PROVIDENCE – For more than 135 years, Assumption Church in the city’s West End has served as a beacon of hope to recent immigrants, fulfilling their spiritual and temporal needs.
That important mission continues today at the bustling parish and while hundreds of new parishioners from Central and South America, as well as other parts of the world, give generously from their want to support the struggling parish, hundreds of others depend on the parish for a bi-weekly bag of groceries or financial assistance to help pay rent and utility bills.
For the past decade, the former Providence Visitor newspaper conducted the St. Nicholas Children’s Fund campaign to help brighten the lives of more than 400 Assumption Parish families and other less fortunate citizens in the community. Beginning this year, the campaign will be conducted by the parish and coordinated by Cross and Passion Sister Angela Daniels.
“There are more people in need than last year,” said Father Gildardo Suarez, pastor of Assumption Church. “We are doing our best. We are hardly surviving, but we know that our mission is to help as many people as we can.”
The priest noted that more than 400 families, all beneficiaries of the parish food pantry, will hopefully receive assistance at Christmas time. Other less fortunate families come to the rectory door – as late as Christmas Eve – and are never turned away.
Father Suarez said that while there are a total of 927 families registered with the parish food pantry, more than 400 regularly receive a bag of grocery staples bi-weekly. The other families visit sporadically, such as during job-layoffs or when unexpected bills for emergency automobile repairs consume the family food budget.
In addition, dozens of AIDS patients receive groceries from the food pantry that are picked up by clinical social workers, and the parish’s Hispanic ministry delivers groceries to about 30 homebound Spanish-speaking senior citizens.
This Christmas, each family will receive a $10 Stop and Shop gift certificate that can be used to purchase a chicken, small turkey or other cut of meat, as well as a bag of groceries containing stuffing mix, instant mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and other staples used to prepare a simple holiday meal.
In addition, each family will receive one $20 K-Mart gift certificate that can be used to purchase small gifts. While the parish cannot be as generous as in past years, Father Suarez said that the recipients of the gift cards are always grateful for the holiday assistance, and use the gift cards to purchase ractical items such as warm gloves and socks.
Sister Daniels said that she is “shocked” by the number of elderly people who visit the food pantry.
“I have never seen so many senior citizens in line in all my life,” she reported, adding that many people are infirm and some are on crutches. She cited the example of one woman, age 86, who had to be helped up the rectory steps and have someone bring her groceries down to the sidewalk when she left the food pantry.
“It tore my insides out to see that,” said Sister Daniels. “I consider ourselves to be so lucky.
People know that at Assumption Church, they can find help.”
Sister Daniels said that in addition to financial contributions, the Assumption Parish food pantry needs Stop and Shop gift cards in $10 denominations, as well as $20 K-Mart gift cards. Since rectory space is limited, toys and turkeys are not being collected, although gifts of nonperishable food items, such as cranberry sauce, jars of gravy, canned vegetables and boxes of stuffing mix will gratefully be accepted.
Since the Stop and Shop and K-Mart are within walking distance of the parish, and since most of the
recipients are without transportation, gift cards to those two chains are preferred.
Sister Daniels noted that at Thanksgiving, the parish paid $1500 through an agreement with a local supermarket discount chain for bags of stuffing mix and cranberry sauce that were unavailable at the Rhode Island Community Food Bank, where the Assumption food pantry purchases much of its food.
“That’s just for trimmings,” she emphasized.
“It’s a big job,” Father Suarez admitted, mentioning the many challenges that the parish faces in helping the less fortunate at Christmas and throughout the winter. “I’m sure that we can do it with God’s help through the generosity of the people of Rhode Island.
“We keep our benefactors in our prayers all year long,” the priest continued. “We pray that God rewards them abundantly.”
For more information or to donate, call or write to Sister Angela Daniels at Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church, 791 Potters Ave., Providence, R.I. 02907; Tel. 941-1248. Checks should be designated “St. Nicholas Children’s Fund.”