Open Table opens doors for the community

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Washington Park and Northern Edgewood families find a wide open door at the Open Table of Christ Church (formerly Washington Park Methodist) on the Providence/Cranston line. Every Wednesday and Thursday morning low-income families gather with their shopping bags and backpacks to receive fresh fruits and vegetables and dry goods to help feed their families.

The Food Pantry serves over 500 households in the 02905 and 02907 zip code neighborhoods, allowing families to make food choices appropriate to their needs and cultural traditions. Volunteers make sure that they have choices of protein in addition to the fresh produce.

While they wait their turn, families are served breakfast and have an opportunity to shop in the Open Closet, a large two-level thrift shop that sells and donates clothing and household items.

The Washington Park church was serving the needs of the community back in the 70s’, officially forming Project Outreach in 1982. The Food Pantry program expanded to meet the community’s many challenges in the 1990s, adding Life Skills classes, ESL, emergency assistance, advocacy, and many other programs to their long list of outreach to those in need. In 2006 Washington Park Methodist Church merged with Warwick’s Hillsgrove Methodist Church and became Open Table of Christ, continuing and expanding its Project Outreach mission.

Today, a multitude of programs are available at the site, including a health clinic, holiday gift program, social justice advocacy, life skills educational programs, after school programs and much more. There are only three paid employees, the minister, with dozens of people from around the state volunteering their services. Sixty percent of the volunteers are or have been clients, with over 30 volunteers on hand every month.

Volunteer Coordinator Clarice Gothberg of Warwick spends at least 25 hours a week recruiting, training and supervising volunteers who unload the food from the Rhode Island Food Bank trucks, repackage and store the food items, and prepare them for distribution. She also serves as the liaison between Project Outreach and the church’s Board of Directors.

“When the church began its mission work over forty years ago, its main focus was helping refuges get resettled,” she said. “Our program changes as the needs of the neighborhood changes. The Food Pantry is the door that leads to many other services.”

There are no income guidelines for the food recipients, who may visit the pantry once a week. Large families have a card allowing for more food.

“We meet with new families to find out how we can best serve them,” Gothberg said. “We ask their sources of income, not how much, and their family size, proof of zip code and if they are in the SNAP program. No one is turned away. If they are in another zip code, they are directed to another source of help.

“Many of our families are working families, ” Clarice said. “With the high rental and utilities costs in Rhode Island, there is little left for food. We figure that our program supplements about eleven meals a month for 1,600 to 1,700 individuals.

“Our volunteers take their jobs very seriously,” she said. “The first priority is to feed the hungry, and I’m glad that that is the mission of the church and the many other churches that help us by providing volunteers and donations.”

“There is strength in working together,” Rev. Cho said. “We have a small congregation and a lot of work to do. The church is our foundation. People come and go, and we don’t worry about who gets the credit. There’s a lot of networking and a lot of resources.”

Social Worker Kathy Blackburn volunteers her services.

“We are unique because we can lead people to churches, which can’t be done in many situations,” she said. “Everybody has a story, and just about when I think I’ve heard it all…”

Kathy works with victims of crime, sexual, substance and spousal abuse, and many instances of trauma.

“The church has a lot to offer these people, many who have nowhere else to turn as they deal with poverty, self-worth and negative issues with authority. We don’t send anybody away.”

Open Closet

Shirley Samayoa runs the Open Closet, a large two-level thrift shop with racks, bins and shelves of brand name clothing for women, men, children and babies, household furnishings, fabric, books, toys, shoes and more.

The “Economy Shop” is open every Wednesday and Thursday from 9 a.m. to noon, during the period of food distribution, in addition to Fridays from 9-11 a.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The area has more space than many standard stores, with all items labeled, priced, color coded and displayed in a neat and orderly way. Shirley runs a tight ship, supervising her volunteers, keeping records of all sales, and helping those in dire need with free items. A large enclosed area sat next to the counter, filled with donations that needed to be sorted and put in the proper places.

Like many department stores, customers occasionally make a mess of things as they check out the merchandise. Shoppers are urged to put things back in place, and a volunteer is on hand to keep things neat and orderly.

Loaves and Fishes RI

On the second Wednesday of each month, volunteers gather at the church to prepare lunches, load the catering truck with food and clothing and travel to Crossroads in Providence to serve the homeless.

Open Table of Christ is part of a statewide effort, supported by many churches and organizations. “Open Hearts. Open Minds. Open Doors” is the motto for the dedicated, diverse group of volunteers.

There are many ways that you can help this multicultural, multiethnic and multigenerational church, located at 1520 Broad St. in Providence. Call 941-2212 or go online at www.opentableofchrist.org.

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