Soup kitchen gets a ‘New Be­gin­ning’

New home­less meal site opens to re­place Be­cause He Lives

Woonsocket Call - - Front Page - By RUSS OLIVO ro­livo@woonsock­et­call.com

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.

Photo by Russ Olivo

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.

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