Soup kitchen will be more distant ‘Neighbor’

Allison Bethune, of Bristol, kisses her aunt, Michell Bethune, goodbye at Bristol Neighbors soup kitchen. The facility is moving to Riverside Nov. 1.Allison Bethune, of Bristol, kisses her aunt, Michell Bethune, goodbye at Bristol Neighbors soup kitchen. The facility is moving to Riverside Nov. 1.

After 24 years serving hot meals and providing food and clothing to those in need in town, Bristol Good Neighbors is dropping Bristol from its name and its address.

The soup kitchen and food pantry that has rented space in the parish house across from St Michael’s Church on Hope Street since its founding is heading north, moving to the former St. Brendan’s School in Riverside when its lease with St. Michael’s expires Nov. 1, according to Wendy Davis, president of Good Neighbors’ board of directors.

“We’ve outgrown the space. We’re packed to the ceiling,” Ms. Davis said. “We don’t have the space to do what we want to do. St. Brendan’s wanted a soup kitchen, and we needed a long-term agreement on a space for  grants.”

Ms. Davis said the decision to move on when the lease expires was mutual between the soup kitchen and St. Michael’s. The church needs to use the building for its functions, she said, and the soup kitchen’s non-exclusive use of the building further limits its space and organization. Plus, the organization may be even better able to fulfill its mission in East Providence.

“There’s a greater need in Riverside,” she said, noting the soup kitchen serves an average of 60 people a day. “We’re hoping we can serve more people. There’s more space there and it better suits our budget.”

Rev. David Lucey of St. Michael’s was out of the office and unavailable for comment.

Bristol Good Neighbors, which will be known as Good Neighbors Inc. after the Nov. 1 move, provides hot breakfast and lunch Monday through Friday, as well as a food pantry to those in need. Clients can also “shop” in Good Neighbors’ clothing store, which currently is jammed into the parish house basement.

The facility also serves as a day shelter, allowing those with nowhere else to go a place to hang out during cold winter or hot summer days when homeless shelters are closed. The day room includes a TV, computers, and plenty of space for people to relax and meet others.

The move to Riverside does not mean the organization is no longer serving the Bristol community, according to Executive Director Ann Wiard, who explained the decision in a letter to the soup kitchen’s supporters.

“We have been able to provide thousands of individuals and families with food, clothing, a comfortable atmosphere in which to relax and socialize, as well as many other necessities,” she wrote. “We would like to reassure our many benefactors that we will continue to provide a high level of service to all members of the East Bay community.”

It may be difficult for some to get to the new space, according to Mike Garratta, a Providence resident who takes the bus to the day shelter regularly and volunteers at the facility.

“It might be a hardship for some people getting there,” Mr. Garratta said, even though St. Brendan’s is directly on the city bus route. “The buses don’t run regularly enough. It would be hard to get there if you don’t have a car.”

Still, people are likely to find their way because of the services the facility provides. Plus, several people take the bus from as far away as Providence to attend, so it’ll actually be closer for them. There’s certainly incentive to attend, he said.

“When you’re in a house all day alone, you need to get out and interact,” Mr. Garratta said. “You can meet people and enjoy yourself for a short time. Community is a big thing. This is a safe haven if you live alone.”

Debbie Germano, who also comes from Providence via bus, agreed that people will be able to get to the new place by bus to receive the critical services they need.

“You can do your laundry here, get emergency food,” Ms. Germano said. “It’s good for everybody. Everybody gets something they need.”

The move to the new location could increase Good Neighbors’ need for more donations. The soup kitchen is always willing to accept donations of clothing, toiletries and food, though cash donations are even better, as the pantry is able to turn cash into more food through the Rhode Island Food Bank.

“The day we open our doors there, we could have 5 or 500 people,” Ms. Davis said. “We very well could see our numbers triple. We’re going to need more donations. We’re hoping we can still count on our Bristol supporters because we’re still serving the same people.”

To donate, contact the soup kitchen at 401-254-0726 or [email protected] To sign up to volunteer, visit the organization’s website at bristolgoodneighbors.org.

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