What began as a single meal to celebrate the construction of a new parish center at a church in North Providence has evolved into 25 years of feeding the homeless, the hungry and those needing to stretch a paycheck. This month Jim Hummel introduces us to the St. Anthony Kitchen Ministry - and some of those involved, who talk about a quarter-century of providing more than a meal.
For more information about the Saint Anthony Kitchen Ministries click here.
Thanksgiving is still 11 days away, but on this Sunday in November, you’d never know it looking at the feast being served in the parish center at St. Anthony’s Church in North Providence.
More than 125 people - many from Providence taking buses provided by the church - will get a meal any chef would be proud to serve. They’ll also get to take some home to tide them over for another meal, or two
It’s all part of the St. Anthony’s Kitchen Ministry, which will celebrate its 25th anniversary early next year.
Cardente: “When you give you can’t stop giving, you never run out.”
Father Edward Cardente took over as priest at St. Anthony’s in the late ‘80s. Within two years he had erased a $150,000 deficit and eventually raised more than $1 million to build a much-needed parish center, at a church that was desperate for space.
When it paid off in 1994, Cardente had a message for the congregation at the time.
Cardente: “Now it’s time for us to give back. We have this beautiful facility, what do we want to do? We have a beautiful kitchen, so we said, we’ll let’s have a dinner for the hungry, for the poor, for the homeless.”
A one-time meal in early 1995, evolved into what the kitchen ministry is today: a twice-a-month event with dozens of volunteers, contributions of food from a variety of businesses and monetary support from church members and non-parishioners alike.
Mamis: “Never envisioned it would come this long. I’m thankful that it did, I never dreamed we’d be here this many years.”
Gloria Mamis and her husband Jerry picked up the baton and oversaw the ministry for years. Gloria, at age 91, has handed off leadership to her daughter, Michelle DiIorio, but still shows up occasionally to help. And there she was at the beginning of the serving line for the Thanksgiving meal, dishing out turkey.
Mamis: “Every time I come I’m surprised. They say: Where have you been? Why haven’t you been here? And they’re very gracious people. They’re humble, they appreciate it, they say thank you every time they go by us. We’ve never had a problem.”
Preparations on the first and third Sunday of the month begin around 9 o’clock when DiIorio, and another volunteer David DiSantis, arrive at the parish center’s well-equipped kitchen to get to work.
DiSantis began volunteering after his wife became ill and DiIorio a neighbor, helped the family and told him about the Kitchen Ministry. Now he is one of the main cooks.
On this Sunday, he’s called in his son Mike to help out, as they’re expecting nearly 125 on what has become one of the more popular meals of the year. It will include turkey and potatoes, stuffing, vegetables and cranberry sauce. And a host of pastries and desserts to eat - and take home.
As the morning progresses more volunteers arrive, and two teenagers from the church’s confirmation class show up to help prepare trays. It is a family affair as DiSantis’s grandchildren and DiIorio’s daughter also pitch in to help.
For DiSantis, though, it goes well beyond the meal.
DiSantis: “First thing I ask is them this time of the year is: are you warm, do you have a coat, do you have shoes, good shoes? And sometimes they say no. So we take care of it.”
DiIorio: “Just the children is the most impactful part, all the time and the fact that they walk in the door, for the majority of the time, and they know exactly what to do. This is not their first time to the rodeo. It’s second-nature to them to be in a food kitchen.
DiSantis: “What hurts the most is to see the kids. You see the kids come through the line and we always have something a little special for them; a toy or box of cupcakes just to make them feel at ease when they come through the door.”
DiSantis was surprised by something he noticed one of the first times he volunteered:
DiSantis: “How comfortable people were coming through the door. And Michelle said to me: if they come through our door we feed them, we don’t judge them.”
DiIorio: “I always tell Father Ed, I have more time than I have money. I truly believe, not just here, but everywhere, it’s so much more impactful to give your time than your money. Anyone can write a check and put $10 or $20 in an envelope and send it off to a charity somewhere. But when you’re actually face-to- face and standing two feet away from somebody who’s standing in line to get a dish of pasta that’s pretty impactful.”
DiSantis: “That extra meal, it just helps. You and I might get an electric bill that might be $20 more than it was last month and we just go with the flow. But that’s monumental to those people.”
DiIorio: “For a couple of hours you’ve change their life. But the for the Grace of God I could be on the other side of that table. Why are they there and I’m not? Why am I on one side of the table and I’m not. I think about that a lot.”
Cadente: “There’s a quote from Ann Frank: No one is ever poor from giving and there’s a lot of truth to that. So we give, even though sometimes we don’t have, we continue to give and we’re provided for.”
Cardente says he is amazed - but not surprised - that the ministry continues to thrive with volunteers and support, sometimes from unexpected places.
Cardente: “When you’re doing God’s work, it’s obvious, the light shines in the darkness. Darkness is what we’re facing now, hunger, homelessness, poverty and the message is when you give and you put others first, it’s love. That’s what love is. We keep doing it because, hopefully it will catch on, other parishes will do what we’re doing and people see the church in a different light. Most of the people we service here are no Roman Catholics, some of them have no religion, but they know they’re experiencing a little love and understanding and acceptance. We treat them with respect. I watch the volunteers here. Like Dave will run out and get a coat for somebody that needs a coat. No other places do that. We go the extra mile and God always provides. That’s the message of hope: that people are good.”
In North Providence, Jim Hummel for The Rhode Island Spotlight.