East Bay serves up Thanksgiving baskets


Roger Williams University has been a kind friend recently to the soup kitchen, food pantry and day shelter known as Bristol Good Neighbors (BGN).

First, when the recent storm knocked out power in downtown Bristol, the university let the soup kitchen use its freezers so its food wouldn’t spoil. Then last week, students and faculty members delivered a bounty of goodwill to BGN in the form of 36 Thanksgiving food baskets for the agency’s many clients.

It’s just one of many local examples of volunteers reaching out to families this Thanksgiving. Whether it’s Cub Scout Pack 2 West Barrington putting together baskets for U.S. troops stationed in Afghanistan and Iraq or Portsmouth Firefighters Local 1949 collecting Thanksgiving food baskets for families that have fallen on hard times, there’s always some group or individual donating their time to help others who are less fortunate over the holidays.

RWU’s donations weren’t your run-of-the-mill Thanksgiving baskets. The university, which has now donated 640 complete meals since 2002, makes a contest out of it every year.

“We ask everybody on campus — faculty, staff and students — to submit a basket that will be donated to local families in Bristol, Warren and beyond,” said Lynda Curtis, spokeswoman for the event. “We’re looking for nonperishable things — anything from canned goods to boxes of stuffing and gravy. But you can also be creative and include crayons and coloring books for families with kids.” A gift card to purchase a turkey is also included.

The baskets are then collected and judged to see which ones are the fullest and the most creative. Last week, for example, the Office of Student Affairs won the people’s choice award for its basket, themed after Shel Silverstein’s book, “The Giving Tree.”

According to organizer K.C. Ferrara, director of the school’s Feinstein Center for Service Learning and Community Engagement, the contest was originally a gimmick to encourage participation. It’s since evolved into a game of bragging rights, she said.

“There are some groups that spend months secretly planning their basket designs and who take it very seriously,” she said. “There are some groups that spend months collecting food so that they can provide a week’s worth of groceries as opposed to one meal’s worth. I think the process builds strong teams and pride among the groups.”

The baskets delivered early last week to BGN, where clients picked them up Friday morning.

“Their baskets are amazing. We even got a couple more donated from a student group,” said a grateful Ann Wiard, director of the soup kitchen.

RWU’s donation help supplement the soup kitchen’s own efforts in putting Thanksgiving baskets together for its clients. “We’re going to do about 150 of our own,” said Ms. Wiard, adding that BGN also receives donations from local groups such as the Rotary, Girl Scouts and Bristol County Elks 1860.

‘Elks Care, Elks Share’

That last group was busy Saturday putting together its own Thanksgiving meals for needy families — about 460 in all.

The Elks had previously handed out baskets, but switched to 35-pound reusable shopping bags this year. “It has a logo on it, ‘Elks Care, Elks Share,’ which is our motto,” said William Hill, exhalted ruler of the Bristol Elks.

Each bag contains items such as butternut squash, cranberry sauce, peaches, a can or box of gravy, a bag of dressing, cake mix, five pounds of potatoes and a large can of peaches. The Elks also throw in a $15 gift card which recipients can use to buy a turkey or other main dish.

The bags then go to different groups — local churches, The Women’s Resource Center and Tap-In in Barrington among them — which then distribute them to clients or needy families. “We have (Elks) members we know who are in need, so we give some to them as well,” said Mr. Hill.

The annual food drive is not an easy undertaking for the Elks, which already runs the East Bay Cares Program that provides nonperishable food items to local pantries and soup kitchens.

“This year we raised over $15,000 to make up the bags. My committee’s been working on since March,” he said, noting that the program relies on local businesses who generously donate cash or gifts that are auctioned off to raise money for the food.

“Without our local vendors, our program would not be doable,” said Mr. Hill.

Auxiliary answers the call

Every November for the past 25 years, Warren Unit #11 of the American Legion Auxiliary has made up and delivered Thanksgiving meals with all the fixings to elderly and needy residents throughout the East Bay and beyond. This year the Auxiliary is receiving help from American Legion Post #104 of Warren, the Warren Association of Vietnam Veterans and the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association.

“We’re usually around 200 (meals) every year,” said Judy Fardig, Auxiliary president. “We always cook plenty. Whatever’s left over we always send to (Bristol) Good Neighbors, so there’s never any waste.”

Volunteers will gather on Thanksgiving morning at St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Warren and put the meals together before hitting the road. (If you’d like to help, call Ms. Fardig at 401/245-5431.)

“We give them a complete meal with dessert and our guys deliver them. We put everything in a bag with a handle,” she said.

Volunteers do it all over again at Christmas, although it’s a simpler job. “Christmas is much easier because we give them ham, which is a heck of a lot easier than pulling meat off the bone,” said Ms. Fardig.

The meals are delivered to places like Rumford Towers in East Providence, Benjamin Church Manor and Franklin Court in Bristol, Kickemuit Village in Warren, as well as many homes in Warren and beyond including elderly shut-ins “who can’t cook for themselves,” said Ms. Fardig.

Volunteers will also deliver well beyond the East Bay, said Ms. Fardig,  adding that she’s seeing a greater need from families than ever before.

“That’s why we extended our route, to people out in Central Falls and stuff. I didn’t have the heart to say no. We don’t advertise that we go to Providence, but we’ll go,” she said.

Besides the gift of a meal, the visits buoy the spirits of the grateful recipients, Ms. Fardig said. “Sometimes that’s the only person they see, that person who comes to the door with their meals. They’re so happy,” she said.

After the last delivery leaves on Thursday — around noon — a Thanksgiving meal will be served at the church for volunteers or whomever else would like to share a meal.

“It’s for anyone who doesn’t want to be alone on the holiday,” said Ms. Fardig.


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