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National Grid pulls plug on church that feeds, clothes, the poor

August 27, 2014

WOONSOCKET – Feeding the poor: They call it God’s work at The River United Methodist Church on Federal Street.
They’ve been doing it for years, but now they’ll be forced to do it without an essential ingredient: electricity.
National Grid cut power to The River Tuesday because the struggling church has fallen into arrears on its bill by almost $1,000, according to Pastor Rebecca Lambert.
“We serve a hurtin’ community,” said Lambert. “When we have a choice between turning on the lights and feeding the community we’ll be feeding the community first.”
Lambert said a core group of some 1,500 mostly poor and homeless people depend on the church for a meal once a week and regular rations of emergency food, clothing and household supplies. Meals are normally prepared in a church kitchen.
During the nine off-summer months, The River revs up meal preparation to three days a week, drawing the homeless all the way from Providence, she says. Some take a bus from the Crossroads shelter just to get something to eat, she said.
While Lambert issued a plea for donations to help the church satisfy the electric company, she said The River and its devoted volunteers will do whatever it takes to carry on without power.
The job will be more difficult, she said, but they’re not about to abandon their flock.
“We will continue serving our community even if we have to prepare food in our own homes and serve it in the courtyard of the church,” she said.
Dave Graves, a spokesman for National Grid, said the company doesn’t usually talk about customer accounts publicly without their permission.
But he said that National Grid has been trying to reach out to The River to resolve the problem. He said the company hasn’t been able to make contact with representatives of the church.
“We’ve tried to make phone contact with the customer,” he said. “We haven’t been successful.”
Lambert said the church has been struggling to pay utility bills for some time. Last year, she said, the church was so strapped it could barely afford heating fuel, but it worked out an arrangement with suppliers to provide enough oil to warm the dining hall for meals.
The church feeds its following every Saturday in the summer, and also on Sundays and Wednesdays when the weather turns cooler. On the last two Tuesdays of the month, the church distributes emergency food bags. Clothing is also distributed every Tuesday.
“It’s not going to stop our services,” Angie Erminelli, a church volunteer said after the power was shut off. “It’s going to make it a little more difficult, but we’re still going to do God’s work.”
Follow Russ Olivo on Twitter @russolivo

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