LINCOLN – According to statistics from the Rhode Island Department of Health, the town of Lincoln has the 15th-highest count of positive COVID-19 cases, ranking it just inside the top half of the state’s 39 municipalities.
Upon glancing at a map of the Ocean State, one might think that Lincoln may be in an advantageous position when compared to the cities it neighbors, as Pawtucket, Central Falls, and North Providence all are in the top-five for positive cases of the deadly virus, with their communities’ counts dwarfing those of Lincoln.
But these numbers may not tell the entire story, says Lime Rock Baptist Church Rev. Gene Dyszlewski. The minister of the church on Great Road contends that the notion that “everything’s rosy in the suburbs is just not true,” and that’s why, for approximately 30 years, Lime Rock Baptist Church has offered food to those in need via its food pantry.
“There is hunger in the suburbs,” Dyszlewski said on Saturday morning, as vehicles had lined up outside of the church as early as 8:45 a.m. to receive packages containing about 14 pounds of food from the Rhode Island Community Food Bank. The Lime Rock Baptist Church’s mission has been to help the needy by providing them with nourishing meals, but with the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping across Lincoln and Rhode Island, it has become all the more important in recent months.
“People lose their jobs or you have an illness or have an illness that isn’t covered or isn’t fully covered, then there’s tremendous stress on the family,” Dyszlewski said. “And sometimes what happens is that there are family members who will lose their job and they move in with someone, so then you have a stressed household that is doing its best to hang on, but they’ve got your brother-in-law and his wife and kids added. And so that sort of gets lost in the statistics. It’s actually a homelessness issue.”
“We’re happy that we’re a resource and have been a steady resource for a number of years. When economic stress hits, it hits and it hits everywhere. Stress and pain is immeasurable, so there’s no comparing. It’s worse wherever,” he added. “If you’re the person who is suffering, that’s where it’s worse.”
Lime Rock Baptist Church Social Concerns Committee Chairman Steve Cranshaw explained that those who pulled up in a vehicle on Saturday morning would be driving away with roughly 14 pounds of food including rice, canned vegetables, bottled water, canned beans, cereal, walnuts, milk, and macaroni and cheese, as well as paper goods, rolls of toilet paper, coloring books for children, bars of soap, toothpaste, and toothbrushes.
The church’s food pantry is open every other week on Saturday mornings for people from across Rhode Island and Tuesday evenings exclusively for Lincoln residents.
“There is more than enough food in America, it’s the distribution system that is all screwy and prevents people from accessing food … Which is unfortunate because there’s such a need,” Dyszlewski said.
While Gov. Gina M. Raimondo earlier this week announced that churches and houses of worship can reopen to 25 percent capacity beginning the weekend of May 30 and 31, Dyszlewski said Lime Rock Baptist Church will continue with online services for the time being, taking into consideration the health and well-being of its parishioners.
“We can’t load up the church with vulnerable people,” he explained. “This is Rhode Island, these people are educated, they read, they pay attention, people are not going to risk their lives, and they expect us, myself and the Board of Deacons, to be prudential, and to do everything we possibly can to make the place as safe as we can.”
“We’re going to do online until we can make adequate arrangements for people to come safely, but we will continue online for people who choose not to come, and this is going to be for a long time,” he later said. “This is not over in July, this is going to go on for a long time.”
And as a man of tremendous faith, Dyszlewski noted that it’s been important to hold onto that faith during a time such as this, with so much tragedy and loss across the state, country, and world.
“My faith has been important and there’s a paradox in bad things happen and good things happen and both things are an expression of the generosity of God,” he explained. “I have to try to live with the tension of this paradox, things that I interpret to be bad and difficult. I see suffering, and things that are positive, I have to figure out how to live with that and I’ve got to ask God’s guidance and strength and how does one live with that?”
“That’s part of the mystery of life,” Dyszlewski said. “What I think religious practice does is helps me face that kind of dilemma.”
Jonathan Bissonnette on Twitter @J_Bissonnette