Lifestyle

Making Sure Larders Aren’t Bare: When Rhode Islanders struggle, the RI Food Bank steps in

These have been brutal times for nearly everyone (with maybe the exception of big box stores, which are seeing record profits). Citizens worldwide have been hit mercilessly with the combination of a physical and mental health crisis and a financial crisis. There are people struggling in all facets of day-to-day life, such as work, bills, keeping the home and utilities up to date, food and education. But there are some putting aside their own concerns in an attempt to help those in need, proving that humanity has the ability to bring positivity, even in the worst of times.

The Rhode Island Community Food Bank has a statewide network of 159 member agencies, which includes food pantries, meal sites, shelters, youth programs and senior centers throughout the state. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused them to ramp up their distribution, donating to 30% more than the usual 68,000 people they serve each month to keep up with the increased demand of the community. The food bank, which opened in 1982, is a first-hand witness to the struggles of the community.

“So many Rhode Islanders are out of work and struggling to make ends meet,” director of communications Hugh Minor said. “We continue to serve people seeking food assistance at some of the highest levels we’ve seen in decades.”

The food bank relies on the help of others to support their mission of alleviating hunger. This has been a struggle for some people, as they relied on locally sponsored food drives to make their donations. Businesses and schools haven’t been able to to hold their regular food drives due to the buildings being closed for distanced working/learning. This has led to an inspiring number of people stepping up and starting their own food drives.

“I got the idea to start my own food drive because, under normal circumstances, my middle school [Park View Middle School] does a food drive around Thanksgiving,” explains 12-year-old Cranston resident Grace Michaelson. “Due to the pandemic and distance learning, I was not able to participate this year, so I decided to start my own.”

Michaelson typed up flyers about her food drive and stuck them in the doors of the 20 homes on her dead-end street. She collected an impressive amount of donations, mostly beans, soups, pasta and canned vegetables, which she brought to the Rhode Island Community Food Bank.

“We are fortunate that so many generous Rhode Islanders give to the Food Bank to support our mission,” Minor boasts. “Without them, we would not be able to respond to the increased need in our community.” Minor is encouraged by the amount of support they have received thus far and hopes it continues throughout the crisis and beyond, as there will always be people who need assistance and support.

The Food Bank has multiple ways that people can provide assistance to their community that goes beyond a food donation, including making a financial donation, donating your car, purchasing a Mr. Potato Head license plate ($20 goes to RI Food Bank), planned giving and donating stocks. Local businesses also do their part to give back as best they can by donating a portion of their sales to the Food Bank.

“We are so thankful for the generous support of so many Rhode Islanders who help us feed our neighbors in need,” Minor says.

“The RI Community Food Bank has actually been receiving fewer donations since the pandemic, even while more people are in need of food. I think that it’s really important to help others in my community because I want everyone to be able to have food,” Michaelson says of the severity of the current situation and the impact of helping others. “During the pandemic, a lot of people have lost their jobs and their source of income, so they can’t have the dinner that they usually do. Even if they can’t have a huge meal, I want to help people be able to have enough food to eat.”

Go to www.rifoodbank.org to donate. If you are in need of assistance, call United Way by dialing 2-1-1 to be directed to nearby a pantry or meal site or click the “Find Food” link on the RI Food Bank website for a list of member agencies.

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