College football players say ‘thanks’ to Rhode Island church

St. Augustine’s efforts create sustainable campus food ministry

More than 100 college football players and coaches in church on a Sunday morning? In an Episcopal Church?

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That scenario is what greeted members of St. Augustine’s Church—the Episcopal Center at the University of Rhode Island (URI) Aug. 14. The 95 football players and eight coaches came to say “thank you” for meals the church provided during the summer.

The meals were the latest evolution in the church’s “Rhody Outpost” feeding ministry, which began in 2013 when church members identified a food deficiency among URI students. Eileen Halovac and Catie Chatowski, students attending St. Augustine’s, were inspired by a speaker from the Jonnycake Center, a local community food bank. They took on “student food insecurity” as a class project, which ultimately turned into Rhody Outpost, the ministry hosted by St. Augustine’s, sponsored by the local food bank, staffed by an AmeriCorps Vista worker — along with many St. Augustine’s volunteers — and partially funded by the church and a contribution from the discretionary fund of the Rt. Rev. W.Nicholas Knisely, bishop of Rhode Island.

“Their inquiry into students struggling with food insecurity was timely,” said the Ven. Janice Grinnell, archdeacon of Rhode Island and St. Augustine’s chaplain to the campus. “Universities across the country were recognizing that programs to support students with food insecurity were meeting a growing need, as shown by the growth of the College and University Food Bank Alliance.”

The Rhody Outpost continues to grow and now is being transitioned from St. Augustine’s to the URI campus to be managed by the university’s student affairs office.

For seven weeks this summer, St. Augustine’s hosted a Sunday evening meal for URI varsity football players and distributed bags of food that football players used for breakfast and lunch during the week.

In all, the church served 276 Sunday evening meals and distributed 121 bags of food. The food filled a gap for some of the college athletes required to be on campus for programs that occur outside the standard university academic and National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) athletic schedules, when they are not eligible for campus meal plans.

Robert Izzi, who is preparing for ordination as a deacon and is a volunteer offensive line coach with the team, organized the program and was responsible for buying and preparing the food. The program was funded in part by the bishop’s contribution. Members of the St. Augustine’s congregation participated in evening devotions that preceded the meals, helped during setup of the facility, served the meals and cleaned up at the end of the evening. Food for the week was distributed to players through the Rhody Outpost, which was stocked with additional food items supplied through the summer feeding program. St. Peter’s-by-the-Sea Episcopal Churchin Narragansett donated additional items.

Since September 2013, Rhody Outpost has evolved from a pilot program providing food to 67 people throughout the academic year to a sustainable campus program managed by URI students and staff. For the 2014-15 year, the program expanded, using a well-equipped room at St. Augustine’s for the pantry. The AmeriCorps Vista staffer joined the program, and a continuing team of volunteers from the URI community and the St. Augustine’s congregation provided the gift of their time to the program.

“The program wasn’t without challenges and issues,” Grinnell noted. “We needed to find ways to obtain food and toiletries; communicate about program needs to URI faculty, staff and students; design an efficient record-keeping system; and establish an ongoing schedule that balanced the need to be available with the reality of limited resources.”

The committed volunteers and limited staff met those challenges, and the Rhody Outpost Food Pantry became an ongoing ministry of St. Augustine’s in collaboration with the Jonnycake Center and the Rhode Island Food Bank. It opened two consecutive days each month from September to April, plus Thanksgiving Day, and two days in January and March between semesters.

Further growth occurred during the 2015-16 school year, when Alpha Phi Omega, an educational service fraternity on the URI campus, joined to provide service and leadership through 30 volunteers. Additionally, a paid coordinator from the Feinstein Civic Engagement Program provided additional onsite supervision. Now, as the 2016-17 school year begins, the program has transitioned to the URI student affairs department and has moved to the campus.

“We continue to look for emerging needs and have uncovered additional food deficiencies,” Grinnell said. “For example, there’s a deficiency in the graduate student village because many international students have limited income and need different foods than what the pantry typically covers.”

And then there are the football players, who had a surprise waiting for them when they came to the worship service at St. Augustine’s on Aug. 14. One of the members of the congregation brought a butterfly chrysalis – and it opened during the service, unveiling a beautiful monarch butterfly.



“The players were thrilled to see the butterfly emerge,” Grinnell said. “I said it was truly a sign of hope, for them as football players and maybe for their football season! They gathered around this symbol of hope to take photos.

“The initiatives at URI around food deficiencies are a testimony to the reality that the world will respond to our efforts to identify a community need and the reality that the community has a willingness, ability and commitment to respond to that need,” she added. “St. Augustine’s has provided a wonderful model of responding to the Spirit in a collaborative ministry that ultimately has been to embraced by the community it serves to take on responsibility to care for those in need in a sustainable program for the future.”

–article by Dave Seifert, Diocese of Rhode Island