SOUTH KINGSTOWN—The Rhode Island Foundation just keeps on giving—and it’s hoping Rhode Islanders will follow its lead. 

The largest contributor to nonprofit organizations in the state, The Rhode Island Foundation announced last month a $100,000 grant to the Rhode Island Community Food Bank. RI Foundation President Neil D. Steinberg said he hopes the grant will inspire others across the state to give. 

“The purpose of this grant is not only to address the alarming increase in hunger in our state,” Steinberg said in a statement. “It’s also hopefully to provide leadership and to inspire Rhode Islanders to support the charities of their choice as well as to help those in need going into the winter months.”

The RI Community Food Bank distributes food to 57,000 Rhode Islanders each month through a statewide network of 155 member agencies, which includes the Jonnycake Center of Peace Dale and the food pantry at St. Peter by the Sea in Narragansett. 

As a member of Feeding America, the RI Community Food Bank distributed 9.5 million pounds of food in 2017 alone. 

And thousands of residents of South Kingstown and Narragansett benefit from those food distributions. 

According to its most recent annual report, the food pantry at Jonnycake Center of Peace Dale served 2,025 visitors in 2016, and distributed 278,000 pounds of food—an increase of around 30 percent over the previous year. 

“We’ve certainly seen a high level of need continue,” Kate Brewster, executive director of the Jonnycake Center of Peace Dale, said last week. She added that the combination of a high cost of living and low wages for many jobs in the area is partially responsible for driving that growing rate of visitors to Jonnycake. 

Jonnycake has received around 400 new visitors each year over the past few years, Brewster added. 

It was statistics like that which served as a call to action for the Rhode Island Foundation. 

Specifically, inspiration for the grant and its accompanying challenge for Rhode Islanders to pitch in was sparked by a recent report which stated that hunger in the Ocean State is at a 10-year high.

According to the Food Bank’s 2017 Report on Hunger, hunger in Rhode Island is at its highest rate in a decade.

“The donation to the Rhode Island Community Food Bank is critically important because it allows the food bank to supply member agencies with low- or no-cost food items that they can distribute to local residents,” Brewster said. 

Food items are provided by the food bank to member agencies such as Jonnycake either with a maintenance fee attached—for example, at a rate of 10 cents per pound, Brewster explained—or at a reduced price through its co-op purchasing program. 

“In either case we’re getting food at a very reduced cost,” Brewster said. 

The Jonnycake Center secures approximately 45 percent of the food it distributes from the RI Community Food Bank. The rest is either purchased elsewhere by the Jonnycake Center or is received through donations and food drives. 

The grant was awarded just as the Trump administration is reportedly preparing an executive order mandating an extensive review of safety net programs. Proposed federal cuts to such programs could overwhelm the state’s food pantries during a particularly trying time.  

“Cuts to safety net programs like [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program] SNAP and [Women, Infants and Children] WIC will increase the number of people seeking food assistance and we will need to find additional support to serve them,” said Andrew Schiff, CEO of the RI Food Bank. 

Although this most recent grant benefits the Jonnycake Center indirectly, Brewster pointed out that the Rhode Island Foundation also helps Jonnycake in several direct ways throughout each year. 

The Jonnycake Center receives annually a basic needs grant—used to purchase food—from the foundation, and last year also received a grant to hire a community health outreach worker. That outreach worker started last month, after South County Healthy Bodies, Healthy Minds identified the position as valuable to residents using Jonnycake’s services. 

And while the Rhode Island Foundation said it hopes its generosity inspires others to give, that’s a challenge Brewster suggested should be accepted all year. 

“We know that hunger exists throughout the year, but certainly around the holidays we find that people’s awareness about needs seems to increase, as does their generosity,” she said. “The important thing is that organizations like [Jonnycake] know that hunger is a 365-day-a-year problem and are here to ensure that resources are available all year long.”

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