CAST sets Dec. 11 holiday bash

PHOTO COURTESY OF LGM Creative CAST will be the beneficiary of the John Bendick Memorial Christmas Toy Collection at Mullen Motors in Southold. Mr. Bendick, who died earlier this year, was a longtime supporter of the toy drive and other local charitable endeavors. From left: Bill Mullen, Gabriella Mannino and Rich Mullen.

Forty-five years after Greenporter Bessie Swann gave life to the organization that is Community Action of Southold Town, it continues to follow its original mission: helping low-income residents meet basic needs.

The not-for-profit organization, which operates from an office on Front Street in Greenport, continues to supply food, clothing, employment training, housing assistance and nutritional advice to the town’s poorest residents. It also functions as a link between needy residents and the social service programs of Suffolk County, New York State and the federal government.

So busy are CAST staff and board members, they didn’t even pause to celebrate the organization’s 45th anniversary this year, board president Peggy Murphy said. In fact, she seemed surprised to realize that the group has passed a major milestone.

What has changed in recent years are the people coming through CAST’s door, Ms. Murphy said. With widespread unemployment and underemployment, she is now seeing friends and neighbors she has known for years among the clients, people who never expected to find themselves in need of assistance, she said.

“It’s sobering,” Ms. Murphy said.

The increased need, coupled with cutbacks in government support for the program, makes CAST more dependent than ever on the generosity of businesses and individuals, she said.

“People are generous,” executive director Linda Ortiz said. “Thank God for all the food drives.”

Southold Town gets some funding through federal Community Development block grants and funnels money to CAST. But federal grant money is tight, Ms. Murphy said, even as the client list has grown from about 220 last year to 305 this year, according to Ms. Ortiz.

Last month, she was helping to process 35 applications from area residents in need of home heating assistance for the winter months. But with cutbacks in that money, she is having to depend more than ever on local fuel oil companies that contribute fuel oil for CAST clients, she said.

CAST is in the midst of its annual appeal for money and sent out letters to community residents over the past two weeks. In addition, on Saturday, Dec. 11, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., CAST will hold its annual “Holiday Happening” at the town recreation center on Peconic Lane. There will be entertainment, including a model train display, food sales and a chance to buy unique gifts that will help CAST in its effort to provide for those in need this year. There’s no admission charge.
The main thrust of the CAST program is self-sufficiency — helping clients gain skills that will help them get jobs. But with such a tight job market, that’s no easy task, Ms. Ortiz said.

“A lot of working families are walking through the door,” she said — people who just don’t earn enough to meet their basic household needs. She’s also seeing more elderly residents whose resources aren’t sufficient to cover their bills.

During the Thanksgiving holiday, CAST fed 55 families, about 150 people. And activists are now busy collecting food and gifts to help ensure that the poorest among us have a happy holiday in December.

“I do a lottery for Christmas,” Ms. Ortiz said, explaining that despite the contributors’ generosity, there’s still not enough to go around and give gifts to all the families in need.

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