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News From the Network

Lighting the way
for families in need

By BRITTANY BALLANTYNE, Valley Breeze Staff Writer

CUMBERLAND – In 1997, the Lighthouse Christian Church food pantry operated out of a small room in the church’s basement on Clark Street. Eighteen years later, the food pantry now sits in the Cadillac Mills at 30 Meeting St., where about 225 families are served each month. 

“I hate to put a number on it,” said Pastor John Feragne of Cumberland. He added, however, ”We’re one of the largest food banks in Rhode Island.” 

He said in terms of the items the pantry hands out, they’re known to be generous. And now, Lighthouse Community Food Pantry, which is run by John Feragne and his wife, Dorothy, has more to offer than an abundance of food. 

Last month, Dorothy Feragne received social services training so that she can join Pastor Catherine Brousseau, also of the Lighthouse Christian Church, at 322 Eddie Dowling Highway in North Smithfield, who is certified to work as a counselor for people dealing with addiction or seeking family counseling. The Lighthouse pantry is also planning to offer senior citizen nutrition programs through the Rhode Island Community Food Bank.

The Feragnes said they aim to make coming to the food pantry similar to a trip to the grocery store – minus the hefty bill. Volunteers at each station help those coming in to use the pantry services and provide information on the products offered, ranging from produce and meat to canned goods and diapers. A clothing thrift shop within the food pantry also had a facelift in September, and has been transformed from a disheveled collection of clothing into a space with a dressing room and aisles and racks where clothes are hung for easy shopping.

Before Thanksgiving, the pantry doubled up on food to give away, as it couldn’t afford turkey this year. The couple said that was a success, and the pantry issued about 10,000 pounds of meat on one day alone. 

The pantry’s partners include Wal-Mart in North Smithfield, Stop & Shop in Cumberland, BJ’s Wholesale Club in Johnston and Brigido’s Fresh Market in North Smithfield. 

“Everything’s about respect and dignity,” John Feragne said, adding that volunteers at Lighthouse Community Food Pantry try to comfort newcomers, or those who are ashamed to come in.

The couple said they work on a “shoestring budget” to keep the pantry going, and rely on donations. Many of their volunteers are from Cumberland, but there are a handful of helpers from the Lighthouse Christian Church. The pantry’s oldest volunteer is pushing 80 years old, the couple said. 

The Feragnes said they do their best to ignore stereotypes and stigmas about people who come to the food pantry. Many times, Dorothy Feragne said, “they have one income and it’s not enough to pay the bills and eat, too.” 

“My wife and I know what it is to be down and out. We have been down and out,” John Feragne said. 
Dorothy Feragne said she finds it “astounding” how many people who qualify for SNAP, the federal nutritional assistance program, won’t use it because they feel someone else may need that help more than they do. 

Aside from food, clothing and now counseling services, the food pantry also organizes a toy drive every December. 

Each year around Christmastime, “angel trees” are displayed at Lighthouse Christian Church and grocery stores that donate food items to the pantry. The church takes gift donations for infants, children and teenagers and hands out the presents the week before Christmas.

For the children, he said, it’s a given that they’re excited when they see the presents – but the grateful looks on parents’ faces is what makes his eyes well up with happy tears. 

Thanksgiving and Christmas aren’t the only times donations are crucial, he said. “People tend to forget until Thanksgiving rolls around or Christmas rolls around – we’re here all the time.” 

For more information on the Lighthouse Community Food Pantry, call 401-725-0335 or visit the group’s 
Facebook page.