The line stretched from the front door of the East Bay Food Pantry & Thrift Shop almost to the corner of Franklin and Wood Streets on Tuesday, as dozens of people waited in the chill morning air to collect a Thanksgiving food basket.
The baskets were small, but packed with bags of potatoes, canned vegetables, ingredients for the “fixings”, and the recipients also received a voucher for a Thanksgiving turkey.
Food Programs Coordinator, Karen Griffith-Dieterich, said food pantry clients began registering for the baskets in October, with 226 people expected to turn up between the hours of 10 am and 1 pm in order to collect their basket.
Griffith-Dieterich is one of three paid employees of the East Bay Food Pantry & Thrift Shop, located at 150 Franklin Street, Bristol. She said the agency relies heavily on their large contingent of caring volunteers, some of whom are themselves clients of the food pantry.
“We’re seeing a huge increase in the number of clients coming to us lately,” said Griffith-Dieterich. “We’ve been serving over one hundred families a week lately, including around twenty new families every week! Thankfully we have a very active group of volunteers, which is what makes all this possible."
Clients are able to visit the food pantry once a month and many of those who are assisted are working families with children, or those who were employed until the recession devastated their lives.
Cathie MacDougall is a school bus driver and has three children living at home. This is the first year she has registered with the East Bay Food Pantry for a Thanksgiving basket.
“The rent keeps going up, and my ex doesn’t provide support for our kids,” said MacDougall. “There’s a stereotype that people are just sitting around collecting, but I don’t think that’s the case for most people. I’m very grateful for this.”
Ken Santos is a carpenter who never went without a job for 28 years after graduating from high school. Two years ago he was laid off and with no more unemployment benefits, his savings all used up, and no way to buy food or pay his bills, he now relies on assistance from his elderly mother and food from the pantry.
Earlier this year, Santos, who no longer has medical insurance, discovered that the vision in his right eye had been compromised from a bleeding retina caused by high blood pressure.
Physicians at a local hospital that Santos visited for his sore eye, didn’t check his retina despite his high blood pressure, and sent him home. It wasn’t until a week later when a friend recommended Santos see an opthamologist at the Rhode Island Eye Institute that he was diagnosed and treated for a drastically lowered fee.
“Things have never been this bad,” said Santos, who is considering moving to Florida where his brother lives if the economy in Rhode Island doesn’t improve soon.
Griffith-Dieterich said it often takes very little to tip someone over the edge.
“If an illness or emergency comes up, that may be all it takes and they end up needing help,” she said.
East Bay Food Pantry & Thrift Shop Executive Director, Anita Randall, said many of the clients who registered for the Thanksgiving baskets also registered for Christmas baskets, as well as the Christmas For Kids Program that the food pantry offers.
Local businesses and families purchase gifts for kids that parents can collect along with their Christmas basket to help make the holidays a little brighter for their children.
Randall said the food pantry is very much in need of gift cards and monetary donations to help purchase food for the Christmas baskets.
Gesturing to the rows of Thanksgiving baskets waiting for their recipients, Randall said their team of volunteers would be doing the same thing again in a few weeks.
“This doesn’t fall out of the air,” Randall said. “We have to do this again, and we need the help.”
If you’d like to make a donation to the food pantry, or see more about the work they do and the services they offer, visit www.eastbayfoodpantry.org.