Pay It Forward challenge inspires more alumni to help local organizations in need

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CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) — The “Pay it Forward Challenge” started by seniors at Cranston High School East in April has made its way through the state again.

The challenge started when the class of 2020 made the touching gesture to donate some of their prom money to buy lunch and dinner for a local nursing home. Seniors in Coventry later donated some of their class funds to get meals for the staff at Lifespan Gateway South Shore Center in Charlestown.

Earlier in May, seniors at Westerly High School also donated money to the Rhode Island Food Bank.

Over the last month, the challenge has also caught on with several past graduating classes from Cranston East. The class of 1984 recently used money from its 40th reunion fund to buy meals for the staff at Cedar Crest nursing home.

The class of 1979 just wrapped a week’s worth of donating much-needed food items to Comprehensive Community Action Program (CCAP) in Cranston.

Class president Dave Stenhouse said members donated food, non-perishables and cash over the last two weeks.

“Because CCAP is in the business of helping people, we thought it would be a great cause to contribute to,” Stenhouse said. “They don’t just do a food bank, they do health care, they do a numerous amount of things for our community, so they were a great choice for our class.”

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Stenhouse said the donations weren’t just local — some out-of-state alumni also answered the call.

“We had one of our classmates send a cash donation from California,” he said. “We have one of our classmates who is quarantined here from Dallas, Texas, actually do a lot of the work on this. So yeah, it was countrywide.”

The class of ’79 celebrated its 40th reunion last fall, and Stenhouse said those funds were “pretty much on empty,” so donations were made on an individual basis. For those out of state, he said local alumni shopped for them and brought in those donations on their behalf.

In all, Stenhouse estimated that upwards of 900 pounds of food was dropped off.

“We know they provide to 800 families a month in normal times, that’s multiplied by whatever in this time of COVID,” he added. “What the class of ’79 did for them will probably be used up in one or two days.”

Thursday marked the final day of donations. Mayor Alan Fung spoke, and alumni had a special musical performance.

Dennis Bouchard, class of ’79, was allowed to take off his mask to sing “Smile,” made famous by Nat King Cole in 1954. Frank DiFusc, class of ’74, accompanied with guitar.

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“The rest of us had [masks] on, but you could tell there was emotion there. It was a really touching moment,” Stenhouse recalled.

The class of 1980 challenged Stenhouse’s class. He said he gives the class of 2020 a lot of credit for starting the movement.

“There’s a lot of people out there who are helping people, and it’s a good time to do that,” Stenhouse said.

Stenhouse said he hopes classes from both Cranston East and West continue to answer the challenge.

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DYSOM 7/23/2021: Ricardo Pitts-Wiley

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