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Lincoln college student finds time to help local organization feed the hungry

By Paul Lonardo

The academic pressures and social demands on college students these days leave them with little free time. Some manage a part-time job, but Alicia DeCastro, a resident of Lincoln in her junior year at Elon University in North Carolina, is a volunteer for The Genesis Project, a local a non-profit organization that supplies food to individuals and families in northern Rhode Island.

Alicia became involved in this charitable work last winter, at a time when it looked as if the charitable organization would be closing its doors due to diminishing donations and lack of sponsors. Upon learning of The Genesis Project’s plight, Alicia and her step-father, Jason Magoon, met with Rodney Simonini, the company founder and executive director, to relate her interest and discuss what she could do to help make a difference. She did not want to see such a great cause shut down virtually in her own back yard and not do anything to help.

Alicia says, “I saw an opportunity for myself, coming home after my second year of college and having the whole upcoming summer to relate to something bigger than me, something that impacts the community where I live.”

She immediately began to learn all she could about the organization, and when she returned home from school in the spring she went right to work. She began to work weekends at the Food Pantry, located on Winter Street in Manville, where it has been in operation since 2013.

“I was really encouraged by Alicia’s desire to help and for her willingness to take the initiative and step forward,” Simonini says. “It’s hard to find people who want to work on the back end of things, and Alicia stepped up and organized fundraisers and she connected us with other organizations that were willing to donate food. I can tell she really has a giving heart and wants to help, and that makes a big difference.”

It was just when all seemed lost for the organization that a number of local businesses and individuals, including Alicia, stepped forward to lend their money and time so that The Genesis Project could continue to put food on the tables of local people in need.

“We were fortunate and very grateful,” Simonini says, “We had a lot of people that stepped up and offered to help us out with rent, and offered to help us out with donations or food, that kind of thing. And it really increased awareness in the community for us.”

As a result of the collective hard work, The Genesis Project has been able to expand its mission to include its new Mobile Meals Program, in which volunteers prepare meals on Saturdays and deliver them to the homeless all around northern Rhode Island.

So now that Alicia is back in school, how is a well-meaning college student in North Carolina able to help with the mission of feeding hungry Rhode Islanders?

“It’s something I enjoy doing, and I’ve become more and more passionate about it, so I find the time, whether it is between classes, at night or a Saturday or Sunday.”

It’s always been a cooperative effort, requiring dozens of volunteers wearing many different hats to ensure that the entire operation runs smoothly. Alicia has been given the informal title of Communications Director because of the fact that a good portion of the year she is a thousand miles away. So she spends much of her volunteer time on the phone and computer, contacting vendors and sponsors to thank them for their support, drafting documents and letters, and doing anything she can to assist The Genesis Project and help the organization grow.

“We’ve had a pretty good year,” Simonini says. “Alicia and other volunteers like her have been instrumental in helping us get the word out, helping us launch new programs, helping us to get other businesses involved, as well. We’re looking forward to another great year in 2017.”

Making food available to those in need has become somewhat of a family affair for Alicia, with her mother, Theresa Magoon, becoming involved as the Project Manager for the Mobile Meals program.

One thing that has made Alicia exceedingly proud is the support she received this past summer when she approached Stop & Shop in Lincoln seeking their help and support. The local supermarket responded in kind, and since August they have instituted a program in which they place bags of food containing store products around all the registers for shoppers to purchase on behalf of the homeless and hungry.

“We set up a couple different variations in the Stop & Shop at Lincoln Mall,” Alicia says. “There is a breakfast bag with oatmeal and granola bars. Another bag containing rice, pasta, sauce. All non-perishable, all healthy food choices, canned vegetables, and it has been amazing because now the whole community has become involved, purchasing the food for others when they are in the check-out line.”

This program is on going, and even though Alicia is not in town to see the overwhelming response from the shoppers, she is frequently sent pictures and updates on how well the Stop & Shop program is doing, along with all the other projects in which the organization is involved.

“It’s been an amazing experience for me,” Alicia says, “helping people and even just the atmosphere created by everyone involved in the Genesis project, being around them all is awesome and inspiring.”

Residents of Cumberland and Lincoln, but also those in Smithfield, North Smithfield as well as Providence and Central Falls and other area cities and towns come to the Food Panty on the second and fourth Saturday each month and get a variety of different donated foods from every food group. The Genesis Project continues to accept charitable donations of money and food sponsorships, and they are always looking for people who would like to become involved, no matter how much time they have available. The Genesis Project is not a large non-profit that gets huge grants and has a paid staff. It is a 100 percent all-volunteer organization, so what Alicia and others volunteer to do is essential in The Genesis Projects’ continuous effort to provide food to families who do not always have enough to eat.

Simonini says, “Part of the reason we do what we do is because, like the name of our organization suggests, The Genesis Project, it’s symbolic of a new beginning. What we’re trying to do is going out and helping people, but we also want people to learn to pay if forward and help others out.”

If you would like to help contact The Genesis Project at 401-757-0605 or go online email info@thegenesisprojectri.org