Jane Bitto formed "Sing Out Against Hunger" six years ago as a music festival to raise money and food for the hungry of the East Bay of Rhode Island. Formed in her Self-Expression and Leadership Program that she took with Landmark Education, the festival has raised over $40,000 and many trucks full of food for East Bay food pantries. The festival is going stronger than ever, with this year's festival being held September 5-7. With some hard economic times, the festival's work is more important than ever, according to an article that appeared in East Bay RI.
Guitars for Goodwill
Go look into your cupboard. Got a can of tuna in there? How about some Spaghetti O's? Ritz crackers? That’s the price of admission to hear some of the area’s finest musical talent this weekend.
At the same time, you’ll help fill the plates of local families who have been cutting food out of their budgets due to the trying economic times.
Sing Out Against Hunger (SOAH), a grassroots music festival that collects cash and non perishable food for those in need, is returning for its sixth year. Singers will be lugging their guitars, basses – even a theremin – to Evelyn’s Drive-in and Coastal Roasters in Tiverton Friday through Sunday and to the Little Compton Community Center on September 20.
Since 2003, SOAH has raised over $41,000 for East Bay Community Action Program (EBCAP) food pantries, according to Karen Izzo, the agency’s social services director. In addition, the event fills the 'back of a pickup truck' with food every year.
“The first thing people cut from their budget is the food. They cut that out to make the utility payment,” said Ms. Izzo, adding that with the economy being what it is, the need for donations is greater than ever.
“We’re seeing people at the food pantries who we’ve never seen before. They call and say they’ve lost their job, that they’ve never been without a job before and don’t know what to do," she said. "It’s rough all around."
Jane Bitto, SOAH co-president and co-owner of Evelyn’s Drive-in along with her husband Dom, agreed.
“This year in particular, there’s concern over how much bigger the need will be,” said Ms. Bitto. “Everyone is talking about the economy, cutting back, the electricity going up. There are a lot of concerns about what these people are going to do this year.”
The SOAH event was born six years ago after Ms. Bitto took a personal growth class in the Self Expression and Leadership Program through Landmark Education in Boston. Each participant chose his or her own project.
“I love music and I’m totally into self-expression. I was interested in getting the community to come together and that was how Sing Out Against Hunger started,” said Ms. Bitto, who then shared her idea with the owners of Coastal Roasters, further north on Main Road. They agreed to become one of the concert sites.
"I like the idea of helping the local community,” said Lisa Machado of the coffee shop. “There’s so much in the world that needs fixing and I think it goes along with the whole idea of ‘think globally and act locally.’ Take care of who we have here, make sure that our children have enough food and that they can learn and be productive in school so that they can solve the rest of the world’s problems.”
Eclectic musical lineup
Of course, the festival is as much about music as it is charity. Kim Lamothe, the music coordinator who will play two sets herself on Sunday (see full schedule), said she tried to book a mix of professional, established musicians who have CDs out and lesser-known performers who are trying to get their material heard more.
“As a musician, you want to play anyway and you feel good to help out with a cause. You’re also promoting your music and it’s more experience,” she said.
The 28-year-old singer/songwriter is excited about the talent she’s put together for this year’s event. “The Low Anthem is getting a lot of attention right now,” she said of the Providence band, which plays Sunday night at Evelyn’s. “They’re all over the place. All of the sudden they blew up, but I had booked them months and months ago.”
It isn’t all about guitars, either. This year, SOAH will feature the Tiverton Community Chorus, bellydancing and, on Saturday night, a karaoke session.
You’ll even get to hear a theremin — an eerie-sounding, hands-free instrument that’s been used in countless old science fiction movie soundtracks, as well as on the Beach Boys’ classic hit, “Good Vibrations.” Myles Baer will play the odd, science project-like device in Bristol resident Allysen Callery’s band, Allysen Callery & The Land of Nod.
“He’s very big in the Providence underground scene,” said Ms. Callery, a singer and guitarist whose “power trio” is rounded out by Brendan Whipple on upright bass.
Ms. Callery has been participating in SOAH since 2004. “It’s just one of those little touchstones over the years. I’ve watched Kim (Lamothe) grow up there. It gets bigger and better every year,” she said.
How to help
Those who attend and SOAH events are asked to bring non-perishable food items in lieu of an admission fee. Cash donations or raffle items are also welcome from local businesses or individuals. They can be delivered to Evelyn’s at 2335 Main Road, Tiverton, or picked up by calling 265-2146.
The non-perishable items support EBCAP food pantries in Tiverton, Little Compton, Portsmouth, Bristol, Middletown and Newport, with some of the cash going to Little Compton’s social services program.
Ms. Izzo said canned foods packed with protein — tuna fish, peanut butter — are always needed, as well as canned fruits and vegetables, canned pasta meals and crackers. Food pantry workers won’t turn their nose up at a can of tomato sauce, either.
“We get commodities from the state, like pasta. But if we don’t have tomato sauce to put on it, it’s not really a meal — same with the jelly for the peanut butter,” she said.
The cash donations allow EBCAP to buy what they need at the Rhode Island Community Food Bank to supplement its pantries. “To have the cash and buy exactly what you know you’ll use is wonderful,” she said, adding that it’s tough to make a meal out of canned beets and sauerkraut.
Ms. Izzo said the largest number of people who came out to the food pantries this year was recorded in July — a month that usually registers a relatively low turnout. “We’re a little worried about what winter will bring,” she said, pointing out that the agency is already planning for Thanksgiving. “If it weren’t for the money and food we get from (SOAH), our food pantry would be in pretty bad shape.”
Ms. Lamothe said she realizes that charitable donations are down across the board, with many people saying they can’t afford to give due to the poor economy. However, she believes that few people understand the dire straits some local families are in right now.
According to the state food bank, one out of five children in Rhode Island lives in poverty, while one out of eight households are “food insecure” — living with the uncertain availability of adequate, nutritious food.
“Some people live in a nice neighborhood and they don’t realize that people are hungry in their own state,” she said. For more information, please call 265-2146 or visit www.myspace.com/singingoutagainsthunger.