Clergy gather online for annual anti-poverty vigil

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In an annual tradition, clergy of all faiths gathered Jan. 5 to call on Rhode Island legislators to fight against poverty. This year, rather than the State House rotunda, the venue was an online Zoom meeting, where more than 100 people listened to speeches, prayers and songs.

The Fighting Poverty with Faith Vigil, sponsored by the R.I. Interfaith Coalition to Reduce Poverty, usually includes a reading of the names of the state legislators. This year, the names were displayed for the audience to see on their computer screens.  

In remarks to the group, Gov. Gina Raimondo talked about the difficult past year and her hopes for a brighter 2021, with anti-poverty measures passing in the legislature.

State Sen. Maryellen Goodwin (District 1, Providence) said the Senate is focused on closing the gap for Rhode Islanders in need, including a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures.

The Rev. Chontell Washington, executive director of the Rhode Island State Council of Churches, said “the poor” now include more than homeless and hungry people who we don’t know; they are our neighbors.

In her closing blessing, Rabbi Rachel Zerin, of Temple Emanu-El, in Providence, pointed out that one of the central teachings of the Torah is that trauma should move us to empathy and action.

The R.I. Interfaith Coalition to Reduce Poverty’s 2021 priorities include:  Expanding protections against evictions and foreclosures; increasing the benefit paid to families receiving R.I. Works cash assistance; increasing staffing levels and pay for direct-care staff in nursing homes; and expanding funding and resources for immigrant communities in need, including access to health care, food sustainability and COVID-19 relief.

FRAN OSTENDORF is the editor of Jewish Rhode Island.