When parish leadership at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church noticed people in the community going hungry, they knew they had to do something.
“We did recognize early on that there was a lot of food insecurity, even among our own parishioners and we were really trying to find a way to reach out to the community,” said The Rev. Susan Wrathall.
The church on West Shore Road hosted a community breakfast but attendance was low. A social worker suggested switching to a lunch paired with a food pantry would better reach the food insecure, and thus the Community Lunch and Food Pantry was born. Since its infancy in 2012, the Community Lunch and Food Pantry has grown to serve between 70 and 110 guests per month. The food pantry not only provides food but some toiletries, laundry detergent and other home supplies. Mother Susan said most people usually leave with two grocery bags full of goods. Those who come to the lunch get to sit at tables for eight and socialize with the others who come to eat the home-cooked meals. Though people may be struggling to make ends meet, the lunch provides a time of joy and togetherness for the guests, many of whom are families with children.
The lunch is served every last Saturday of the month, which Mother Susan said is a crucial time for many food insecure families as that’s when SNAP cards (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) begin to run out. Also, St. Mark’s doesn’t really have a way to communicate changes to the community, Mother Susan said, so the lunch is always on the last Saturday of each month regardless of circumstances. One of the lunches fell on the day of an Easter Vigil. It didn’t matter. St. Mark’s volunteers held the lunch, cleaned up and had church.
“It’s fostered an awful lot of good will, I think,” Mother Susan said. “It’s allowed the people here to be Christian in a sense.”
Parishioners and church leadership who volunteer at the Community Lunch and Food Pantry help with monetary donations and hours of work to keep it going. What’s really important, Mother Susan said, is that the children in the church help out, even bringing food donations to the altar as offerings.
“They’re learning what it means to serve as Christian, and that’s important. That’s an invitation to every family out there that’s looking for something for their kids as a way to make different choices about how they live,” she said.
The Community Lunch and Food Pantry involves not only parishioners from St. Mark’s but others from across Warwick, the state of Rhode Island and sometimes even further. Once, Mother Susan said a group formerly from Warwick who attend a St. Mark’s Church in Florida stopped by to visit. Some time later, the church received donations from the visitors plus others from the church that shared their namesake.
“It is a way for the community to come together to help others who are in a tough spot, whether temporarily or a long-term thing,” Mother Susan said. “It is obvious to me we have a lot of food insecurity, and we have that biblical mandate to feed the hungry.”
St. Mark’s has dedicated volunteers – particularly Doug Randall, the church’s food drive expert; Joan Lord who is in charge of the food pantry; Chris Kudla, who runs the community lunch; and Kim Cabral, who is in charge of the kids and the dining room – but credits many others for its success. Mother Susan emphasized that St. Mark’s is grateful for the volunteers from St. Timothy Church who stop by every month to help as well as the many schools, businesses and organizations that write checks or host food drives that keep the pantry’s shelves stocked. St. Mark’s has received donations from Mayor Scott Avedisian, Stop & Shop, Shaw’s, Bob’s Discount furniture, Spike’s in Gateway Plaza, Citizens Bank in Hoxsie, Hoxsie School, Randall Holden School, Conimicut VFW, Doggie Do’s in Pawtuxet Village, Papa Gino’s in Hoxsie, Warwick Firefighters Association, Warwick PAL Football, Warwick Firefighters Soccer, Larry’s Liquors, Sophia’s Tuscan Grill, Dr. Matthew Brennan, Don’s Pizza, Jade Dragon, Sun Center Training, Home Depot, Governor Francis Inn, Style Innovators, Hot Heads Salon, Dunkin Donuts in Hoxsie, Community of Hoxsie and Lakewood, MC Renovations, DRR Renovations, Michael’s Crafts, and Great Clips in Hoxsie.
“It’s a good thing to do for the Warwick community. We are Catholics and we are Christians. We are called to be as generous as we possibly can, so if there are other organizations we can help, we’re happy to do so,” said Father Andrew Messina at St. Timothy Church. “St. Mark’s is basically around the corner from us. We’ve gotten along very well in the past couple years and we’re happy to send volunteers and food.”
To donate to the Community Lunch and Food Pantry and to find out more about the church, visit their website at stmarkswarwick.org. St. Mark’s is also currently in need of a new furnace, which will cost $10,000. Donations to the church to help fund the furnace can also be made online.
Food items for the pantry recommended for wintertime are cereals, hearty soups, and proteins. The church’s next event will be Caroling for Canned Goods, which takes place at the Cole Farm Fire Station on West Shore Road on December 17th at 5:30 p.m.