FSRI Board Chair John Simmons boosts local, minority-owned restaurants to help feed front-line workers.

As first responders combat an all-time peak number of COVID-19 hospitalizations in Rhode Island, Family Service of Rhode Island (FSRI) shares the news that an inspired donor has stepped forward with a gift of $5000 to provide holiday meals to 200 health workers on the front lines.

This week, the donor, FSRI’s Board Chair John Simmons, partnered with 2 area restaurants, Island House and Dolores, both local, minority-owned businesses in Providence to make it happen. Meals will be provided to first responders at Providence Community Health Centers and Family Service of Rhode Island in the form of a gift card.

“During this holiday season I wanted to show appreciation and support to our front-line workers for their heroic efforts, and both the personal and professional sacrifices they’ve had to make to keep our community safe during the pandemic,” said donor John Simmons in a statement. “Also, as essential workers, local restaurants have also had to navigate difficult and necessary restrictions over the past year to survive economic hardship.”

The Providence Community Health Centers and FSRI have partnered over the last 5 years to provide behavioral health care to all ages, from pediatric to adult, for the largest medical provider for uninsured and underinsured Rhode Islanders. Through the First Connections program, they’ve worked together to assist COVID-positive moms and babies in Rhode Island. FSRI’s licensed behavioral health providers are embedded with the health care providers at Providence Community Health Center locations and are active members of a complex management team.

“In this season of giving, we truly appreciate this unexpected gift to our staff,” said Merrill Thomas, President, and CEO, Providence Community Health Centers in a statement. “Our team has worked tirelessly to care for the community during this pandemic, setting up the state’s first walk-up and drive-through testing sites and continuing to treat patients. On their behalf, I offer my thanks to John Simmons.”

For the restaurants, it comes as a boost at a critical time, too, as they feel the continued financial strain of COVID guidelines.

“This year we almost closed like three different times out of frustration, so it really came at a good time for us,” said Island House owner Ricky Bernard in a statement. “This really gave me a boost, personally.”

Before the pandemic, his restaurant was packed each afternoon with kids from three nearby high schools. Since the start of the pandemic, it’s been noticeably quieter.

Joaquin Meza, co-owner of Dolores, says he’s continually changing up his menu’s offerings to stay afloat.

“It’s tough in the winter, especially. It’s really shocking to see the difference from last year. We understand people need to be home, but take-out has done well enough for us that we’re still open. Just being open for us, mentally, has been really good,”  Meza said in a statement. “We have friends in the medical field, and they’re working non-stop.”

“We owe so much to our front line workers, who have remained tirelessly dedicated to our community these last ten months,” said Margaret Holland McDuff, FSRI’s CEO and President. “This donation by our Board Chair John Simmons shows just how touched we have all been by their exhaustive efforts keeping Rhode Islanders safe.”