The mission of the Jonnycake Center of Peace Dale is to improve the quality of life for individuals and families by providing comprehensive assistance to those in need of food, clothing, and household items and through individual and systemic advocacy for our clients.
Our vision is to eliminate hunger in our community.
Who We Are
The Jonnycake Center officially opened in 1974 by community members who saw a need for an agency that could help people who might not qualify for support through established agencies. They named it after the jonnycake, a staple food in colonial days, because the founders’ goal was to provide basic necessities for local people in need. The Center was operated from a store front in Wakefield before moving to our present location at the rotary in Peace Dale.
Looking Back On 40 Years Of Service
In the early 1970s the U.S. economy took a turn for the worse. The country faced an energy crisis, oil prices rose dramatically, the rate of inflation skyrocketed, and unemployment grew dramatically. In that context, social workers, activists, religious groups and others began to look at how they might bolster the safety net for the poor.
In February of 1974 the Narragansett Times published an article about the plight of a local widow who, due to recent changes in Rhode Island’s welfare program, was now left with only $1.25 a week to spend on food and clothing after paying for her rent, utilities and gas. The article sparked community outrage and action. A group of concerned citizens, who had already been meeting for several months prior to discuss these issues, started what they called “The Jonnycake Group,” named after a traditional South County staple.
According to Rev. Frederick Phillips of Church of the Ascension in Wakefield, one of the founders, the group included “a retired nursing home owner, two clergymen, a physician, an oil company administrator, two social case workers, a home economist, and a former welfare recipient.” By April, 1974 the group had found a building, and opened the first Jonnycake Center at 456 Main Street in Wakefield as a way to provide food and clothing to those in need.
The Center has grown tremendously in the intervening years, both in the number of people that it helps and in the programs which it offers. The original concept was to establish a place where people in need could buy staple foods at reduced cost, purchase used clothing and furniture, and borrow from a revolving fund to pay for heat and other pressing needs. Free classes including sewing, cooking, home repairs and furniture restoration were offered as well. The Center was to be open seven days a week and operated with an all-volunteer staff, under the sponsorship of Special Ministries Inc., a non-profit organization founded and supported financially by around 14 area churches.
By the time the Center opened, the idea of selling food had already changed to the current practice of giving it away for free. The Jonnycake Center officially opened its doors to the public on April 22, 1974, although members of the Jonnycake Group had already been giving out boxes of food in the weeks leading up to the event. In the first eight months of its existence the Jonnycake Center had fed 344 people, and distributed 170 meals its first Thanksgiving. The Center’s motto was “We Really Do Care,” and the first Executive Director of the Jonnycake Group, Ann Lynch, wrote in an editorial, “Let’s ‘each one reach one,’ and help alleviate some of the suffering in our own community.”
The Jonnycake Center was the first of its kind in Rhode Island, and the response to its existence was so encouraging that the group soon opened a second thrift shop in Bradford (which is now the Jonnycake Center of Westerly) using surplus merchandise donated to the Wakefield store.
With support of the community, the Jonnycake Center has continued to help local families in the years since then. It moved once to a small storefront on High Street before eventually purchasing the building on the circle in Peace Dale where it still stands.
Today, the Center serves around 1,700 active clients, although that number was almost double at the worst of the most recent recession in 2010. Our food pantry outgrew its space and was moved to another building across the parking lot from the store in the fall of 2008. We have added numerous programs, all consistent with our mission.
The Jonnycake Center’s staff and Board want to acknowledge the tremendous support we receive from local civic groups, businesses, the faith community and many, many individuals. We celebrate these partnerships, and thank you all!