Honoree Maureen Gomez, Carver Market Manager David Brown, and volunteers Bill Furber, Ali Hudspeth, and George Pacheco
BY JANICE LLANES FABRY
Carver Center is celebrating its first 80 years with a gala, aptly named “A Lasting Legacy”, at Westchester Country Club on April 22. That evening, the Sister Rosemary Sheehan Award for outstanding community service will be presented to longtime Rye volunteer Maureen Gomez.
“I am blessed to be part of an organization that has such an impact on the community. Carver’s leadership and diverse board personify self-sacrifice and love for the community,” said Gomez.
“I am humbled and honored, but it’s always a collective effort and there are so many people who roll up their sleeves, put on their boots, and get in the trenches,” added Gomez, who has volunteered at Carver for 24 years, serving as board president from 2014-18.
Gomez applauds the Center’s “adaptability and understanding of what the community’s needs are in the moment. During and after the pandemic, it threw all of its resources into providing food to those in need.”
The benefit coincides with the expansion of one of Carver’s hallmark food programs, the Carver Market, a supermarket-style food pantry that enables families to acquire nutritious groceries in a dignified manner.
As Chief Operating Officer Daniel Bonnet noted, “Alleviating the stressors for families by providing groceries enables them to allocate that money to other essentials, like children’s clothing or Con Ed bills. That’s why it’s so important for families with means to continue supporting us here at Carver. Monetary donations or even a bag of groceries goes a long way.”
The difficulties faced by many Port Chester families with two full-time earners making minimum wage can seem insurmountable at times. Moreover, the discontinuation of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) enacted by Congress during the pandemic exacerbates their situation. Families with children will see reductions of $250 a month or more.
“These changes to SNAP benefits will have a domino effect. Families will compensate that loss of revenue by turning to their local pantries,” explained Bonnet. “The increase in families coming to us is happening right in front of my eyes.”
Port Chester’s underserved residents who would like to gain access to the Market’s dairy products, canned and packaged goods, meat, and fresh produce are required to register with the Center. They may visit the market once a week on Mondays, Wednesdays, or Fridays from 1-5:30.
Before the pandemic, 227 households were registered in the program. Today, that number has increased to 453 and continues growing. On a typical day, the Market accommodates about 200 households, over 600 family members in total.
Prior to the market doubling its size, Carver could service 30 to 35 clients in an hour. The new market is now accommodating 78 individuals in that time. “The expansion has allowed us to facilitate a smoother process,” Bonnet said. “Not having to make our clients wait hours for a couple of bags of groceries aligns with our mission of treating them with dignity and respect.”
Carver Market Manager David Brown, who has worked in the market for 14 years, is pleased with the expansion, which includes additional refrigeration and shelving. “We can give our clients a greater selection and it allows us to provide them with more groceries than we could ever give them before on a daily visit,” he said.
The Center partners with Feeding Westchester, various fresh-produce providers, and generous donors to sustain the growing need. Once a month, a dietician shares recipes and educates clients on the health benefits of a product they may not be familiar with, like bok choy or sweet potatoes.
In addition to the Market’s expansion, a resource center dedicated to providing information and support guidance is in the works. A bilingual case manager will work with families and individuals to navigate systems and connect them to resources that Carver may not offer.
“My passion has always been in youth and young adults. In order for our young people to thrive, families have to thrive,” said Bonnet, who has spent his entire professional life in the nonprofit world. “We’re seeing an increase in mental health issues and lack of essential life skills because our schools are playing catchup after Covid. We have to make sure we can fill in the gaps.”
Bonnet marvels at Carver Center’s endurance as an institution that has advocated for the minority community since 1943. He is determined to continue the work of its grassroots founders to solidify Carver’s role as “a safe space” that provides multiple programs, services, and support.
“Our doors are open to clients throughout the county because of the culture, environment, and resources we have,” said Bonnet. “In my tenure in the non-profit sector, I have never seen a staff, headed by CEO Anne Bradner, more passionate about helping people. Changing lives for the better is the greatest gift anyone can receive.”
<For more information on Carver Center, visit carvercenter.org. Click on “Get Involved” to volunteer.>