Soup kitchen gets a ‘New Beginning’
New homeless meal site opens to replace Because He Lives
WOONSOCKET – With presents spread out under holiday trees and the aroma of glazed ham in the air, it felt like Christmas in the cafeteria at All Saints Church.
A celebratory occasion for sure, but this was no yuletide fest – it was a reunion for the homeless and poor who returned to the church for the first time in more then two months Monday afternoon to get a hot meal.
About 75 guests, mostly men, showed up on the inaugural day of New Beginnings, a four-day-aweek soup kitchen launched by three local women to succeed Because He Lives Ministries. Established elsewhere in the city in 1986, Because He Lives had been serving meals almost daily at the Rathbun Street church for years, but all that came to an abrupt halt in September when cofounder Patricia Dempster retired, citing health issues.
“We really missed this place the last couple of months,” said Roger Chardonnait, sitting with a group of friends who’d been regulars at Because He Lives for many years. “This place is very important not just to us, but to the community.”
New Beginnings was launched by three women, Jeanne Michon, Kelly Leclaire and Pauline Leclerc, who will share the various organizational, fiscal and cooking chores as co-directors of the recently formed nonprofit organization. Michon is the head chef and used to cook for Patricia Dempster and her late husband, Paul, from the earliest days of Because He Lives, when the kitchen was located in the First Baptist Church on Blackstone Street.
“I love it,” said Michon. “I’m glad to be back.”
One of Chardonnait’s pals seemed keenly touched that a few caring individuals in the community managed to get food to the homeless between the time Because He Lives shut down and New Beginnings opened. He said a woman named Allison – that’s how he knows her – and some of her friends dropped off sandwiches to them at a local ballfield on a regular basis.
“Those girls… if it wasn’t for them, for two months, none of us would’ve eaten,” said Beauregard. “People came together to help us out.”
As far as Beauregard knows, his benefactors got no remuneration or support from any organized nonprofit or government agency for their goodwill during the downtime.
“They did that all on their own expense,” he said.
Chardonnait and others sitting at the long dining tables in the basement of the church said the soup kitchen does more than fill bellies. It’s a place where members of the community who are otherwise untethered to a specific location know they can find and commiserate with each other. It’s good for morale, they say.
Community Care Alliance operates a nonprofit shelter on Sayles Street for women and families. The organization operates, in part, with funding from the federal government, but there is no similar commitment in the city to single men who are homeless.
The only shelter for them is operated by Harvest Community Church at 60 North Main St., and it accepts guests only for overnights between November and April.
“That’s my address, 60 North Main St.,” said Chardonnait.
During the day, Harvest’s sleepover clients must find somewhere else to go. As the chill of winter sets in, they can be found whiling away the hours over a cup of coffee at Burger King or leafing through a magazine at Woonsocket Harris Public Library.
One man who lunched at New Beginnings on Monday – he asked not to be identified – urged a visitor to advocate for the founding of a day shelter for homeless men. Such a facility wouldn’t need to offer much in the way of services to be effective. Such a facility would merely have to serve as sheltered alternative to the streets for a few hours a day – a warm place to gather – and would alleviate much of the tension between business owners and the overseers of public spaces where the homeless are wont to congregate.
“It would take away the conflict with businesses as far as loitering is concerned,” he said.
In addition to sliced ham, with or without a sweet, fruity glaze – diners’ choice – the menu for New Beginning’s first day included bread, salad, potatoes, summer squash and, for dessert, cake with icing.
Paul and Donna Bailey, a retired couple from North Smithfield, seemed to be enjoying filling up plates for the guests. They said they decided to volunteer after reading an article about New Beginnings in the newspaper.
“It’s rewarding to help people in need,” said Paul.
“To give back,” his wife says, finishing the sentence.
Charles Beauregard and Roger Chardonnait relax after enjoying a hot meal at New Beginnings, a soup kitchen that opened Monday after its predecessor organization, Because He Lives Ministries, shut down more than two months ago.