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2019 Community Leader of the Year: Cathy Demeroto

Editor’s Note: The video below was prepared for our 2019 Times Review Media Group People of the Year event in March. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, we were forced to postpone and ultimately cancel this year’s event. Every Sunday through early September we will be sharing the video presentations that would have celebrated each of the honorees that evening along with the original People of the Year features published in January. A special thank you to our event sponsor, People’s United Bank, for helping to make these awards possible each year

For over 50 years, the mission of Community Action Southold Town has been to serve low-income families and individuals on the North Fork.

Under the supervision of executive director Cathy Demeroto, CAST has made strides in pursuing its goal of identifying and serving those in need. This year, the organization created a mobile food pantry, hosted a hunger forum and continued its education programs, all the while supplying food, clothing and employment to community members.

Ms. Demeroto, a Long Island native, has dedicated herself to helping people at and below the poverty level since she took on the administrative role in 2017. She has continued to bring attention to hunger and poverty issues on the North Fork — which is why The Suffolk Times has selected her as our 2019 Community Leader of the Year.

“She’s a ball of energy,” Southold Town government liaison Denis Noncarrow said. “She has a good pulse of what the needs [of the community] are and she’s a fireball for getting those folks what they need. Absolutely amazing.”

The CAST on Wheels mobile food pantry was unveiled Dec. 12, and will enable CAST staff to travel throughout Southold Town to address food insecurity. The van will begin operation in January 2020.

Mr. Noncarrow feels the mobile food pantry will benefit people in the community who often fall under the radar.

“Cathy knows that they’re there, and has a real heart for those people,” Mr. Noncarrow said.

This year Ms. Demeroto narrowed her focus on the organization’s capital campaign and its search for a larger facility to operate in.

“She’s energetic, she’s been extraordinary,” American Beech owner Brent Pelton said. “She’s put together a team of really dedicated, knowledgeable employees who are really committed to their work in helping neighbors in need.”

Mr. Pelton and Ms. Demeroto spearheaded the capital campaign to find a new building that would provide additional space for educational programs and teaching resources.

The duo has also worked together for the past three years to put together the annual Blast for CAST Gala. This year’s event brought in more donations than years past, Mr. Pelton said. They also joined forces on Greenport’s Winter Wonderland holiday decor competition.

“She brings this energy and vitality to the community, and I’m so grateful to have her on the North Fork,” Mr. Pelton said.

Ms. Demeroto took the reigns on organizing CAST’s inaugural Hunger Forum in October, which featured a screening of the 2013 documentary “A Place at the Table” and a panel discussion on hunger in America featuring filmmaker Lori Silverbush; chef Tom Colicchio and others.

Greenport Harbor Brewing Company co-founder and Greenport Business Improvement District president Rich Vandenburgh said that through the forum and other fundraisers and programs, Ms. Demeroto was able to make hunger more relevant in the context of our society.

“Those people that are at or below the poverty borderline, they’re kind of the hidden population that really keeps a lot of the wheels of the town, agriculture and industry moving,” Mr. Vandenburgh said. “So being able to understand what CAST’s mission has done to support that part of our community, it’s just kind of an unsung hero type of a role.”

And Ms. Demeroto has done a “fantastic job” responding to the increased need in Southold Town, he said.

“She just has some extra eye that these people are out there and is constantly thinking about them,” said Mr. Vandenburgh, who served on the CAST board beginning June 2018.

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Previous Winners
*The award was previously called Civic Person of the Year

2018—Rev. Dr. Ann Van Cleef
2017 — Mindy Ryan
2016 — Valerie Shelby and Sonia Spar
2015 — Don Fisher
2014 — Designer show house organizers
2013 — Ron and Doris McGreevy
2012 — Group for the East End
2011 — American Legion Post restoration volunteers
2010 — Peggy Murphy
2009 — North Fork Community Theater
2008 — Lori Luscher
2007 — Committee for Phil McKnight
2006 — Relay for Life organizers
2005 — Merle Levine
2004 — Christine Roache
2003 — Barbara Taylor
2002 — Kim Tetrault
2001 — Elinor May
2000 — Mark Miller
1999 — George Hubbard Sr.
1998 —Ed Siegmann
1997 — Freddie Wachsberger
1996 — Shelley Scoggin
1995 — Craig Richter
1994 — Stewardship Task Force
1993 — Walt Krupski
1992 — The Eklunds
1991 — Bill Grigonis
1990 — Merlon Wiggin
1989 — Jeanne Marriner
1988 — Ray Nine
1987 — Bessie Swann