Stepping Out

By Cassandra Tribe
For 33 years, Sister Mary Riley has been a part of the annual Good Friday Walk to End Hunger and Homelessness. For many, she is the face of the walk, a tireless organizer and source of energy for this effort. Originally started as a Roman Catholic effort to raise money and awareness, the Good Friday Walk has grown to be an ecumenical endeavor that embraces many faiths. Gathering at nine different churches across Providence (and even in Coventry) participants walk to the State House for a rally.

The walkers were sponsored and they raise between 25 and 40 thousand dollars a year. The organizers state that not one penny of the money raised goes anywhere but directly to help programs like meal sites, food pantries, clothing closets and other outreach programs. All of the organizers, bus services, refreshments, speakers and everything else involved in making the walk happen are provided through donations of time, services and supplies. This year, recipients of funds include: Amos House, AIDS Care Ocean State, River United Methodist Church food pantry, meal site and clothing closet in Woonsocket, a high school in Haiti and several other programs.

The Reverend Betsy Aldrich Garland of the United Church of Christ explained that they spend the summer collecting the money raised by the walk and in the fall, the Finance Committee meets to come up with the best plan to distribute the monies to the various agencies that have applied for funding.

Sister Riley said, “The programs are local, national and international. The emphasis is on the local but they always have one international program, this year a high school in Haiti that receives something. We do this to show the children that poverty is everywhere, homelessness is everywhere and that there is always someone poorer than you. You have to take care of home, but you cannot do it at the expense of the world because you are a part of the world.”

While the walkers come from all age groups and communities, the most striking presence was the number of youth involved with the walk. Most of the adults, the parents accompanying them, were in a pleasant state of shock. Trina Potter explained, “I am here in support of my 10 year old niece, she goes to Sophia Academy. It’s my vacation but she explained why doing the walk was important and you know, she’s right. There are a lot of people hungry in Rhode Island and the world and this is the right thing to do, this is a way to help.”

Rachel and Alyssa, faculty from Sophia Academy, joined their students on their spring break for the walk. “Last year we were able to send $500 to the school in Haiti. Those students can barely have one good meal a day and it is good to see our students wanting to help, wanting to give what they can.”

“It reminds people,” said James Rodriguez, “ teaches the kids that you are more than your neighborhood. Part of learning to help yourself and the people in your community is learning that you can be helping others at the same time, no matter how poorly off you are, you have it better than somebody.”

Rosa Rosado was there with her teenage son and a co-worker. “I’m Catholic and this is just the right thing to do. It’s a way to give back and stay in shape. It’s a way to support St. Michael’s.” Rosa brought up the Institute of for the Study and Practice of Non-Violence, an initiative located at 265 Oxford St in Providence. A member of St. Michael’s team ministry in 2001, which explains why so many walkers were also connected with the Institute, founded it. They understand the connection between poverty and violence. “I was on the wrong side of the law for a long time,” Rosa says, “and it just (pointing at her son) woke me up. I didn’t want people doing to him what I did to other people. I didn’t want him doing that and suffering the way I did and everyone I knew around me did…I lost a brother to violence and I woke up and now I set an example.” She paused, looked at her son and smiled. “It’s working out well. This is how I show my faith.”

Pastor Rebecca Lambert, of River United Methodist in Woonsocket, spoke of the struggle to provide assistance to the homeless and hungry in Rhode Island and of the reasons why people chose to come out and walk, despite bad weather and despite it being a holiday for many.” The homeless and the hungry never get a day off from being homeless and hungry. So we don’t take one either.”

As Mary Cabral pointed out, “God takes care of us all, but a part of that is he provides us with the tools and the will to take care of each other. That is a part of it all. We are the miracle; we are the hands of God on Earth.”

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