Food for thought

Posted 3/25/21

Ever plan a party to only have a few of the expected invitees show up? Of course, parties are frowned upon - actually, depending on their size, not permitted - during these weird times. Besides, this wasn't a party in the classic sense, although to be a

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Food for thought


Ever plan a party to only have a few of the expected invitees show up?

Of course, parties are frowned upon – actually, depending on their size, not permitted – during these weird times. Besides, this wasn’t a party in the classic sense, although to be a success it relied on people showing up. Invitations went out by the thousands on social media and in a story published in last Thursday’s Beacon.

Sponsor of the event was Stop & Shop. They provided the produce. There were enough sweet potatoes, carrots, apples, oranges and banana to fill 200 Stop & Shop reusable shopping bags. Host was the Warwick Boys and Girls Clubs.

The party was advertised to start at 10 a.m. Justifiably, Boys and Girls Club executive director Lara D’Antuono was anxious when only a dozen or so bags were ready to be handed out and a couple of early birds were waiting in the parking lot at 9:30. Lara pulled into service whoever she could and the pace of transferring produce to bags picked up. From experience, she believed there could soon be a line of cars outside the Norwood branch for the free food. She wanted to be ready.

When Vinud Israni, district director for Stop & Shop, showed up, Lara put him to work. Managers for the Greenwich Avenue and Meadowbrook stores were likewise pressed into service. Shortly after 10, everything was ready with the bags neatly lined up on tables and the sidewalk ready to be loaded into cars as soon as they showed up. The early birds got their bags and then there was nothing except the occasional car.

Hastily, “Free Food” signs were crafted and club members dispatched to hold them at nearby intersections.

This defied earlier efforts to help those experiencing food insecurity during this pandemic. When the Warwick Rotary Club teamed up with Westbay Marketplace to distribute 100 Christmas food baskets, they were quickly spoken for. At that event, a mother confided how she had been laid off with the shutdown, but when her employers called her back to work she couldn’t go because school hadn’t reopened and her kids were at home. Daycare was out of the question. It was too expensive. This was a first time she had turned for help. There were others equally embarrassed by their circumstances, yet knowing if they didn’t seek help it could be worse.

In addition to food pantries, churches and organizations have rallied to collect and give away food. Parishioners at Saints Rose and Clement Church did weekly food distributions in Oakland Beach. Lakewood Baptist Church held drive-by food drives for Westbay Marketplace, and a group of churches, with Warwick Hope Assembly of God taking the lead, held a Day of Hope at the Oakland Beach branch of the Boys and Girls Clubs. They not only gave out food, but also school supplies, backpacks for kids and even lunch.

By 11 a.m. Saturday, two or three had pulled in front of the Norwood Club to make pickups. The people were grateful as the bags were handed in through open windows.

“Don’t worry. He just makes a lot of noise,” said one woman whose small dog kept barking.

“Tell your friends. We’ll be here until noon,” Lara urged.

Lara questioned if she should have held the event at the Oakland Beach club that is easily found near the intersection of Oakland Beach Avenue and West Shore Road. She picked Norwood because basketball games were being played at Oakland Beach.

Norwood isn’t that far from Westbay Community Action and the Marketplace on Jefferson Boulevard. From the front, Westbay Community Action looked closed. There wasn’t a single car in the lot. The back was a different story. The door to the Marketplace was open. Inside a crew was unpacking boxes of nonperishable food and breaking it down into smaller lots for distribution this Saturday.

Joselyn Groves, assistant director of social services, hadn’t heard of the event at Norwood. She was surprised to learn of the turnout, checking her phone to pick up any buzz on social media. Produce would be a welcome addition to the Marketplace event, but would it keep?

She visited the club to find the bags of food lined up at the curb. Lara was relieved to meet her. Joselyn arranged to send over the Westbay refrigerator truck.

Why had only a few shown up for the event at the Boys and Girls Club? Did it have something to do with the warm weather and the first day of spring, or the fact that people were getting their stimulus checks?

I like to believe that people don’t look for handouts unless they are desperate. Indeed, many need help, but could the events Saturday be an indication that people feel more secure and sunshine is breaking through the black pandemic clouds?


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