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Neighbors coming forward to help neighbors

Roberta Steinle is at her desk. The door to her office at the Buttonwoods Community Center is open and she is working on the computer.

People know how to find her.

A woman in sweats and sneakers walks in without knocking. There’s no chitchat, not so much as a hello. She isn’t demanding. She stands at the desk until Steinle looks up.

“I didn’t see it. I didn’t register. Am I too late to get a basket?”

“Do you live in Warwick?” Steinle asks. When the answer is affirmative, Steinle asks for the address. She asks how many are in the family – there are three – and whether they are on assistance, which they are.

Although Thanksgiving is two days away, the woman is looking to get a Christmas basket like she did last year. She doesn’t remember whether it came from the Rotary Club of Warwick that provides 100 baskets at Christmas or St. Kevin or St. Peter Churches that also participate in the Neighbors Helping Neighbors program at Christmas.

The basket “helped.” She is honest. It wasn’t the difference between having Christmas dinner or not.

“We would have gotten by,” she says, leaving. The process of registering has taken less than a couple of minutes.

Steinle coordinates the distribution of far many more baskets at Thanksgiving, although the numbers of those receiving help are about the same for both holidays. St. Gregory the Great Church prepares 150 Thanksgiving baskets with St. Kevin, St. Peter, St. Benedict, St. Rita, Sts. Rose and Clement, St. Catherine and New Life Churches, all contributing for more than 320 baskets.

Coordinating the distribution of baskets is one phase of Neighbors Helping Neighbors with its purpose of pooling community contributions of food and funds to ensure those with the need are sure to have enough to eat at this time of year. So far, the need this year is running slightly below that for last year.

As of Tuesday, 558 families and individuals received baskets or store vouchers redeemable at local markets for Thanksgiving.

“And I’m still getting phone calls,” Steinle said. The total is 20 less than last Thanksgiving.

Donations are also slower this year.

So far the program has taken in $3,605 in contributions, which is a long stretch from the nearly $25,000 spent on the program. All the funds go into vouchers – they are called gift cards – for the purchase of food. Steinle is a project coordinator for the Department of Human Services and paid by the city. Apart from keeping an accounting of food and monetary donations, the major part of her job is seeing that the needs are met. She acts as a form of clearing house so that some families don’t get multiple baskets and others nothing.Names of the needy come from a variety of sources. They could be referrals from individuals, churches, schools and agencies or people, like the woman who visited Steinle Tuesday, who know where to find help. Steinle starts the process in October.

While the projected financial need is far from being met, Steinle taps reserves to get by. This is how the program has worked for years, by using the prior year’s contributions to cover today’s costs and setting aside today’s donations for next year.

A major source of funds come from “dress down” days at City Hall, where employees contribute a dollar so they can wear jeans to work. The firefighters also conduct an annual drive and individual contributions flow into the Warwick Beacon that collects checks and publishes a running list of all who have helped.

In recent years, a major source of funds has come from the Christmas light show staged by Grist Mill Road resident Frank Picozzi. The Hoxsie resident spends the better part of a year on the computerized light show that transforms his house into a stage of dancing lights and characters set to holiday music. Picozzi has a bucket for contributions in front of the display that starts this Friday. In the four years Picozzi has run the show, he has collected more than $10,000 in donations for Neighbors Helping Neighbors.

This year donations will be going to Make-A-Wish, meaning neighbors will have to work a little harder to help their neighbors.


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