Emmanuel House homeless give back to the volunteers who serve them

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PROVIDENCE — For one evening, those who assist the poor and homeless were themselves served by the least of these.

“We’re doing this to give back,” Jose Rivera said as he helped to serve hamburgers, hot dogs and refreshments outside the Emmanuel House homeless shelter on Public Street.

On Sept. 13, Rivera and several of the other men who have been staying at Emmanuel House served meals to dozens of local parishioners and volunteers who every month donate food and their time to the shelter.

“The guys here are all so very thankful. Every time I come here, I hear about how the people from St. Patrick’s came and helped out, or the people from St. Gregory came and helped out,” said James Jahnz, the emergency services, Catholic Charities and social ministry coordinator for the Diocese of Providence.

Parishioners from St. Patrick Church in Providence, St. Gregory the Great Church in Warwick, St. Rocco Church in Johnston, St. Pius V Church in Providence and volunteers from the Breadlines ministry on different days every month bring food and serve meals to the shelter residents.

“Whatever they can get their hands on, they always bring it to us,” said Dottie Perreault, the Emmanuel House Shelter director who helped to organize the gratitude cookout.

“It’s a way for us to show our appreciation,” Perreault said.

Bishop Thomas J. Tobin also stopped by Emmanuel House to say a blessing over the meal and to visit with the volunteers and residents.

“Emmanuel House is a very important and successful program for us,” Bishop Tobin said. “We serve the needs of so many people throughout the year.”

Though Emmanuel House is established and sponsored by the diocese, the bishop added that the shelter depends very strongly on the time, talents and generosity of many volunteers.

“And that’s why we’re here tonight, to thank in a very simple but sincere way the volunteers from various parishes who come here to help us throughout the year,” Bishop Tobin said. “It’s a real work of a community and we’re grateful that it’s going so well.”

In 2010, the Diocese of Providence opened Emmanuel House after renovating a shuttered day care center on the city’s South Side. The shelter opened three days before Christmas in 2010. Since then, there has been rarely a night when the 50-bed shelter has not been at or above capacity.

“It’s a safe place,” said Perreault, who manages a staff of about 12 people.

Dick Morrissey, a parishioner of St. Gregory the Great Church, said his parish’s social action committee raises money to obtain meals through a local catering company and to serve them to the Emmanuel House residents.

“It’s been a very positive experience for members of our committee,” Morrissey said. “It’s eye-opening, just seeing how thankful the men here are. We try to do what we can.”

The parishioners from St. Patrick Church said they donate food once a month to the shelter.

“It’s a good thing that you’re helping these guys out and giving them a good meal. They’re always very friendly and hospitable,” Eileen Soltys, a St. Patrick’s parishioner, said as she enjoyed a meal and dessert with her fellow parishioners.

“It just makes you feel good helping them,” said Doreen Holmes of St. Patrick Church.

Sitting with the St. Patrick parishioners, Jahnz said it was “fantastic” to see the Emmanuel House staff, residents and volunteers sharing a meal together.

“It’s tremendous to be able to see the people who volunteer their time, who give of themselves, to come in and to spend time with those whom they serve on a regular basis,” Jahnz said. “It’s great to see everybody together. The sense of community that exists in the Emmanuel House on a nightly basis is also present here at a meal.”