WEST WARWICK — For Darlene Lemoi, director of the Catholic Charities Kent County satellite office, Saturday morning is a busy time. When she’s not answering phone requests for assistance with rent, utilities, medications or any of the other necessary costs Catholic Charities helps alleviate for its clients, she’s unpacking bags of donated clothing and organizing volunteers to pass out sandwiches and pastries to the visitors lined up at the door.
“We do everything here,” she explained during a recent interview. “I don’t turn anyone away.”
The Kent County satellite office is one of five outreach centers operated by the Diocese of Providence in locations around the state. The offices provide a range of social services and depend on partnerships with parishes, the generosity of individuals and donations to the annual Catholic Charity Appeal to continue to serve the poor and vulnerable.
“It all depends on the needs,” said Lemoi. “If someone comes in and there really is a need, we help them. And if we don’t have it here, we can always refer them.”
Last Saturday, a crowd had already gathered when Mike Emmet, a volunteer from Saints John and Paul Parish, Coventry, arrived with a weekly delivery of bagged lunches. Many of the office’s clients depend on the donations of groceries, toiletries and prepared meals to get them through the week. Some of the clients stopped in after visiting the senior and community center next door, where a hot meal was being served, and many stayed to chat with volunteers and fellow clients.
“I come and visit Darlene every Saturday,” said Margaret Briggs, a regular visitor to the satellite office, who joked around with other clients as she waited for her lunch. “She is wonderful. She helps out when we need it.”
Another client, Donna Tharriault, came for lunch and said that in the past, she has received clothing donations when she was in need. “God bless places like this that they have and give to others,” she said.
Visitors to the West Warwick office, like those at other satellite offices around the state, come from a range of backgrounds. Some are families struggling to hold onto an apartment or house. Others are mothers in crisis pregnancies in need of diapers and information about medical care. The satellite offices are often the first contact between clients and diocesan social services, and staff members are able to offer basic supplies to fulfill short-term needs and refer people to other programs as necessary.
“We have a lot of elderly, a lot of homeless, some because of addictions, some because they lost their jobs. Rhode Island’s in a bad way in terms of jobs unless you have a really good education,” said Lemoi, who recalled one homeless client who caught frostbite from sleeping out in the cold this past winter. The office was able to use Catholic Charity funds to help pay for a hotel room until he recovered.
Eileen Noble serves as director of the South County and Newport County satellite offices. During a phone interview, she explained that though the specific needs differ between regions, poverty is not limited to one part of the state.
“A lot of people don’t realize everything that we do, but we’ve helped so many people it’s just amazing. It’s just such great need,” she said. “I know it’s all over the state, but they used to think Washington County is very rich. That’s not true. Providence is much more populated, but there are just as many penniless here.”
James Jahnz, emergency services coordinator for the Diocese of Providence, also spoke about the needs of those living in different regions, emphasizing the importance of partnerships with local parishes and staff members who are familiar with neighborhood resources.
“It’s important to be in the community,” he said. “To be where the people are, and also to have a local office in order to help the parishes. That way they’re familiar with the community, they’re familiar with the services that are available to the community.”
For Lemoi, having a local presence means more than just knowing the available services. On Saturdays, her office has a family feel, with visitors socializing and laughing as they wait for lunch. Volunteers greet clients by name and ask how they’re progressing toward their goals, and it’s not unusual for a client to return with a donation of clothing or money. Even the lunch bags contribute to the atmosphere, decorated with crayon drawings by the kids at Father John V. Doyle School.
“I can’t believe how great people actually are,” said Lemoi. “You know when you hear all the negative stories? It’s the opposite here. I didn’t realize until I got this job what the Catholic Church is actually doing.”
At its core, Lemoi’s office functions as a ministry of the Church, providing the tangible outreach of Christ’s love in places where it is needed most. For her clients, she said, this makes all the difference.
“People are wonderful and you won’t believe how religious people actually are. Once they come in and see what’s available to them, they want to go back to church. We need God above all things. He’s the most important person.”