WOONSOCKET – There was a traffic jam at Kennedy Manor Wednesday, but not the one that routinely backs up behind the red light.
These drivers had shopping carts, and they lined up early behind the high-rise housing complex on Clinton Street to pick up a free box of food – a healthy mix of fruits, vegetables, pantry goods and even a slab of chicken.
“It's a blessing,” said Diane Powell. “I got eggs, paper towels, bread, toilet paper. It's excellent.”
The nutritious windfall marked the beginning of a new wave of food distribution to city residents, a joint venture of the nonprofit healthcare provider, Family Services of Rhode Island, a food truck and catering company known as The Chubby Chickpea, the Woonsocket Housing Authority and the city's Department of Human Services.
Residents of Kennedy Manor, all of them either elderly or disabled, were among the first in the city receive the food donations, which have become a staple ingredient of the social support network that's popped up during the era of COVID-19. It arrives just days after another food program the city was running exhausted its supplies, and will, in the coming weeks, reach residents of every high-rise managed by the WHA and several privately run complexes, says Linda Plays, the city's DHS director.
Then the cycle of deliveries will begin again, providing each recipient with a second batch of free food.
The logistics of the supply chain were established months ago under a directive from the state Office of Healthy Aging, after it became clear that food insecurity would become a key battle front in the war on the pandemic, Plays said.
“One of the priorities from the beginning was developing a food access plan,” Plays said. “That was one of the first conversations we had.”
Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt, who was helping fill boxes, says there's no question the food donations are a great benefit to seniors and the disabled. During the pandemic, many still look upon a trip to the grocery store as a risky proposition, and bringing the food to them is one way to make sure their nutritional needs are being met.
“We want to make sure everybody's staying healthy and eating properly,” Baldelli-Hunt said. “Sometimes it's difficult for them to get to the store to get the things they need, like eggs and bread.”
This is the first round of food distribution that includes protein foods and fresh produce, including a head of lettuce and other veggies, plus a few pieces of fruit.
The mayor said residents of Kennedy Manor were notified Monday and lined up early for what's been the largest turnout for a food distribution yet.
“This is exactly what HUD – the department of Housing and Urban Development – wants us to be doing, getting food to the elderly and disabled during this COVID time where people are still afraid to go to the markets,” said WHA Executive Director Robert Moreau. “We're bringing the food to them.”
FSRI Program Manager Joyce Leven said 200 boxes of food – weighing about a ton – were distributed behind Kennedy Manor on Wednesday. Each of them had a cash value of about $55.
The food was trucked to Kennedy Manor by The Chubby Chickpea, which is run by Avi Shemtov, whose mother works for FSRI and convinced him to do it. But getting the food from the warehouses to the hands of people who need it is yeoman's work, says Leven, who had high praise for the city's efficient handling of its part of the bargain.
“We were talking about it last Wednesday and here it is Wednesday and we're distributing food,” said Leven. “And that almost never happens.”
Follow Russ Olivo on Twitter @russolivo