PAWTUCKET — Adrienne Marchetti has what she describes as “COVID fatigue.” It’s a side effect that no medical professional can diagnose, but it’s run her ragged.

She thought this would only last two weeks, but here we are seven months later. She thought her hands, rough-hewn from bleach and constant washing, would regain their color and smoothness, but they’re just as worn as they were in the spring.

Yet she doesn’t take a day off. She’s always there to turn on the lights every morning at the Pawtucket Soup Kitchen on Walcott Street, no matter how tough the times get both inside and outside the walls of the basement dining room.

And to hear her tell it, times have been especially tough this year.

“We’re down at least 20 percent on donations, but on the need end, we’ve gone up 35 percent, so the net is 55 percent to fill,” Marchetti, the executive director of the Pawtucket Soup Kitchen, said on Tuesday. “I worry about this, I’m constantly obsessed … People need us more than ever.”

With no Ernie Marot Humanitarian Awards and Fundraising Dinner – an annual event that brings in around $10,000 each year – and individual and in-kind donations “way down” this year, Marchetti has found herself scrambling for ways to make sure the Soup Kitchen’s clientele are fed. She’s found it in grants, most recently receiving one from Citizens Bank, but she says those are no guarantee.

“The first two weeks (of October), we haven’t taken in any money at all,” she said. “You get nervous.”

But the need to feed still exists. The Soup Kitchen is averaging 6,000 meals a month, a 35 percent increase over 2019, but there were times earlier this year when the increase was as high as 50 percent over last year.

“You’ve got the housing situation, people have no place to cook, people are relying on us,” Marchetti said. “The people at the camps, I do 40 to 50 meals a night all along the Seekonk River, these are people who’ve been outside months and months, these folks have a very bleak winter coming and we’re hoping somebody is stepping up to get these folks out of the elements. It’s so scary, I fear for them, it’s worse than ever.”

“There’s a lot more homeless, a lot of them have come to Pawtucket because Providence is overburdened,” Marchetti continued. “Here, there’s less people, but life isn’t very much better because there isn’t much affordable housing. Not everyone can afford to live in a loft or a condo, they’re so expensive, and people can’t seem to get above water.”

“I’m very depressed looking into the future,” she added. “With winter, you’ve got the added cost of heat and electricity, the food costs are out of control, the average consumer goes to the supermarket, that’s passed on to them, and they’re not eating healthy because fruits and vegetables are out of control. It’s a very bad situation. I think 2020 is the year none of us want to think about again but none of us will ever be able to forget.”

But while the past seven months have undoubtedly been bleak for Marchetti and the Soup Kitchen, she still sees hope in the future. The annual Thanksgiving Dinner will be held, albeit in a modified format, with two feedings instead of one to prevent overcrowding and with no shuttle service to and from the Soup Kitchen.

Also, the yearly Adopt-a-Family program will happen again this year.

Looking ahead, Marchetti says she’s hopeful to hold the postponed Ernie Marot Humanitarian Awards and Fundraising Dinner next spring.

Additionally, Marchetti has found benefactors during this time of crisis. She said she spent well over $100 weekly on bottled water, but there’s no drought at the Soup Kitchen thanks to BJ’s Wholesale Club in Attleboro, which recently donated 1,000 bottles of water.

“The Soup Kitchen is very grateful for this donation which will be used for its lunch and dinner meals and wishes to publicly thank BJ’s Wholesale Club for this gift,” Marchetti said. “The Pawtucket Soup Kitchen, which has seen an increase in the need for its services since the COVID pandemic began, uses approximately 10 to 15 cases of bottled water each week.”

Founded in 1992, the Pawtucket Soup Kitchen provides breakfast and dinner Monday through Friday and brunch on Saturday mornings at 195 Walcott St. in Pawtucket. It also provides lunch Monday through Friday across from the Visitor Center on Roosevelt Avenue.

Jonathan Bissonnette on Twitter @J_Bissonnette

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