An effort to address food insecurity in Rhode Island while providing a boost to independent local restaurants during the pandemic continues to grow.
Plates with Purpose began when two women – one from North Providence, one from Cranston – stepped up to help an establishment owned by a friend.
Their donation allowed Parma Bar & Grille in North Providence to provide meals for members of the community in need, including people who were out of work, in quarantine or could otherwise use a hand putting food on the table. It also provided an infusion of business and attention for Parma.
The result of that initial step was “pure excitement,” says one of the Plates with Purpose cofounders. The women behind the effort have sought to remain anonymous, aside from their shared first name of Jennifer.
“We said, ‘Well, maybe we’re on to something out here,” she said, adding: “It just felt right to give back, and that’s kind of what we’re trying to do.”
The weeks since have seen Plates with Purpose take strides toward its goal of reaching each of Rhode Island’s cities and towns. The organization has partnered with the Thirsty Beaver Hometown Pub & Grub in Cranston, while another restaurant, Iggy’s in Warwick, will join the fold on March 14.
“786 meals. 450 households. 12 weeks. 2 incredible communities,” a March 7 post on the organization’s Facebook page reads. “Couldn’t have gotten here without Parma Bar & Grille and Thirsty Beaver Cranston.”
In a nutshell, Plates with Purpose allows restaurant patrons and others in the community to provide a meal for someone in need through a $10 donation. The money can be donated during an in-person dining visit, when picking up a take-out order, or online. The meals are prepared through the participating restaurant and then distributed to the community.
As the anonymous cofounder put it: “We try to facilitate some revenue to restaurants in need … and in turn, help the community.”
The organization’s website cites the Plating Change initiative launched by businessman Marcus Lemonis as a source of inspiration for the cofounders.
They were also driven by a desire to address the “huge problem” of food security in Rhode Island. A recent report from the Rhode Island Community Food Bank found that roughly a quarter of the state’s households are without adequate food supplies.
“I don’t think people realize it until they dig and see some of the facts,” the anonymous cofounder said of the issue.
Ed Brady, who represents Ward 4 on the Cranston City Council, is no stranger to efforts to feed those in need. A member of the ownership group at the Thirsty Beaver, he has helped organize the annual Hope for the Homeless Thanksgiving dinner and other similar initiatives for the past decade.
Brady said that made his establishment’s partnership with Plates with Purpose a natural fit. He also spoke of the initiative’s benefits for restaurants, which have recently seen some pandemic restrictions lifted but continue to deal with the effects of the past year.
“It’s been humbling. It’s been a difficult year in the restaurant industry. To see an organization like this recognize that … to me is absolutely beyond heartwarming,” he said.
He added: “It’s a very unique concept and we’re glad that they’ve chosen us as a partner.”
In a testimonial on the Plates with Purpose website, Thirsty Beaver chef Andrea Leonardo added: “It has been a challenge to navigate around new protocols and make sure the teams are staying as safe as possible. This has become second nature and we are excited each day to provide great food to the community. We find that business changes on a weekly basis, but it has not stopped us from putting our best foot forward. We will continue to work with the local Department of Health to follow rules and regulations and keep providing a fun experience for our guests.”
The Thirsty Beaver’s involvement with the program led to an initial delivery of 50 meals to the Cranston Senior Enrichment Center. More meals for that facility followed, and Brady also arranged for a dinner at the Rhode Island Dream Center.
The anonymous cofounder called Brady a “great guy,” and added: “It feels good. It feels right to give back to seniors, especially. They’ve built these communities. To give back to them feels special.”
Others have joined in, too. The St. Mary’s Feast Society donated 160 meals in lieu of a cash contribution, with the food going to CCAP’s Head Start program.
“That was really great to give to those kiddos,” the anonymous cofounder said. “That felt nice.”
In a statement, the St. Mary’s Feast Society said the meals donation honors the spirit of the more than century-old civic group, which carries on the traditions of the Italian immigrants to Cranston’s Knightsville neighborhood. The meals for the Head Start students included chicken fingers, pulled chicken tacos, macaroni and cheese, Swedish meatballs and egg noodles.
“I have always felt it is tremendously important to be active in our community and to help those in need,” Ryan Nardolillo, the society’s vice president, said. “I believe it is imperative that we all do our part. Even if it is only a little bit, a little goes a long way to make positive changes.”
Added Matthew Volpi, the society’s president: “When I became president of this organization, I was determined to do more for our community. These types of events create positivity in the community and for the neighborhood. These events inspire people and they help people in need. Our work this year, amid a pandemic, and our own financial hardships due to COVID speak for itself. I have never been prouder to be a part of this organization.”
Going forward, the anonymous cofounder said Plates with Purpose aims to bring its mission to all 39 of Rhode Island’s communities. The upcoming partnership with Iggy’s marks the next step in that process.
“We’d love to be in every city and town in Rhode Island,” she said. “It’s nice to see the state coming together as a whole to help tackle a problem.”
To learn more, visit linktr.ee/plateswithpurpose or www.plateswithpurpose.org, or follow the organization on Facebook.