By Jody McPhillips
Hungry in the West End addresses senior hunger in Providence's West End community -- an area of hard-core poverty burdened further by the recession. This series attempts to put a face on the problem of senior hunger in the West End and throughout America, and to give voice to those who are responding to the challenge of feeding the hungry. This is Part 5 of the series. Start here to begin with Part 1.
The Tuesday lunch at the St. Martin de Porres Center, 260 Cranston St. in the West End, is more about friends than food.
People begin to gather in the big community room well before the noon hour. Some come to play cards, some to visit with friends, some to catch up on the news from a neighborhood they left years ago.
Some don't like the food, so they bring a bag lunch.
"I come here to be with people, so I'm not alone all day long," says Ruth Tabora, 68, of 301 Cranston St. "It's a good place to be. You're never lonely."
Eighty-year-old Agnes H. Perry of Cahir Street says she comes to St. Martin de Porres just as her mother and four older sisters did. "I joined to keep the family tradition going," she says. "We come for fellowship, because we all grew up together."
St. Martin de Porres director Esther Price says that sometimes the stakes can be higher than gossip or a card game.
Some who come to the center are barely making ends meet, she says, which leads to some tough choices. “When you try to figure … whether you can afford to eat that day, or to buy pharmaceuticals, that’s a tough decision. I’ve known them to go without their medicines to buy food,” she says.
That’s where the center’s tradition of close groups is helpful, she says. “We encourage our members to check on one another, particularly if you know the person may be having a difficult time with food, or having a difficult time paying for their medicine, or just having a difficult time period.”
Gail Daniels, who runs the five-day-a-week lunch program, says she has no idea why three times as many people come on Tuesdays. "We get from 50 to 75 people on Tuesdays. Other days, it runs around 20."
Most pay the suggested $3 donation for the lunch, which is provided by Meals on Wheels. Daniels says a few can only pay $2, while some can't pay at all.
Wynette Ferguson, 76, knows how that works. She lives nearby on Diamond St., with one of her six children, and walks over unless the weather is bad.
"I've been coming here for a few months," she says. She gets tired of being cooped up in the house, and the center "has exercise classes, arts and crafts, and bingo."
For her, too, it's a chance to renew old friendships. "I grew up with some of them. I knew a lot of them," she says.
Ferguson lives on Social Security disability insurance, and the benefits don't always stretch far enough. "Sometimes money is a problem, especially when you have to pay the gas and oil bill," she says. "It helps to know that this place is here if I need it."
And when she does need it, she sits quietly outside the big community room as lunch is served to the chattering, laughing crowd.
Midway through the meal, a St. Martin de Porres staff member beckons her in and points silently to a chair.
She slips into the seat and tucks into the plate of food. "Sometimes, they give it to me, if they have extra," she explains. "Sometimes I pay for it.
"But $15 a week, that's a lot."
Hungry in the West End
Explore Jody McPhillips' Web series
Part 1: The Problem is Simple, But Not the Solution
Part 2: Feeding People Too Ashamed to Ask for Help
Part 3: Meals on Wheels Feeds the Homebound
Part 4: Food Pantries Feed All Comers
Part 5: Food & Friendship Served Up at St. Martin de Porres
Part 6: Nutritionists Help Seniors to Eat Right
Part 7: At 88, Theresa Gives Food Stamps a Second Try
Part 8: Volunteers Serve From the Heart, Get Back More Than They Give
Watch John Martin's Hungry in the West End documentary series
Episode 1: The Growing Problem
Episode 2: Doing More with Less
Episode 3: Food for the Soul
Episode 4: Emergency
Episode 5: What Is Affordable?
Episode 6: It's Okay
Episode 7: Abundance
Episode 8: "It's Good Work"
The Postal Service's "Stamp Out Hunger" day is May 11. Watch the video.
RI Monthly: Interview with John Martin on Hungry in the West End
TakePart.com: America's Grandparents Are Hidden Victims of Hunger Crisis
Enid Borden: Ending Senior Hunger Must Begin Today
Hunger News From TakePart.com
Ezra Klein on senior isolation: "Call Your Grandmother."
Governor Chafee Releases Report on RI SNAP, Welfare Fraud. Download the Report.
Washington Post: Food Stamps Put Rhode Island Town on Monthly Boom-and-Bust Cycle
RI Farmers Markets Growing...with Some Pain
Chaffee Kicking Off March for Meals Campaign
New York Times: More to Meal Delivery Than Food
Drive to End Hunger Launches 2013 Season in Daytona
US Conference of Mayors: Slow Recovery Keeps Pressure on Emergency Food and Shelter Services
AARP Announces Million Dollar Partnership to Fight Older Adult Hunger
Drive to End Hunger's Jeff Gordon Leads Pack of Celebrity Hunger Advocates.