Russell Moore: The Hero Next Door
Monday, August 19, 2013
Don’t get me wrong, I respect, and even personally like some of our politicians and business leaders, and think Woods is one of the best actors to set foot in Hollywood. But what I enjoyed the most about being a reporter was the chance to get to know and write about average, everyday people who were doing great, selfless and even heroic things just for goodness’s sake.
A Jack Of All Trades
Joe Fortes is one of those kinds of folks. Since 2006, Joe has been South Providence Neighborhood Ministries’ most dedicated and hardworking volunteer. Every weekday for the past 7 years, Fortes, a South Providence resident, heads over to the nonprofit’s headquarters and puts in around 6 hours of work per day—that’s 30 hours a week for those scoring at home. But he doesn’t get paid.
“Joe is the jack-of-all-trades for us,” said Yvette Kenner, South Providence Neighborhood Ministries’ executive director. “We’re so fortunate to have such a hardworking, dedicated guy like Fortes volunteering for us. He has such a big heart.”
I met Joe earlier last year when I began volunteering at the food pantry. I get there when my schedule allows, roughly every other Tuesday for a couple hours. One of my good friends has been volunteering there every Tuesday for the past several years.
I quickly observed that Fortes was pretty much the head volunteer. He takes stock of how much food has been donated in that particular week, and then calculates how much of each particular item, whether it be pasta, vegetables, meats, bread, etc., can be given to each individual family.
Joe can be a tough guy when the situation warrants it, but to those who know the 64-year-old father of three and grandfather of 7, it’s obvious that Fortes has a heart of gold.
It was surprising to learn that he was a volunteer given his authority at the food pantry. But when you put the time in that he does, you gain the right to call some of the shots.
You Get More Than You Give
Fortes says the friendships he’s developed and the satisfaction of helping others are what he likes best about his service.
“South Providence Neighborhood Ministries has given me a way to give back to the community, to make friends, and make connections with people from my neighborhood that I might not have been able to,” said Fortes. “One of the reasons I’ve stayed here for all these years is because of the friendships I’ve made.”
Kenner said Fortes is a godsend. It should surprise nobody that in the current economic climate, money isn’t an easy thing to come by for nonprofits like the South Providence Neighborhood Ministries. The group relies on a state legislative grant, limited federal grants, and, for the most part, donations from individuals and businesses. They get a large portion of their food from the RI Food Bank, and they get donations from generous businesses like Trader Joes, Panera Bread, Stop & Shop, and several other markets.
“If it weren’t for (Fortes’) selfless volunteering, I’d have to hire someone to come in here and work those 30 hours each week,” said Kenner.
The South Providence Ministries is a nonprofit organization that is comprised of three programs. The food pantry is one major component. There, individuals from South Providence who meet certain income guidelines are eligible to receive a modest amount of food to help them feed themselves and their families.
The organization also has two excellent programs for youngsters from South Providence. Louis’ Place, named after Alan Shawn Feinstein’s father (Feinstein is a donor to South Providence Ministries), is an after school program that takes care of youngsters and teaches them responsibility, respect, and self-control. Children ages 5-17 take part in the program. I’ve often been amazed at how well behaved the children in the program are.
They also have an innovative anti-bullying program. The program consists of the older students, teaching the younger ones that it’s not cool or acceptable to bully. What’s more, it teaches the kids to do something, not stand idle while someone else is being bullied. They use role playing to illustrate how best to handle given situations.
All of the programs are run out of the organization’s headquarters on Broad St.
Though Joe has been volunteering for several years, his wife Doreen has been an employee for the last couple of years. Doreen manages the food pantry and handles the paperwork.
Many Hands Make Work Light
It’s not just Joe at the food pantry who is inspirational. While he’s a great example, there are several others who work for free for multiple hours at that food pantry every week. Almost every time I’ve been there, I see the same four or five people there helping out those less fortunate then themselves. (They prefer to remain anonymous.)
And that’s just the one particular food pantry where I happen to know a few people. There are scores of others across the state who give their time and cash to help fellow Rhode Islanders.
It’s easy to pick on Rhode Island, because we seem to be bad at so many things—particularly the way we manage our economy and government. Lord knows I’ve never been shy about pointing out our flaws. But we take a back seat to none with respect to charity, and helping each other out. We’re generous people. As a news writer, it was always nice to meet folks like Fortes to balance out the frustration one inevitably gets from watching the mishaps in government.
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