Woonsocket soup kitchen closes after 31 years of feeding city’s hungry

Woonsocket soup kitchen closes after 31 years of feeding city’s hungry

WOONSOCKET –Since Pat Dempster, pictured, and her husband, the late Paul Dempster, first began serving food in the basement of First Baptist Church in the 1980s, the ministry they created has served more than 2 million meals to the city’s hungry.

But now, Pat says it is time to call it quits.

Because He Lives Ministries, which since 2011 has been run out of All Saints Church on Rathbun Street, has served its last hot meal. Prior to this week, the kitchen dished out lunch to hungry visitors every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, serving what Dempster said was an ever-growing population of those in need.

In a letter dated Sept. 7, Dempster said it was with “regret and sadness,” that she announced the decision.

“Due to health issues and other factors, we are not able to continue feeding people four days a week,” Dempster wrote. “We know this creates a need that we pray another group is able to supply.”

The nonprofit ministry has had few closures in its 31-year history in Woonsocket, and has served as a hub of operations for several local food pantries, providing a central pick-up and drop-off station.

There was a brief break from service in 2011, when plumbing problems at First Baptist caused Because He Lives to close. At the time, Dempster took her ministry to the people, serving meals in World War II Veterans Memorial Park.

Soon after, the kitchen was offered a home inside All Saints Parish.
There was another brief closure in 2015, when record snowfall left the church’s parking lot a mess, leading church leaders to ask Dempster to take a brief hiatus.

But with those exceptions, Dempster and her group of volunteers have worked non-stop to feed the city’s hungry. Last year, she estimated that her kitchen was serving around 800 meals a month. Most, she noted, were to families with children.

The kitchen was first opened by Pat and her husband, but Paul died in 1994, leaving her to continue the work. For three decades her small but dedicated team worked with the help of donations, providing warm meals through the winters, along with special holiday meals for those who may not have had them otherwise, on Thanksgiving and Christmas.

“We have been blessed by this community in the support given to us from private individuals, churches, companies and other organizations,” Dempster said in a note announcing the closing.

She said she has been especially grateful for their hosts at All Saints Church.

“The generosity and love for those less fortunate shown by this church has been a blessing to this ministry and all whom we have served,” she wrote.

During a visit to the church Monday evening, The Breeze learned that the ministry had not yet removed their equipment from the church. No signs or notes indicated when they had served their last meal.

Dempster could not be reached for further comment this week, but it was clear from her letter that the decision to shut down had been a hard choice.

“It is so difficult to say goodbye to all who came to us four days a week. We love you all and will miss you terribly,” she said. “We will keep you all in our prayers and hope that you will pray for us also. God bless you all.”