SOUTH KINGSTOWN — Main Street in Wakefield was full of life last Thursday evening; local vendors lined the sidewalks as community members filled the streets to kick off summertime with the first Wakefield Village Association RiverFire of 2018. And as they arrived in their summer best ready to ring in the season, dozens of kids paraded through the village, lending their voices to the fight against hunger in South County.
The empty bowl stroll was held by Welcome House of South County and the Jonnycake Center of Peace Dale. Between ticket sales, sponsorships, donations and the sales of bowls made by local potters, the event raised $12,000 to be divided between the two agencies.
Surrounded by excited young participants as they decorated headbands for the occasion, Emily Cummiskey spoke Thursday about the impetus for holding the event.
“We wanted to get as many community members involved as possible [as well as] young kids to raise their awareness of hunger in our community,” said Cummiskey, who serves on the board of Welcome House.
Cummiskey—who’s also a member of the school committee—added it’s crucial to instill in children the importance of ensuring nobody goes hungry and of “being advocates for people in our community.”
While the Jonnycake Center has for several years held an empty bowl stroll at Monsignor Clarke School, Thursday’s event was its first time holding a joint stroll with Welcome House.
In fact, this was the first ever joint fundraising event held by the two agencies.
“We thought it would be great to have an event together to both raise awareness about hunger in our community, and to raise funds to support our food pantry and their food kitchen,” said Kate Brewster, executive director of the Jonnycake Center.
Allison Martinez, executive director of Welcome House, shared a similar sentiment. Considering the overlap in their clientele and services provided, Martinez added forming a partnership between organizations just made sense.
“They [the Jonnycake Center] have a food pantry and we have a soup kitchen,” she said, “so we support and complement each other with our efforts.”
With its emergency shelter for individuals experiencing homelessness as well as several properties featuring either transitional or supportive housing, the mission of Welcome House is to help stamp out homelessness in Washington County.
At the Jonnycake Center, the mission is to improve the quality of life in South Kingstown and Narragansett by offering comprehensive assistance to those in need of food, clothing and household items. The center also strives to eliminate hunger in the community, and in 2017 had 8,250 visits to its food pantry and distributed 282,400 pounds of food.
“They do a lot of outreach,” Martinez added. “So if there’s anybody that they know who’s in need of shelter or needs a hot meal, they send them our way.”
Martinez said the partnership also made sense from a financial standpoint.
“We’re playing to each other’s strengths and we’re being resourceful,” she said.
The plan, Brewster added, is for the Jonnycake Center to continue collaborating with Welcome house into the future.
“I can only see us growing the number of partnerships that we have in the future,” she continued.
Carrying all sorts of food-related props, donning headbands with pictures of strawberries and cheese and cupcakes and hats stacked tall with pancakes, the kids marched from Wakefield Elementary School, over the footbridge, around the village and ended at the Contemporary Theater Company (CTC).
After making their parade, children and their families were invited to dig into food provided by Pier Pizza Company, Phil’s Main Street Grille, Mary Murphy’s, El Fuego Mexican Grill, Smoothy Booty Cafe, Auntie’s Kitchen and Brickley’s Ice Cream.
Brewster lauded the community members and local businesses for their willingness to offer support.
“We just have families who are so supportive in helping kids understand that we do have hunger and homelessness right here in South County,” she added as the young advocates filed into the parking lot outside the CTC, the leaders holding a Jonnycake Center banner.
One kid wore a massive watermelon slice on her head. Another marched in holding a sign that read “no one should be hungry.”
“Our community is so supportive,” Brewster continued. “And I think that the younger we can educate kids about the needs, the better.”