WOONSOCKET – Pat Dempster is busy getting ready for next week’s holiday dinner at the Because He Lives Soup Kitchen on Blackstone Street but she’s not too pressed to say thank you to the kitchen’s long-time benefactors.
The benefactors were out in force at Terry’s Tire and Auto at Monument Square recently and once again generated a significant boost of support for the kitchen’s annual operating costs.
The fundraiser, led by former Terry’s owner Terrence McKenna, and its current owner, Gil Denomme, drew its usual army of volunteers including city public works employees, police department and fire department members, students from Mount St. Charles Academy and members of local community service organizations.
U.S. Representative-elect and Providence Mayor David N. Cicilline also showed up to help out the effort.
Dempster said the donations of food and funding coming during the event are a good start on the kitchen’s needs for another year of operation.
“People in northern Rhode Island are just so wonderful to us. Every time we have a need, they are there for us,” Dempster said. The soup kitchen was founded by Dempster and her late husband, Paul H. Dempster, in the basement of the First Baptist Church at 298 Blackstone St., in 1986 as the city’s “no questions asked” meal site for the homeless and disadvantaged. It relies solely on charitable donations and the work of volunteers to operate. Paul Dempster died in 1994 but his wife has kept his Because He Lives Ministries operating both in good times economic and bad.
This year, the kitchen’s support base was impacted once again by the area’s troubled economy but not to a degree that will limit its work, according to Dempster. “Donations are down, it’s not as it was before, but we are still getting the support we need,” she said.
The demand for meals also has not let up, Dempster said, and the kitchen has been serving about 200 people-a-day even though there are other kitchen operations in the area helping the disadvantaged as well.
“There are a lot of people hurting out there, a lot of good people,” Dempster said.
The kitchen crew is already at work preparing for the Because He Lives annual Thanksgiving Day meal and the kitchen also hosts a big meal for those in need on Christmas. A separate program sponsored by members of the Woonsocket Police Department that provides local children with a holiday party at the kitchen is also getting under way.
Because He Lives requires about 32 turkeys for just one of its holiday meals so the fundraiser put on at Terry’s is always a timely one, according to Dempster.
“I’ll tell you, he has been very committed to the kitchen’s ministry,” Dempster said of McKenna.
The fundraiser was held earlier this year to avoid conflicts with the many other weekend events preceding the Thanksgiving holiday, but McKenna said the change didn’t hurt the spirit of the fundraisers showing up.
Radio personality John Dionne provided live broadcasts from Market Square to Larry’s Poitras’ Saturday morning talk show and there were also visits by members of the Woonsocket Lions Club and the Rotary club to boost the donation tally.
The Woonsocket Health Center staff stopped in with the biggest donation of the day, a contribution of $5,000 to the kitchen’s operations and members of the Lahousse family also came down with contributions from their restaurant operations.
The Stadium Theatre put up season tickets to its shows as one of the day’s drawing prizes and the fundraiser also received a laptop computer and gas grill to offer as raffle prizes.
Although the drop-offs of turkeys always help, McKenna said it is the donation of supermarket gift cards that really come in handy for the kitchen. “You can put 30 gift cards in a drawer that you couldn’t put 30 turkeys into,” McKenna said.
“We got a lot of gift cards and they are very important to us,” he said.
McKenna said the showing of support was important this year because there are so many more people in need of help as a result of the bad economy.
“We are all trying to do what needs to be done to get people through this terrible economy,” McKenna said. The kitchen has been serving the steady stream of people that have always come during its meals from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. five days a week but also a lot of new faces, McKenna said. “The need is there now more than ever,” he said.
The Terry’s fundraiser is the “catalyst” for collecting donations that needs to continue throughout the year, but it also provides an essential nest egg of funding that remains when holidays are over, McKenna said. “I never say a figure,” McKenna said. “Whatever the guy upstairs wants us to get, we get,” he said.
With the kitchen set to enter its 25th year of operation, its board of directors have already begun working on a special event to mark that milestone in the spring. Noel Pincince, another of Dempster’s benefactors, is expected to put together one his trademark musical shows as a fitting tribute the Ministry and its work.
Dempster sees that as just another example of the help that always seems to walk through the kitchen’s doors when it is needed. It was how her husband Paul operated and how she still does.
“This is what we were called to do and what I am called to do,” she said. “It started 25 years ago and it is the best thing that ever happened to us,” Dempster said. “You are doing His work and it can’t get any better than that.”