Pawtucket Soup Kitchen defying odds to continue long tradition of community service

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PAWTUCKET — Four days before Christmas, Bishop Thomas J. Tobin made a pastoral visit to the Pawtucket Soup Kitchen, which began in downtown Pawtucket as a ministry of now-Holy Family Parish, when former Providence College Chef Ernie Marot cooked up meals to help feed the needy. The soup kitchen now leases space at the parish’s St. Joseph Church for its extensive operations.
On Dec. 21, the soup kitchen, with its many volunteers, was offering breakfast and the opportunity for those in need to select some items of warm clothing to help them endure the cold temperatures of winter.
The bishop came to offer his thanks and appreciation to the many volunteers who make the soup kitchen possible, as well as his support to many of those in need who came to enjoy a hot breakfast and receive some supplies.
“The program wouldn’t work without the volunteers,” Bishop Tobin said. “The Pawtucket Soup Kitchen meets an important need in the community. It’s a good program, it operates all the time.”
Raymond Gannon, a World War II veteran who began a lifelong mission of helping the poor about 50 years ago, when he served as deputy director of the city’s Housing Authority, is one of the founders of the Pawtucket Soup Kitchen.
Along with Executive Director Adrienne Marchetti, the soup kitchen’s only paid employee — who works full time running the kitchen’s daily operations, which include serving two meals a day to those in need of a warm meal and also providing daily meals to the St. Paul’s Shelter in the city’s downtown — Gannon, at 99, remains as active in the ministry as ever.
He organizes the soup kitchen’s annual Adopt-a Family program each Christmas, which serves between about 40-50 families.
“The children come in and see Santa Claus,” Gannon said. “The kids are jumping with joy. They get toys, but they get mostly clothing, and they get new shoes.”
Gannon also applauded the efforts of the numerous volunteers who help to continue and further the work that he began so long ago.
“People can come here and get two meals a day that they wouldn’t have,” he said.
John Barry, the secretary of Catholic Charities and Social Ministry for the Diocese of Providence, attended the visit with Bishop Tobin and praised Gannon for his half-century of volunteer spirit in helping the less fortunate.
“Ray has made a lifelong commitment to serving the poor in the community,” Barry said.
Marchetti said that in 2018, the Pawtucket Soup Kitchen served 43,006 meals, and that for 2019, it looked like they would exceed that number.
The soup kitchen serves a full breakfast every morning, and a full dinner at night, Monday through Friday, and a brunch on Saturday.
With the church hall in use during the day, the kitchen furnishes lunchtime meals to Access Rhode Island, in addition to sending dinner seven days a week to the St. Paul’s Shelter, housed at the Episcopal Church downtown.
“You have to be very organized,” Marchetti responded, when asked how she is able to manage that volume of daily food production.
“It all takes place in this kitchen right here,” she smiles as she gestures toward the nerve center of her operations. “It’s the little stove that can.”
Retired Pawtucket Police Chief George Kelley has served as president of the Pawtucket Soup Kitchen Board for the last three years, and was nearing the end of his term at Christmas.
“This is what volunteerism is all about, this is what you do after you retire,” Kelley said.
“If you look at the numbers, every year the number we serve goes higher and higher. We have one paid employee and everyone else is a volunteer.
The soup kitchen carries out its tremendous service to the community through the grants and donations it receives.
“For the most part it’s just people coming over and giving a donation,” Kelley said. “There are an awful lot of very generous people.”