An elderly woman, wrapped in layers of knitwear, pulls a duffel across the floor of the food pantry. She has trouble bending her knees, so an employee kneels to help fill the bag with corn flakes, pistachios, canned chickpeas, a black plastic bag filled with potatoes, onions and carrots.
The Community Action Partnership of Providence re-opened its food pantry Wednesday morning, six months after it closed operations at the Elmwood Community Center due to health and safety concerns, according to Executive Director Rilwan Feyisitan, Jr. CAPP, one of the largest social-service groups in the city, offers hunger relief in the form of a food pantry that served 29,280 pounds of food between June and July of last year. It also provides social programs such as senior meals and activities, financial planning, job search assistance and heating subsidies.
The new home of CAPP’s food pantry — the Algonquin House — is an imposing, four-story brick building. Owned by the Rhode Island Indian Council, the property spans a block in Elmwood, Providence. Algonquin House is also home to the branch office of RI Works, a state program that provides cash assistance to eligible low-income families.
“We are very, very excited” for the opening, said Deputy Director of CAPP Norma Gonzalez, “because we see that there is a great need in this community.” Although CAPP directed Elmwood clients to other food pantries during the closure, most were too far for clients to reach, so some went without assistance, Gonzalez said. “The need … for opening this food pantry here has been greater every day,” she emphasized, adding that the pantry has seen an increase in requests for food.
CAPP is an organization that strives for “self-sufficiency” in its clients, Feyisitan said. “Very often we are trying to move them from needing immediate (food) assistance … to our job training (and) development programs.” Many people who enter the pantry “come in crisis,” unable to feed their families, Feyisitan added.
The location change will lead to an increase in CAPP clients due to the high number of “displaced and out-of-place folks” near the Algonquin House, he continued.
In addition to providing food items, CAPP runs programs for senior citizens, offering nutrition classes, trips to the park and the theater, cookouts and social time for those that live alone.
Brenda Pacheco, a Providence resident who attended the pantry’s opening, was a client of the CAPP pantry at the ECC. She receives heating assistance from CAPP as well as food for herself and her two sons, Adrian and Wayne. Although she works part-time, she struggles to make ends meet, especially since the Elmwood pantry closed down. Even with two children, one of whom has Asperger’s syndrome, Pacheco does not qualify for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, and said the logistical barriers of distance and her working hours have prevented her from accessing other food banks. “I don’t think doors should ever be shut on anybody,” she said, “especially if they’re in need of food.”
Tanya Freeman, a volunteer and client at CAPP, enjoys that the pantry is “client choice,” meaning that visitors pick their food rather than being given a pre-filled box. The choice element also extends to the meals offered as part of the senior program: “There’s a salad, a hot meal (and) you can get a sandwich.” After learning about the trips to the park for senior citizens, Freeman said she can’t wait to go.
Lourdez Sanchez is a 64-year-old Providence resident who lives a few blocks down from the pantry’s new location. She is currently unemployed and applied for SNAP benefits the day before CAPP opened. Wednesday was her first time at the CAPP pantry. Before, as she lacked access to a bus pass or other means of transportation, she would walk to a pantry at a nearby church.
“The city should support the pantries so that they can help residents more. We should unify, get together … and talk to the city.”
In the future, Feyisitan is worried about potential federal restrictions on SNAP eligibility proposed by the Trump administration. “We work with a lot of folks that are currently going to be displaced (from SNAP benefits). There are a lot of changes that we are watching and are really concerned” about, she said, adding that the displacement will “exacerbate the issues of feeding folks that are in need.”
Despite challenges, Feyisitan and CAPP remain hopeful. For many clients in crisis turning to CAPP — rationing food, going hungry to feed their kids or going without medications — the food basket provided at the pantry can be a lifeline, said Feyisitan.
“Folks leave realizing they’re not alone.”