Vincent Arsenault had never built a cupboard before, but he was passionate about his senior project for Toll Gate – a report on hunger in Rhode Island – and so he knew he had to give it a try. It took a few months, and he solicited no help from adults, but build that cupboard he did.
“There were some mess ups here and there,” he said with a smile, while his mother Robin grinned alongside him knowingly.
The brown-painted “can cupboard” sits, for now, in the small park off of Beach Avenue in Conimicut, by the blue clock. The whole concept of the cupboard is to fill it with various non-perishable food items so that people in need can discreetly stop by, take what they need, and be on their way.
“Take it if you need it, leave some if you have some,” Vincent explained.
“We wanted this to be something where people don't need to be ashamed to go and get something that they need,” explained Robin. “There's an aspect of anonymity to it that we wanted and thought was important.”
As for his expectations of whether or not people in the community would actually participate in the charitable endeavor?
“I thought it was just going to be sitting here like a decoration,” Vincent said.
However, as these things tend to do in the modern age of Facebook, Vincent’s project caught the attention of the Positive Warwick Facebook page after Robin shared a post about his project on her personal profile. The results were astounding.
“Within one hour we had about 300 people posting and asking if they could help volunteer. Within one day, we had nearly 2,000 people supporting us or asking to volunteer and asking if we could make more cupboards for other areas around town,” Robin said. “It pretty much went viral.”
The original post that was shared on the Warwick Positive Facebook page, as of deadline has nearly 2,000 likes and over 700 comments wishing Vincent well and praising him for the idea.
Vincent originally put about $20 worth of canned goods into the cabinet to start with, and when he went back one morning to stock some more he was blown away. There was well over 100 items of every different type of food good imaginable. The only room left in the cupboard was from spaces that had obviously been left vacant by people taking something from it – which is what he had hoped for all along.
“There was so much more inside and that shows that people care, and there were items gone too so that shows that there is obviously some need,” Vincent said. “I'm just happy that this is here now so it can provide support.”
Robin hugged Vincent after taking the photograph featured in this story and told Vincent she was proud of him. She hopes that his idea for an outdoor free food pantry might catch a spark and expand to other parts of the community.
“Maybe every neighborhood can have one,” she said.
While Vincent had never built anything like it before and was inspired purely from his own imagination and creativity about how to help address hunger in his local community (he and his mother are Conimicut residents), he did have some experience building tables and chairs with skills he learned from his marine trades classes at Toll Gate. He hopes one day to become a welder.
Vincent donned his “I Survived Toll Gate Senior Project 2018” t-shirt proudly throughout the interview. He passed his senior project with honorable mention.