PAWTUCKET — Having found her own path to a rewarding career in social work since immigrating from her native Colombia, Gloria Cardenas is now focusing on helping those less fortunate in her adopted hometown of Pawtucket.
With that in mind, Cardenas, along with family members and their friends, will be hosting a “Winter Clothing and Snack” event on Saturday, Feb. 4, from 2 to 4 p.m. in the parking lot of Crown Collision Center, 180 Broadway, Pawtucket.
Anyone in need of winter clothing or shoes is invited to come by. Coffee, biscuits and other snack items will be available.
Cardenas said she came to the United States in 1993 in search of better opportunities and also to reunite with her five brothers, who were already here and established.
She said that through the years, she learned the English language and eventually attended Springfield College, obtaining a bachelor's degree in education. From here, she began her career as a pre-school teacher.
Cardenas said that after 10 years, she grew dissatisfied with teaching and got a job as a social worker.
This experience, she said, opened her mind to new opportunities in the social area and she has since decided to further her education and become more involved in helping others.
“This new experience showed me the importance and the responsibility that I have within society and the power that I have to change it,” said Cardenas. Motivated by her interest in social work, Cardenas said she has decided to return to college to pursue a master's degree in human services. She is also employed as a family worker at a local social services agency.
During this process, Cardenas said she decided to organize a youth group out of her church, Holy Family Parish on Walcott Street, to collect used clothing and distribute them to homeless shelters once a month in Providence. The group consists of Cardenas' teenage son and her husband and several of her nieces and nephews, along with their teenage friends.
With the good reception of this program, Cardenas said she next decided to focus the group's attention on the Pawtucket area. She said that Holy Family Parish, which already hosts the Pawtucket Soup kitchen, did not have the space to also store and run a regular clothing drive. So, Cardenas began collecting and storing clothing donations at her own Darlington home while she looks for a place where the clothing drive can be held on a more regular basis.
Calling themselves “Teenagers Helping the Homeless,” the group posted fliers at various places in the community, asking for donations of winter clothing and shoes during this past weekend. The group then drove around and collected the bags that had been placed at curbside. The clothes were brought back to Cardenas house, whether they were sorted and organized.
In the meantime, her husband's employer, Crown Collision, volunteered the use of its parking lot so the first local clothing drive could be held. She said she is hoping to eventually find a local church or other community group that would be willing to store the clothes and operate the clothing drive on a permanent basis.
“Grateful for the opportunities that this country has given us, we want to do a little bit by dedicating the event to the homeless and less fortunate in Pawtucket,” said Cardenas.