There was a recent national survey sponsored by WalletHub that showed Worcester among the greediest and least charitable cities in America. Well, I have lived in Worcester all my life and all I can say is “humbug!” I know every corner of this city and there probably isn’t a single block that does not have someone who works helping others in need.
Most of these wonderful people do their work quietly, without much recognition. So to thumb my nose at the Grinches from Wallethub, I decided to recognize a few of the good Samaritans – sort of a cross-section of the work being done – who live among us and make Worcester a loving and caring community.
Bill Riley, Frank Carroll and Father John Madden
I guess you could call them the three amigos. Father Madden wanted to feed the needy; Frank Carroll helped raise $2 million to build the St. Francis Xavier Center, and Bill Riley runs the show that serves thousands of our neediest citizens. Located on Temple Street, the St. John’s Soup Kitchen is housed in the building that is dedicated to Frank’s son, Kevin F. Carroll. It operates six days each week serving breakfast and lunch Mondays through Fridays, opening its doors at 7 a.m.
Bill says that they serve meals to about 300 people each morning: fresh eggs and bacon, potatoes, the works. Then he starts working on lunch at around 7:45 – in the morning!
Saturday morning is food pantry day. People start pouring through the door at 7; often the line outside goes down the block. Once inside, people face a supermarket-style lineup of food. Fresh meats, fresh vegetables and fresh fruit, including those fancy fruit and vegetable platters you find at local markets, are available along with boxes and cans of food. Visitors go from station to station and load up on what they need for the week.
As the result of an especially generous partnership with Stop & Shop, Bill and his team of hundreds of local volunteers have access to about $10 million worth of free food every year. Other local companies, including Dimitria Delights and Regency Transportation, are also generous benefactors. Oh, and there are the cases of Starbucks coffee donated by Target.
Bill works about 70 hours each week, serving 120,000 meals and food pantry visits each year. He estimates that about 70 percent of the people he serves are the working poor, “people who work and pay the bills but have nothing left for food.” The remaining 30 percent are homeless, many of them addicts.
The people who visit do not have to fill out paperwork. There is no bureaucracy. Everyone is welcomed and everyone is served.
Pat Reardon and Beverly Farrar
On a recent Saturday morning, I stopped by the Sacred Heart-St. Catherine of Sweden Parish food pantry. Located on Cambridge Street in the heart of South Worcester, the food pantry is literally the pantry and kitchen of Pastor George Ridick’s residence.
Pat Reardon has been running the pantry since 1979. When people stop by, she puts together the food they need and anything else that might help them get through the week.
In 2016, Pat helped serve more than 2,000 families in need. And she plans to continue to do her good work every Thursday and Saturday, one family at a time.
Pat mentioned that they also serve a group of veterans who live in apartments nearby. Beverly Farrar, who has been helping out in the kitchen for the past two years, said the vets come in for food and “they also come here for hugs.”
And that sums up the loving service that these two wonderful women provide.
Pastor Richie Gonzalez
It all began about 38 years ago, when little Richie Gonzalez’s mother left him and his five other brothers and sisters – she walked away, leaving them homeless. He was only seven years old. Richie became an addict and he ended up in jail more than once. When he got out, he was homeless. But as he tells it, “People didn’t give up on me.”
And it was the kindness of strangers — people who found him and brought him food while he was living in an abandoned building — that turned his life around. Now, Pastor Richie Gonzalez has devoted his life to bringing that same compassion and love to others.
When he returned my call the other day, Pastor Gonzalez was in Puerto Rico on his third trip helping residents who have been impacted by the devastation of Hurricane Maria.
Back in Worcester, Pastor Gonzalez has been running Net of Compassion, an outreach program that operates every Saturday on Main Street. Regardless of the weather, the pastor and his volunteers pitch a tent and serve hot meals, offer a food pantry, and provide clothing and outreach to addicts and others in need. In the summer months, his gathering grows to as many as 300 people.
