Tapping into the Community
For the past three decades Tap In has been a mainstay for thousands of people in need of food, clothing, household items - and transportation to medical appointments. The all-volunteer organization is located in what some see as an unlikely place: the town of Barrington. But this week Jim Hummel finds there is a growing need throughout the East Bay communities it serves.
Every Thursday they converge - seemingly out of nowhere. A core of volunteers that will unload two pallets of food in about 20 minutes. It is an efficient operation and this group has it down to a science.
They are some of the nearly 100 volunteers at Tap In, an all-volunteer outreach organization that provides resources - and services to residents of Rhode Island’s East Bay.
Headquartered in the basement of the old Peck School in the heart of Barrington - Tap In is synonymous with meeting a need for what has become dozens of families from Bristol, Warren, East Providence and Barrington, who come through the doors for help every week.
Faulkner: ``We did our homework, we kind of knew what wasn’t out there and we started small but we’re big now.’’
Pam Faulkner is one of five founding members who started Tap in 30 years ago just down the road. It moved to its current location within a year or two of opening. The original mission in 1983 was informational - to help match people with other service agencies.
Faulkner: ``There seemed to be so many needy people in town that needed information on where to go for healthcare, Meals on Wheels, hospice, those organizations were all just starting about that time about the same time we did..’’
So the goal was to Tap In to those services, hence the name. Someone later expanded the acronym to Touch a Person In Need.
Faulkner: ``Then a whole lot of other things came up and out and like flowers shooting out, all of a sudden we could see there were many other needs.’’
First the so-called food closet, which helps stretch working families’ budgets or those on food stamps by allowing them to get a generous bag full of supplemental food items once a month. There are children’s clothes, household goods, beds, the occasional bike, and children’s books and toys.
Hummel: ``So the supply followed the need.’’
Faulkner: ``The supply followed the need and it was interesting that we were asked several times, why we were locating in Barrington. People assumed Barrington doesn’t have needy people. Well, wrong. There are many needy people in Barrington who need transportation to medical appointments, who don’t know where to turn, who don’t have many family.’’
The town provides the space rent-free, but Tap In has to cover the cost of utilities, computers and phones, so Faulkner says the organization appreciates monetary donations to help with the overhead.
Tap In is open 9 a.m to noon Monday through Friday and a different group of about 10 volunteers comes each day. The organization relies on donations of all sorts of items and many in the area think of Tap In first when they’re clearing out a house.
The organization’s major obstacle is space - and the state’s fire code does not allow stuff couches or stuffed furniture to be stored. So Tap In has found a way to match need with supply.
Wood: You get to feel some accomplishment.’’
Ann Wood began volunteering for Tap Inn eight years ago and now serves as one of its co-presidents. She spends most of her time on the phone and computer to find a match on a wide variety of items.
Wood: So if somebody in Bristol has a bed that they want to donate, they keep the bed there, we call the person that has told us that they need a bed and we say `We have a bed available for you, you need to call this person. And they’re responsible for picking up the bed.’’
Hummel: ``So you’re the clearinghouse. ‘’
Wood: ``We are a clearinghouse.’’
Hummel: ``Doesn’t necessarily come through here, but you’re facilitating them getting together.’’
Wood: ``Exactly. Today I gave away a washer and dryer that someone told me about. I was so thrilled because this woman needed the washer and dryer and someone needed to get rid of the washer and dryer.‘’
Hummel: ``And probably happy to get rid of it. To put it in a good home.’’
Wood: ``Perfect. Perfect. It was great timing.’’
One of the original missions - and a constant the past 30 years - has been providing rides.
Faulkner: ``We always had in mind I think the fact that we were going to do transportation to medical appointments - this was a big need for elderly people who were living alone, whose relatives were either not in the area or were working.’’
George and Rose Marie Bolton have been drivers - she for 25 years, he for the past 17 since he retired.
George Bolton: ``I like to go at least once a week and sometimes I don’t get called once a week because mabye there’s a lull, or whatever, I don’t mind driving - if I don’t go once a week I feel I should be doing something. A lot of people are former drivers that can no longer driver or are able to drive. Once in a while you get a younger person that’s handicapped who needs the service, but they’re mostly older people.’’
And while Tap In buys food at a reduced rate from the Rhode Island Community Food bank it also relies on donations.
The youth group from St. Martin’s Episcopal Church on the East Side of Providence organized a food drive and last month made a delivery after church one week. The idea came from a 6th grader who goes to Barrington Middle School.
Faulkner: ``We have people who have come in with donations, who said you helped me in a tough time I’d like to give back. And they may come in with a small financial donation or they may come in with some furniture or children’s clothes or whatever. But they want to give back.’’
Hummel: ``Do you think about what would happen if you guys weren’t here?’’
Faulkner: ``I think it would leave a big hole. I think it would be hard for people who have depended upon us and looked to us for help.’’
Hummel: ``Did you ever think in 1983 you’d be here 30 years later?’’
Faulkner: ``Frankly I don’t think I thought we would be and I don’t think I thought in my wildest dreams we’d be this large, and serving this many people and have so many volunteers. And it’s very heartening.’’
In Barrington, Jim Hummel for The Rhode Island Spotlight.