Each month, the Johnnycake Center of Westerly serves 300 families in need of food assistance. Pantry Coordinator Sarah Texeira says her agency enrolls new families “in the double digits” as guests each month.
Westerly, which (as the name suggests) is the most westerly of Rhode Island’s cities and towns, is reliant on the Electric Boat shipyard in nearby Groton, Connecticut for its jobs as well as the seasonal markets of retail and food service. And the Johnnycake Center works to meet the nutritional needs of their community members.
“A big misconception is that our guests don’t want to cook,” says Sarah. But when the Johnnycake Center put out a survey, they found the top requested items were flour, sugar, and oil; ingredients essential to home cooking, but not common among food donations which typically are heavy on canned and boxed food.
Condiments, too, are something Sarah says her guests want more of; while peanut butter is a common donation something like a healthy jam or jelly aren’t often donated. “Coffee is also something that goes quickly,” she says.
Eight years ago, Rachel was diagnosed with cancer, shortly after marrying her husband. Now, at 53, she has Stage 4 cancer and a heart issue as a result of the chemotherapy.
“My medical expenses are constant, so I have to put them on the back burner,” she says. “They come in quicker than the medications do.” She and her husband only have their SSDI for income (he was struck by a car, damaging his back), and they don’t get SNAP.
There are some things she’s thankful for; such as her pit bull who comes to comfort her after a hard day. “He really knows when you’re down,” she tells us.
Thankfully, Johnnycake Center of Westerly is there to provide food assistance for Rachel and her husband. Someone in the neighborhood suggested she go there for food.
Since then, she’s been coming to Johnnycake. “It’s definitely a helping hand to people who need it. It helps with the food bill. And the people are very nice.”