One would be hard pressed to find two people who love what they do more than Brigitte Sarnoff and Susan Salice.
By Janice Llanes Fabry
One would be hard pressed to find two people who love what they do more than Brigitte Sarnoff and Susan Salice. During these early dog days of summer, the co-presidents of Helping Hands for the Homeless and Hungry are gearing up for the non-profit organization’s signature event with a philanthropic vision and a whole lot of sweat equity.
Their 26th annual School Backpack Project will be held August 12 and 13, from 10 a.m. to noon both days, in the Resurrection Church basement at 910 Boston Post Road. Not only are they providing 2,030 fully-loaded backpacks for underprivileged students in grades K through 12 throughout lower Westchester County, they are providing those recipients in grades 7 through 12 with scientific calculators as well.
“Think about how confident young students feel if they can start that first day of school as prepared as other students and they’re able to sit in a classroom with dignity,” said Sarnoff.
Funded entirely by private contributions, the Backpack Project needs both donations and volunteers. The co-presidents are quick to point out that just $25 provides one child with a school-ready backpack. They count on volunteers to unload and set up supplies the first day and to fill the empty school bags the next morning. A labor of love, the Backpack Project typically requires 200-300 volunteers, some of whom are high school students earning community service hours.
“After doing it for so many years, we have it down to a science,” said Sarnoff, who has been a volunteer for Helping Hands since its inception in 1987. “Besides, this is a tangible project that is great for all volunteers, from ages 6 to 90.”
“It’s definitely a feel-good day,” added Salice. “If we can empower one child, then he or she gets off to a good start, with supplies for a school year, then we’ve accomplished something.”
The fact that Helping Hands manages to touch the lives of thousands every year, without a headquarters, a paid staff, or a transportation fleet, is a testament to the tireless efforts of all its volunteers. A committed board of directors focuses on supplying the homeless and hungry with basic necessities through various programs, as well as on fundraising and outreach planning. They work with 22 agencies in mid to lower Westchester County that ensure that families in need are provided with all kinds of support.
Both longtime Rye residents and ardent philanthropists, Sarnoff and Salice bring copious amounts of valuable experience to the table. While Sarnoff specialized in fundraising at Direct Media, a marketing agency based in Rye, for 38 years, Salice is currently earning her Master’s degree in Fundraising at New York University and sits on the board of various charities.
“The fact that Helping Hands started working for the homeless 25 years ago when there were few non-profits doing so was groundbreaking,” said Salice, who came on board six years ago and chairs the Backpack Project. “The need continues to grow.”
The organization has been meeting the needs of the county’s underprivileged in a number of ways. Having the distinction of being the first project coordinated by Helping Hands, Dinner @ Noon provides a hot meal and baked goods for senior citizens, homeless, hidden homeless, and the working poor, every Saturday at 11 a.m. at the Carver Center in Port Chester, from September to June.
In addition, once a month, a Helping Hands crew makes 350 ham-and-cheese sandwiches and delivers them to the Grace Church Soup Kitchen in White Plains, along with fruit and juice. Their Undie Fundie Program purchases and distributes new undergarments, sleepwear, and toiletries to the men, women and children living in Westchester’s homeless shelters.
“We can’t say enough about Rye’s generosity every year,” noted Salice. “The community is amazing and it always comes through with donations and volunteers.”
Donations can be made by logging on to www.helpinghandsrye.org or by mail to Helping Hands for the Homeless and Hungry, P.O. Box 982, Rye, New York 10580. For further information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call Susan Salice at 980-3511. Also, make sure to “like” them on Facebook, where photos and updates are posted.