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Caritas Of Port Chester Gives Food, Clothing And Education

Volunteer Maria Vega slices up barbecue pork before a busy lunch at Caritas of Port Chester.
Volunteer Maria Vega slices up barbecue pork before a busy lunch at Caritas of Port Chester. Photo Credit: Casey Donahue
Patrons line up to receive lunch at Caritas of Port Chester.
Patrons line up to receive lunch at Caritas of Port Chester. Photo Credit: Pat Hart
Caritas of Port Chester volunteers unpack donations of bread and cookies.
Caritas of Port Chester volunteers unpack donations of bread and cookies. Photo Credit: Casey Donahue
For dessert, Caritas of Port Chester was serving a choice of several different kinds of cake.
For dessert, Caritas of Port Chester was serving a choice of several different kinds of cake. Photo Credit: Part Hart
The shelves at the Food Pantry packed with bags. Each bag contains enough food for 15 meals.
The shelves at the Food Pantry packed with bags. Each bag contains enough food for 15 meals. Photo Credit: Casey Donahue

PORT CHESTER, N.Y. -- In the basement of the Don Bosco Center there is one organization, Caritas of Port Chester , that is performing the duties of five services to help local families in need.

The busy day begins in the morning with free breakfasts for immigrant day laborers who gather outside Don Bosco looking for work. This is followed by a second breakfast later in the morning, as well as lunch. Caritas also offers a Food Pantry, an Open Closet of donated clothes, emergency social services and free ESL classes. The days can be hectic for volunteers, but the need is great. Last year Caritas served 39,000 meals in its kitchen and provided clothing to 15,000 people, according to Executive Director Billy Vaccaro.

The organization started in the 1990's when volunteers from the Holy Rosary Church began giving soup and sandwiches to people they recognized in need. The organization grew gradually, adding new services and eventually became incorporated as a 501 (c)3 last year.

"I can't solve the big picture, but I can be here today, and help them survive this condition." Vaccaro

The lunches served consist of meat, usually pork or chicken, fresh vegetables, soups, starches and desserts. Peter Cregan, a chef trained at the Culinary Institute of America who volunteers at Caritas, says it's important that everyone receive a full, nutritious meal.

"For a lot of people it's their one big meal of the day that they can count on," Cregan said. If there are leftovers they will often be given out. It can be difficult to anticipate how many people will show up for the lunch. "You never know, the flow is so unpredictable. We can have anywhere from 50 to 130 people on any given day."

Most of the food for the meals and the Food Pantry comes from individual donations or the Food Bank for Westchester, said Pat Hart, president of the Caritas Board. The Food Pantry provides bags to 550 families a month, each bag containing enough food to make 15 meals. Caritas runs food drives through the local churches and schools, and she said she would like to eventually partner with every major church and school in Port Chester, Harrison and Rye to increase the amount of food in the pantry. Caritas also recently launched a new website to bring in volunteers and donations.

The ESL classes began as a way of helping Hispanic day laborers learn English words they would need on a job. Between 30 and 50 students will work one-on-one with tutors each week. Many of them develop close relationships with their teachers, said Doreen Kushel, who runs the program with Anne Spindel. There is a bilingual babysitter, who will help children socialize in English while their parents receive instruction from a tutor, extending the education through the whole family.

"These are fabulous people willing to leave their countries and try a new life," Kushel said.

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