Pastor Gonzalez’s church, Restorer of Broken Bridges, has been in existence for about three years, offering comfort and guidance to addicts, the homeless and those touched by addiction. He also works with Father Madden at St. John’s Church providing a faith-based emergency shelter known as Hotel Grace.
Back in 2012, Tom L’Ecuyer’s friend Bill Guenette called to tell him that kids in the Cambridge Street neighborhood where they grew up had nothing to do. The Maranville Little League, the neighborhood league, had been dropped by Little League Baseball and the children were redistricted into other leagues miles from the neighborhood.
Tom, who had recently been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and Bill did not hesitate. Together they started setting up free baseball clinics for neighborhood kids. Then Tom led an effort to put together a tee-ball league. The next year, they put together their own little league program that today serves about 360 children ages 4 through 13.
With the help of students and staff at Worcester Technical High School, the league food shack was reroofed and renovated. Today, along with the baseball program, Tom helps lead a soccer program that also provides an outlet for about 350 children, and they partner with the Sacred Heart Church basketball program.
Forgotten by Little League baseball, the children of South Worcester have a devoted friend in Tom L’Ecuyer.
It started with her dad, Bill Hoey, providing holiday train rides on the Providence & Worcester Railroad. Every student at Union Hill School got a train ride and a holiday gift.
Now, Bill’s daughter, Michele, and the Kiwanis Club of Worcester are continuing the tradition of giving: buying, wrapping and delivering toys for children at Union Hill School and Wawecus Road School. Michele estimates that each year they bring somewhere between 600 and 1,000 gifts for the children.
Rosemary and Paul Ford, and Meg Perreault Mulhern
The 365Z Foundation challenges “individuals to perform conscious acts of kindness” 365 days a year. The “Z” in the name is in honor of Zach Ford.
An active board member, Meg runs the kindness education program, which encourages students in Grades K-12 and beyond to perform conscious acts of kindness at school and in the community. The kindness program is now in 30 different schools, primarily in Worcester, but the organization also has a school partner in Utah and in Ireland.
Among other things, 365Z offers college scholarships, funds summer camps and internships in the District Attorney’s Office, and prepares hundreds of food baskets for Veterans Day, Christmas and other occasions.
For the past five years, Susan has been raising money and providing support for homeless students at Burncoat Senior High School. A graduate of Burncoat, Susan, my sister, is essentially a one-woman show. Along with contributing a sizeable amount of her own money, she raises thousands of dollars each year, providing modest gift cards for homeless students at Christmastime. She also makes sure that the food bank at the school is stocked throughout the year.
With outside donations, Susan also provides these students with winter coats and hats, holiday meals, and gifts for family members of these students.
First as a member and now as president of the North Worcester Business Association, Ed and the rest of the association have purchased, organized and delivered about 50 food baskets to needy residents of the Colony Retirement Homes every year for about 30 years.
It’s fairly clear that this retired human resources director from Holy Cross does not understand that you are supposed to slow down once you retire. She is as busy now as she has ever been – all helping others in need.
Donna provides hospice care for dementia patients at Notre Dame Long Term Care Center and St. Mary Health Care Center. She volunteers for Ignatian Volunteer Corps, helping place retirees in volunteer positions throughout the community. She is on the board of The Guild of Our Lady of Providence and Auburn Youth and Family Services. She also just joined the Ancient Order of Hibernians.
And whenever she is needed, she helps Frank Carroll and St. John’s Church with fundraising activities. Not a bad week’s work.
These are just a tiny fraction of the people who help make our community a special place. Now that I have shown you my list, please feel free to add a comment with the names of anyone you know who works with those in need to make our community special.
Editor’s note: We hope you’ve enjoyed this free preview of Ray’s unique perspective and unmistakable candor. Be sure to check back in coming weeks to find out how you can keep on reading Worcester’s best commentary without becoming a Sun member when the preview ends. Ray can be reached via email at Mariano@worcester.ma.
Raymond V. Mariano is a Worcester Sun columnist. He comments on his hometown and global issues that impact it every week in the Worcester Sun. His column will appear weekly in the Sun’s print edition, on newsstands Saturdays.