New Englanders have a long established history of charity and imparting good will to our neighbors, as this act of community greeted our forebearers in the New World. When the first settlers from Europe arrived and struggled to eke out a living, they were taught by the Native American peoples to make the cornmeal fritters we’ve come to know as jonnycakes. These hearty and vital cakes served as an ideal dietary staple and the origin of the modern jonnycake is often attributed to Rhode Island.

In fostering that same tradition of community, the staff of Jonnycake Center of Peace Dale and Southern Rhode Island Volunteers also provide dietary staples in annual Thanksgiving dinner baskets for seniors, neighbors with disabilities, and needy Rhode Island families. With baskets brimming with potatoes, stuffing, vegetables and whole turkeys, drivers and volunteers distributed cheer and healthy meals to home-bound seniors citizens Nov. 20, while on a bright Monday morning, grateful families formed a line out the door of Jonnycake Center’s Food Pantry, 1183B Kingstown Road, Peace Dale, to receive their own holiday dinner basket.

On Monday, the food pantry hummed with activity as volunteers and staff, including Coordinator David Olguin, bustled about to prepare and distribute baskets. With five years of service through Rhode Island Food Bank and its Community Kitchen, Olguin demonstrated the compassion and sincerity that embody the volunteers and staff here, as he enthusiastically navigated the crowded pantry intake center and the eager crowd of basket recipients. At his side, Executive Director Kate Brewster related how in addition to the Thanksgiving dinner food basket drive, the organization serves 650 families per month, with more than 1,800 registered for assistance. While the current campaign provides holiday dinners for hundreds, “people are hungry every day,” she said. In addition to providing meals, the center clothes people, sponsors cooking classes, and offers healthy breakfasts for children during school vacations and the summer recess, through its SMILE (Summer Meals I Love Eating) program. Students enrolled in the SMILE program also receive school supplies at the beginning of the academic year and high school students in South Kingstown and Narragansett can obtain similar supplies, healthy snacks and other necessary items from the Jonny’s Locker program.

To meet demand, the center accepts monetary donations from both foundations and individuals, and earns revenue from furniture, home decor, jewelry and clothing sales at the Jonnycake Center’s thrift shop at 1231 Kingstown Road, and Furniture That Feeds, its commercial storefront, 1207 Kingstown Road, Peace Dale. The morning the turkeys and trimmings were gathered up, the staff received a visit from state representatives Teresa Tanzi (D-Dist. 34) of Narragansett, Peace Dale and Wakefield, Kathleen Fogarty (D-Dist. 35) of South Kingstown and Carol Hagan McEntee (D-Dist. 34) of Narragansett and Peace Dale, who delivered a $7,500 legislative grant from the General Assembly.

South Kingstown Town Councilor Rachel Clough was on hand to help out. She said Jonnycake Center was managed and supported by “amazing people and is an asset to the community that we are fortunate to have.” Taking a break from the steady flow of clients, Clough said the effort is an “accumulation of good faith and everyone in the community contributes to this valuable resource.”

One such recipient, Francis, a Peace Dale resident and cancer survivor, has been coming to Jonnycake Center for three years. He lost his sight several years ago and the center “provides services for people in need, people that can’t do it themselves anymore.” Francis was one of many grateful for the helping hand Monday morning and the smiles of children and the families in attendance that morning attested to that.

Jennifer Kruguer, who works in the center’s Client Services, said while they also offer a wealth of information and referrals for utility aid, child care options, available subsidies, and health care opportunities, they are not alone. “South County services all coordinate and work together to create a web of resources and agencies,” she said. “We are continuing a legacy founded in 1974.”

The food pantry is open Tuesday through Saturday. For more information, or to make a donation, visit jonnycakecenter.org or call 789-1559.

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