St. Edward Food and Wellness Center and Holy Family Home for Women and Children are doing God’s work

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The St. Edward Food and Wellness Center and Holy Family Home for Women and Children are two ministries whose mission to provide emergency services to families in need has earned them a Lumen Gentium Award in the category of Evangelization.

St. Edward, located at 1001 Branch Ave., was opened in March 2003 in response to the plight of hunger in the north end of the city. The center subsequently expanded its area of service in response to a growing need for outreach to the poor.

“We see on average 300 families a week,” says Lori Porcaro, director of the St. Edward Food and Wellness Center, which operates solely on donations and the Herculean efforts of 100 volunteers who selflessly give of their time to help their neighbors in need.

Porcaro assisted her pastor, Father Edward Cardente, in launching this ministry at St. Edward 15 years ago and has continued to serve ever since.

“This work has increased my faith tremendously. God’s hand is in it. We work with the most wonderful people. They’ve become like family to us. You can see the face of God in everybody who walks in here.”

The Food Center operates out of a former parochial school every Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., as well as from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. to assist those who may need some extra help. Client families register for services and are able to personally select the food items they need from what is stocked on the center’s shelves.

The center supplies those in need with about 5,000 lbs. of food per week and is the second largest agency serviced by the Rhode Island Community Food Bank. It also receives donations from parishes, supermarkets, bakeries and pharmacies.

The Wellness Center, located adjacent to the Food Center, a physician and registered nurses are on hand regularly to provide blood pressure, sugar and cholesterol screenings along with over the counter medications and first aid supplies. In addition, other health services such as volunteers from the URI College of Pharmacy visit to offer advice and support to the clients.

The center also operates on the lower level of the building a thrift shop with new and used clothes, books and toys.

The Holy Family Home for Women and Children was created in August 2015 by Father Cardente at St. Anthony Parish, North Providence, another of the churches that he oversees as pastor, as a parish response to Pope Francis’ teachings centering on our moral obligation as followers of Jesus Christ to prioritize the concerns of the poor and homeless.

After discussing the best ways to help the less fortunate with homeless advocates and social workers, a parish group led by Ernie Spaziano, director of the Holy Family Home for Women and Children, determined that young children and their mothers were the most vulnerable and faced the greatest risk.

John Primeau, CEO of the North Atlantic Catholic Educational Programming Foundation Inc., offered Holy Family Home a matching grant to help make the project a reality.

“From there the vision was born and we began converting the old Saint Edward School building into the very vehicle to address this most urgent need,” Spaziano said.

Guided by the Holy Spirit and following the teachings and mission of the Catholic Church, the ministry seeks to serve others with fellowship, love, compassion, charity and understanding, Spaziano said of the home-like setting created to make the residents feel as comfortable as possible in their time of great need.

“We endeavor to make each person we encounter feel respected and valued, and to restore hope and dignity to their lives. We will gladly provide guidance and direction to anyone who seeks it,” he said.

The mission of the Holy Family Home for Women and Children is to provide a safe, caring and nurturing home for women with children who find themselves in peril and do not have the ability or resources to improve their situation. The home aims to provide accommodations and assistance to those of all faiths and denominations who need help and support during a time of crisis.

The renovated school building can house 12 women at any given time, with three beds per room to provide each family with its own living area. In its first three years of operation, Holy Family Home has served more than 60 residents in need with a total of 7,035 bed nights, according to Spaziano.

“We just installed a very large playground and we’ve had more than a few success stories from those helped here,” he said, noting how one recent resident worked hard to put herself through CAN school to be able to better provide for her family.