich on a roll.
The so called, “Bread Boys” from Our Lady of Mercy continue bread runs despite the obstacles. These senior citizens are wonderful servants as they go to Stop and Shop to get bread and pastry reaching the expiration date. They then deliver bread to the EG Food Pantry and take the rest to places like the Providence Rescue Mission. The Bread Boys do this five days a week. Stop and Shop continues to serve the community well by providing not only bread, but many pastry items. The OLM volunteers say, “Donations are down at the three locations in Providence that we serve and accordingly the deliveries from EG are very critical.” OLM Director of Outreach Doug Green continues to work toward meeting the needs of those coming to his parish for help.
At Christ Church on Main Street (next to the Goddard Park turnoff), we have been forced to close the Care Center as we follow Governor Raimondo’s plan. The Care Center is usually open on Friday’s from 9:00 to 11:30 a.m. as we seek to encourage people and help provide resources. Our Furniture Connection is not able to accept donations or make deliveries at present. Furniture is always provided free of charge.
Westminster Unitarian Church has a marvelous “Sharing Locker” on the third Saturday of the month. Commodities not covered by food stamps are handed out to hundreds. The Sharing Locker also provides pet food. The next Sharing Locker is set for Saturday, April 18, from 9 a.m. to noon, but it will follow social distancing guidelines. “We will prepackage the most commonly requested items and meet people as they come into the parking lot. No one will get out of their cars – we will have an “in” and “out” driveway to manage the flow,” said Jan Searles, one of the Sharing Locker leaders. The church is located at 119 Kenyon Ave.
Kimberly Corwin of First Evangelical Lutheran Church on Division St. says their thrift shop is temporarily closed during this state and national emergency. However, she points out, “Dave’s Market in EG is still collecting food donations, although they have dropped significantly. The store has stayed open and dedicated. I am picking up donations on Mondays and making deliveries to our Food Banks to help at risk clients. People are remembering those in need of food and donations are coming in.”
Pastor Jonathan Malone at the First Baptist Church (30 Pierce Street) continues to respond to the needs of his congregation and the community. He facilitates requests for help from the Interfaith Outreach fund.
Pastor Randall Curtis says Frenchtown Baptist Church (1359 Frenchtown Road) is also filling the gaps and providing volunteer help.
St. Gregory’s Social Action Committee will be providing a meal on Monday, March 30, for the guests at Emmanuel House in Providence. (St. Gregg’s is located at 360 Cowesett Road in Warwick).
Legacy Church normally meets at the East Greenwich High School auditorium. Like other churches, ministry is now taking place on Zoom, Facebook, and on the IPhone. Pastor Ron Tamales says, “A lot of what happens in our church is families helping families. If there is a need in the church, families step in to help. We also work with Bread and Threads on Facebook (a group dedicated to providing food and clothing to people in need).” The church supports the St. Luke’s Food Pantry. Legacy normally works with the homeless on Sunday mornings in West Warwick, but that now is on hold. A planned event involving Feed the Children at the end of April is also wait and see. Tamales says he’s been surprised at the dramatic increase of online viewing. He points out, 1,200 people watched a prayer service last week.
The Interfaith Counseling Center is also a valuable resource in this time of uncertainty. Counselors normally meet with people at St. Luke’s. For now, counseling is available by phone. It’s valuable to note that counseling is made available for those who are unable to afford it. The ICC can be reached by calling (401) 461-5234.
The faith community is making a huge difference during this time of uncertainty.
Ken Bell is a deacon at Christ Church.