Hope and Comfort Delivered One Bag at a Time

By Jennifer Bray







On a blustery Monday, rain and wind are pelting a Pawtucket neighborhood crowded with third floor walk-ups. On the porch of a Victorian home, a woman wearing a peach colored tee-shirt, jeans and a mask is waiting. Behind the front door a child can be heard crying in the background.

A volunteer is navigating the steep steps, balancing a black carryall full of food in one hand and another bag full of hand sanitizer, antibacterial soap and disinfecting wipes.

“Be careful, don’t fall!” the woman says to the volunteer, who places the bags on the porch six feet away. Seeing the bags, the woman’s eyes light up behind her mask. “Thank you, thank you so much,” she says.

The deliveries, which have helped 4,500 Rhode Islanders to date, are made possible by the non-profit Family Service of Rhode Island (FSRI). “Project Be Safe” helps Rhode Islanders “be safe” from COVID-19. National Grid, a supporter of Family Service, has made a $5,000 donation to the cause. Employees from National Grid are also volunteering their time and delivering food and Be Safe Kits to Rhode Islanders across the state.

“Family Service of Rhode Island deals with families in trauma, for example you now have foster kids who need to get home-schooled during this coronavirus.  It’s just one more thing for people to deal with, it can feel like the tipping point and they don’t have the money to go stock up at Target,” said National Grid’s Marisa Albanese, who is a Principal Program Manager for the Community & Customer Management team in Rhode Island.

Albanese and National Grid’s Mary Smith, who is the Executive Assistant to Terry Sobolewski, President of National Grid Rhode Island, volunteered their time on Tuesday, to deliver food and supplies for FSRI.

“It’s an easy way for us to help,” Albanese said. “I think people are appreciative of us doing this for them. A lot of us are used to having an extended family and a lot these families don’t have this support network and the fact we can help them with just an errand is a huge help for them and a small ask for us.”

On Wednesday, National Grid employees and Energy Engineers Tony Bochichio and Nick Wojcik, rolled into the parking lot of FSRI with National Grid’s community van, ready to help.

“We’re glad to help our community during this time, we’re all in this together,” Bochichio said, while they both moved boxes of supplies into the van to be dropped off.

Wojcik added that a lot of people are out of work because of the pandemic. “”We have the capability to help people and if we can do our part and help people through these times than we are more than willing,” Wojcik said.

Recently one Rhode Island mom helped by FSRI gave them a shout-out. She wrote, “I just wanted to say THANK YOU to whoever came to my house to bring me my kit with goodies today. I am a single mother and have a child with special needs and I am not working also, so it is very hard for me to go out and get groceries or hygiene products. THANK YOU so very much to you guys. God bless you.”

Being able to support the most vulnerable is what drives Maggie Slane, the Vice President of Advancement for FSRI, to get the word out about the Be Safe drive.

“A little over a month ago, FSRI launched the Be Safe program https://www.familyserviceri.org/besafe,” said Slane. “Every day now, Family Service of RI delivers about 100-150 Be Safe kits to the homes of isolated seniors, parents with kids, people with disabilities, people living with chronic illness and others across the state.  We are grateful that the Governor has lifted up this work as a statewide resource.”

However, FSRI still has 2,000 requests for assistance. People can donate by texting BESAFE to 44321.

People can also donate their time to volunteer. Joyce Leven manages the Be Safe program. She is the AmeriCorps Project Manager for FSRI. On a rainswept Monday, Joyce was armed with a clipboard and a roster of addresses for volunteers to follow to drop off meals and supply kits.

“We are able to assist families in need who may be out of work due to the pandemic by providing food and safety items that they may not otherwise be able to afford,” Leven said.

It takes a lot of volunteers and precision to make sure the neediest get their food and kits. The FSRI staff and AmeriCorps members receive the requests, source the items for the kits, complete the packing and delivery prep, map the geographies for the deliveries, drop off the deliveries, ensure quality service and track and report the data.

“By getting these kits into the hands of Rhode Island residents, we are doing our part to help keep families healthy and safe,” Leven said.