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Rhode Island – Displaying Spirit of Giving

Helping Others - Members of Rhode Island Local 528 (Council 94) purchase holiday presents they later donated to a local charity. They pose here with a few employees of Benny’s, where they purchased the gifts.

RI Local 528
Helping Others - Members of Rhode Island Local 528 (Council 94) purchase holiday presents they later donated to a local charity. They pose here with a few employees of Benny’s, where they purchased the gifts. (Photo credit: Jim Cenerini)

The economic downturn has put a serious strain on charity agencies. That’s why the members of University of Rhode Island Local 528 (Council 94) were especially appreciated last winter.

The local, representing approximately 500 classified employees, donated $2,000 worth of toys, holiday gift cards and food to the Jonnycake Center of Peace Dale during its annual drive.

The Jonnycake Center was founded in 1973 by a group of women who realized the need for an organization that helped individuals who didn’t qualify for assistance from other established agencies. Today, even more people need help.

“Like just about every other support agency in the state, we’re seeing a 30 percent increase in people needing help,” says Jonnycake Center Exec. Dir. Susan Gustaitis. “Lots of those folks — many of whom are unemployed — we’ve never seen before.”

The center provided lunches for children who weren’t getting their regular meals because schools were closed during the holidays. It also donated toys that people dropped off at a church basement. Parents came by to pick them up, preserving the spirit of giving for their children.

“Each child got at least two gifts,” says Gustaitis. The AFSCME members made “a very big donation,” she adds. “It definitely helped us out.”

“The Jonnycake Center does nice things for underprivileged people,” says J. Michael Downey, president of Council 94 and Local 528. The union’s charity has gone to various organizations over the years, but Jonnycake is a favorite because many of the local’s members live in the county where the agency is located.

“Some even volunteer their time to help out at the Jonnycake Center,” Downey adds. “We like helping people in our own community.”