By Georgetta L. Morque
Last month, under a hazy August sky, music, food, and community spirit filled the parking lot at St. Peter’s Church in Port Chester. The occasion was Caritas of Port Chester’s celebratory cookout to thank its many volunteers and community partners.
Caritas has much to celebrate. Last year they moved from Don Bosco to the roomier St. Peter’s at the corner of Pearl Street and Westchester Avenue, and, under the leadership of Bill Cusano, coordinator of services, the nonprofit has expanded its services and evolved into more of a community center.
“It’s like a hub and spoke,” said Terence Linehan, Rye resident and newly appointed board president. Caritas, which was incorporated as a 501(c) 3 in 2012, planted its roots back in 1995 to provide food, clothing, counseling, and education to the needy of Port Chester.
While continuing its mission, the organization has now partnered with
local organizations, including: Score, to provide job mentoring; the Rye YMCA, which offers blood pressure screenings; The Capitol Theater, which collected food in lieu of admission at Garcia’s Sunday Shakedowns; restaurants that donate food; and the Food Bank for Westchester, which offers classes in how to prepare dishes from the Caritas food pantry.
“We want people to have the best experience they can here,” said Cusano, who is happy when he sees people move on to better things. “We’re fostering hope. It’s really a positive place and people get recharged here.”
This past summer, Caritas introduced an internship program to teach students about running a nonprofit. Rye Country Day seniors were charged with a project for the homeless, which was made possible by a Greenwich Hospital grant to provide personal hygiene products. The students came up with a plan to find the most cost-effective items, package them, and tailor them to individuals’ needs through a signup sheet so that no one had to wait on a line and feel self-conscious.
“The kids get to learn, own it, and then take it back to their schools,” said Cusano, who formerly ran a marketing company and is a deacon in the Episcopal Diocese, serving at St. John’s Wilmot in New Rochelle. He loves having local schools involved. Port Chester Middle School students have delivered food that they’ve grown, nursery school children have assembled snack bags, and others have held successful food drives.
Caritas aims to do more. “There is definitely a need in the area to provide more food,” said Linehan, noting the increase in Port Chester families this past summer. From January through mid-August, the soup kitchen served 23,567 lunches, and the food pantry, which operates Wednesdays and Saturdays offering meats and fish, as well as produce and packaged goods to provide quality meals, served 2,423 households.
Even in the new space, the kitchen operation is at capacity. Ideally, Caritas would like the pantry to be open more frequently and to be able to provide meals beyond lunch. Cusano says they are up to the challenge, with help from the community. Donations and volunteers are welcome. For information, call 305-3967 or visit www.Caritaspc.org.
Maria Vega in the Caritas kitchen with student volunteers
Bill Cusano with Stella Marroquin and Marisol Juarez at the Caritas cookout last month