A hot plate of dignity with a side order of kindness

CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) —  It’s easy to take dining out for granted with the number of choices there are in the area, but for some, going out to eat is neither affordable nor possible.

That is, until a couple of local organizations teamed up to start Dinner with Dignity at a local eatery.

You probably wouldn’t notice anything different about Characters Cafe, unless we told you.

The developmentally disabled staff members train to work their way towards jobs in other restaurants.

Gateways to Change Executive Director Catherine McGillivray runs a similar program that puts clients in local art classrooms.

“The children learn to see people with disabilities as people you look up to,” McGiilivray said. “They see that person as a teach. Which is a wonderful thing.”

It was a perfect fit when the Cafe decided to reach out into the cold streets. When the homeless eat out, they eat outside.

But with the help of Valerie Casey’s Helping Hearts, about once a month they’re welcome at Characters Cafe with menus, professional waiters, and no tab.

“For a few hours we were able to restore some pride and dignity into them that they hadn’t felt for a long time,” Casey said.”The soup kitchens are great and do great work. But the time is limited, there are lines and it can be crowded.”

In a different room at the cafe, barbers provide haircuts. On a table, there’s clothing.

McGillivray learned a few things about how tight the homeless community is.

“And I said to the man, ‘would you like some socks?'” she said. “And he said to me, ‘I already took a pair. Leave that for somebody else.’ The care that they have for each other was really a beautiful thing to see.”

It is one night of dignity, with a side order of the ideal that this will lead to much more.

“How do we get them to be members of society?” Casey asked. “Maybe we can open up the door to going in, having the courage to filling out that job application or having the courage to how to we acclimate you back into society.”

Send your story ideas to Walt at wbuteau@wpri.com and follow us on Twitter:@StreetStories12 and @wbuteau.