Community finds blessing in Hope Day

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“I would just as soon not give my full name,” said the man as he rubbed his neatly trimmed beard and scalp.

Moments earlier, he had been sitting facing a mirror in the shade of a small tent, a black barber’s cape pulled up around his neck and covering his shirt.

Danielle Furtado, wearing a red T-shirt with “Hope Day” inked in white across its front, worked a pair of clippers. She is a parishioner at Warwick Hope Assembly of God and one of more than 250 volunteers – all similarly clad in red T-shirts – who staffed the Hope Day event held Saturday at the ball field at the Oakland Beach commons. The volunteers came from at least 12 area churches and possibly more.

As a final touch to the haircut – one of scores of free haircuts she gave Saturday – Furtado took out a comb and a pair of scissors to carefully trim her subject’s eyebrows. He looked in the mirror. She pulled off the cape, shaking it.

As the man walked from the tent, he said he’s going through a tough time and haircut meant a lot to him.

It was the kind of feedback that the Rev. Matthew McIntosh was excited to hear.

“That’s just what this is about … helping people,” he said.

The Pastor of Warwick Hope Assembly of God, McIntosh was the driving force behind Hope Day, an event aimed at bringing the church community together to help people in need.

McIntosh, who previously served in a Long Island, New York, church, was familiar with the event and staged the Warwick Hope Day with the assistance of the Long Island Hope Day Network.

As Hope Day was being held in Warwick, Hope Days were being held simultaneously in 30 communities in New Jersey and New York. The genesis of the event started with the Convoy of Hope, which conducts similar programs across the country. About eight years ago, McIntosh said, with the help of the Convoy of Hope, an event was held at Hempstead on Long Island. It turned out to be a huge attraction, and McIntosh and the church felt it could be as successful and more manageable if held in multiple smaller communities – thus giving birth to the Hope Day Network.

McIntosh drove a golf cart to cover the grounds of the Oakland Beach event. In all, there were a dozen tents circled around a children’s play area with inflatable bouncy castles with slides. There were games such as sack races where contestants dropped hula-hoops over the head of one of the organizers.

A crew from the Assembly of God Church in Seekonk worked a grill. J.T. Walsh swayed with the Christian music a singer sang from a nearby stage as co-workers prepared free bag lunches. The bags were neatly lined up, waiting to be handed out. By the end of the day, 670 free meals had been served.

McIntosh was buoyed by the turnout. Hope Day started at noon, and by 12:30, already half of his goal of 750 attendees had been surpassed.

The faith community had pulled together to make it happen. Retired Channel 6 sports director Ken Bell, a deacon at Christ Church in East Greenwich, was delighted to show off the community services tent Christ Church worked on.

Bell said Christ Church offers a program on Friday mornings to assist people financially with car payments and other bills other than rent as part of their community outreach. The community services tent pooled nonprofits and businesses offering a cross section of services.

Inside, the Rhode Island National Guard manned a table, as did dentist Kristen Romani. She stressed the importance of brushing and flossing teeth, and also provided free brushes and toothpaste.

Molly Murphy was at the table beside Romani. Murphy is with Oak Street Health, which will be opening the first of three Rhode Island offices at 300 Quaker Lane in Warwick later this month. She explained Oak Street serves those on Medicare in selecting their health plans.

As McIntosh (Pastor Matt) gave the tour, Richard Sfameni, pastor of Victory Assembly of God in Providence, spotted him. The two exchanged greetings. Sfameni, who had staged a Hope Day in Providence in 2007, thought the Oakland Beach venue was well suited for the event, and the two talked briefly about cooperating on future Hope Days. McIntosh is thinking of doing one next year at a location closer to Providence and more inclusive of the entire state.

As McIntosh steered the golf cart in the direction of the shoe tent where a line stretched outside, he remarked on how participating churches worked together to make the day possible. While attendees were welcome to talk with church representatives at the “connections tent” near the exit, there was no pressure to do so.

In addition to helping those in need, the goal of the Hope Day is to show people how church can enrich their lives and, as McIntosh points out, the message is universal and not limited to a particular church.

By late afternoon, more than 900 people had visited Warwick Hope Day and 400 bags of groceries had been handed out.

McIntosh was delighted by the camaraderie of the volunteers and the guests as well as the community’s reception.

“It was such a fulfilling event and the community was blessed by it,” he said Monday.

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