Food Pantry Shows Power of Community

by Representative Julie Casimiro
(D-Dist. 31, North Kingstown, Exeter)

This visit let me see the power of community, but it also made me aware that charitable food assistance is a limited resource.

Rep. Casimiro at the NK Food Pantry

Rep. Casimiro (right) at the North Kingstown Food Pantry in March 2017.

I began my first term as a state representative in January. Along with getting oriented to the State House, I’ve been meeting with constituents, businesses and civic organizations in my district of North Kingstown and Exeter. I’ve always been curious about the North Kingstown Food Pantry on School Street, so I was pleased to receive an invitation to visit this month.

I’ve probably driven past the food pantry thousands of times, but this was my first time inside. Walking in, you’re struck by the sheer volume of food displayed. Set up like a small grocery store, the food pantry offers canned goods, bread, fresh produce and even frozen items like beef and chicken.

My hosts were Pat Tilley and Richard Jacques, who are members of the organization’s board, President Kimberly Ann Page, and Andrew Schiff, CEO of the Rhode Island Community Food Bank. They explained that the pantry serves hundreds of households each month, mostly working poor, disabled and elderly residents of North Kingstown. The shelves are stocked with donations from the Food Bank and local grocery stores, supplemented by local food drives and purchases made possible by cash donations.

Having worked at social-service agencies for many years, I’m no novice about social services. Yet I was amazed by the knowledge and expertise needed to run the pantry, which operates as a nonprofit organization. The pantry relies on a crew of volunteers with skills in management, accounting, inventory and fundraising.

Along with this volunteer effort, there has been a remarkable outpouring of generosity ever since the pantry moved to this site three years ago. From the help needed to rehabilitate the original building to plowing the snow, from grant-writing to building a website, a dedicated business professional or community member always seems to step up.

The Food Pantry receives food and support from the Food Bank as one of its member agencies and is part of a larger network of 200 sites across the state. These programs serve 60,000 Rhode Islanders in need of food assistance each month, close to double the number before the recession.

This visit let me see the power of community, but it also made me aware that charitable food assistance is a limited resource. Agencies like the North Kingstown Food Pantry operate full-out to meet the need. If President Trump’s proposed cuts in federal funding for basic human services are approved by Congress, the demand for food assistance will overwhelm the capacity.

I am sure that most representatives and senators in the General Assembly are familiar with the soup kitchens, meal programs, shelters and food pantries in their districts. I urge those who are less familiar with these programs to arrange a visit today. It’s an opportunity to meet some of the most devoted, civic-minded people in our communities. It’s also a reality check on how the people served by these organizations will be impacted by the draconian cuts that may be coming our way from Washington.


This op-ed appeared in The Providence Journal, GoLocalProv, and Southern Rhode Island Newspapers.