WOONSOCKET – After running a local soup kitchen for 25 years, Pat Dempster knows there are always a few bumps that come up in the road.
Dempster’s Because He Lives Ministries experienced more than a few of those on her way to a smooth ride after losing its longtime home in the basement of the First Baptist Church on Blackstone Street and going without a home for a time.
The All Saints Catholic Community and its pastor, the Rev. Dennis Reardon, opened its downstairs church hall to Dempster and started a needed turn-around for the assistance program Dempster had founded with her late husband, Paul.
That was a year ago, and this week Dempster was once again too busy serving lunchtime meals to those in need to worry much about the future.
Yes, the kitchen was not able to host a Thanksgiving meal again this year due to its relocation from a larger space, but there was good news in the works, according to Dempster and her operation’s longtime supporters and volunteers.
Dinner on Christmas Day will be served to Because He Lives patrons for the first time at All Saints church.
It will fix a hurt that Dempster has felt since moving out of the old kitchen space on Blackstone Street.
“I can’t tell you how many people have come up to us and said, ‘you’re not doing a dinner on Thanksgiving?’” Dempster said while taking a brief break from the serving line this past week.
A local caterer has stepped forward to cook the large quantities of food needed to serve an expected gathering of about 500 people for the Christmas meal and Dempster said that will allow the kitchen to resume its longstanding practice of giving the disadvantaged or lonely a place to gather during the holiday season.
Since Christmas Day falls on a Tuesday this year, that will fit into the kitchen’s meal schedule of Monday through Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Dempster credited the Rev. Reardon with helping the kitchen get back into operation when others could not, and she said everyone involved in the operation is appreciative of their new home.
“We love it here,” Dempster said. “The people that come here love it, our staff loves it, and it is working out very well. I can’t believe we have been here a year already.”
The kitchen has benefited from an annual fundraiser put on by Terry McKenna, the retired owner of Terry’s Tire and Auto at Monument Square. McKenna was back in town on Nov. 3 for this year’s edition of the event that once again gave the kitchen a cupboard full of donations to keep it running.
McKenna said Wednesday that the economy had a noticeable effect on the event but that city residents and the kitchen’s supporters came through nonetheless.
“We had a pretty good return for the day,” said McKenna, who has run the event for the past 18 years and admitted it’s getting harder even for him to take time away from his home in Florida and make the trip back to Woonsocket. “I’m getting older and my days of jumping on a plane for the trip to Woonsocket are just about over.”
Gil Denomme runs Terry’s now, and McKenna said it may soon be time to pass the baton to others in order to keep the fundraiser going.
The good thing, McKenna said, is that the kitchen has found a new home at All Saints and Dempster is back in operation as she had been for so many years.
The kitchen’s staff were also thankful to see it back in full operation. Its head cook, Jeanne Michon, a Johnson & Wales chef, said she is glad to once again have the opportunity to give back by helping those in need.
“When I was growing up my mother taught me the importance of giving to others,” she said. “We weren’t rich and my family had seven kids, but my mother taught me to give even if we didn’t have enough.”
Michon is trying to teach her 6-year-old daughter the importance of that principle of giving back. “I want her to understand that there are people who have less than we do,” she said.
Dempster, 70, said she feels “blessed” once again and expects to keep doing the kitchen’s work as long as her calling exists.
“I will do this as long as the Lord wants me to. It is His ministry, not mine.”