Equal Time: CAST needs help as it helps others

The Center for Advocacy, Support and Transformation, formerly Community Action Southold Town, has been serving Town of Southold residents since 1965. We have a long history as a trusted resource for community members in need. In March 2022, we extended our service area to Shelter Island. And, over the years, we have expanded our programs and services to better meet the needs of our neighbors. CAST’s three priority areas are: food and nutrition; client support and advocacy; and education and outreach. Within the priority areas, we have multiple programs to fulfill our mission of providing a safety net and promoting self-sufficiency.

We are currently experiencing an unprecedented level of need and demand for our services. With 40-year high inflation and a local housing crisis on the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic, people are struggling more than ever to make ends meet. Since early 2020, the number of meals we have provided has soared by nearly 800%. We went from providing approximately 40,000 meals per year to being on track to provide 360,000 meals in 2022, up from 244,000 in 2021.

We are serving over 900 households, including about 30% of the children who live in Southold Town. CAST has had a significant increase in costs for food and emergency assistance.

This year, CAST has registered over 300 new families. People who have never needed our assistance before are coming for help, with some lining up for food more than an hour before we open. An older Greenport couple recently called as they found themselves facing unexpected hardship due to the rapidly rising cost of living. The woman hesitantly stated, “We have never needed help before, but we don’t have any food. I’m sorry.” And she started to cry. Although it was difficult to ask for help, they are very grateful for our Client Choice Pantry that offers fresh local produce, eggs, dairy, and meat in addition to non-perishable food items and personal care and household products. We are also serving a young family of five through our ParentChild+ home visiting early literacy program. Both parents are working in local businesses and they can only afford a one-bedroom apartment and rely on CAST for food and other services. Many people coming to CAST are hardworking families helping our business community and schools thrive, as well as older residents and people with disabilities living on fixed incomes having to make hard choices between food, heat and medications. These are our neighbors. Many of whom have called Southold Town home for years and contribute so much to our community and now need our help.

As winter quickly approaches, “desperation” is the word that comes up so often when talking with CAST staff. That is what we are seeing more and more often when people walk through our doors seeking help. They can’t afford to put food on their tables, they are being evicted with nowhere to go, they have no heat in their homes. The level of anxiety is extremely high. People are tired and scared and are beginning to lose hope. This is exacerbated when they see friends and family uproot their whole lives and move out of Southold Town due to the cost of living and lack of affordable housing.

Because of the tremendous increase in families in need seeking assistance, CAST turned to Southold Town for support as the town has federal American Rescue Plan Act funds to provide economic relief for households. We hope the town will provide much-needed support to CAST and other nonprofit organizations providing food and emergency housing assistance filling a gap in essential human services for many disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.

The ARPA funds are available and intended for this purpose in the interest of public health. CAST could not do the work we are doing without the generosity of so many community members and the kind support of dedicated partners and volunteers. We are very grateful for all who have become part of the CAST family. With the community and the town standing behind us and working with us, CAST will continue to rise to the challenge and serve our neighbors with dignity and compassion.

As we do the vital work of serving the community every day, we must think ahead and find solutions to address food, housing and economic security in our community. In early 2023, CAST will launch a coalition of community and faith-based groups — the Uplift Alliance — to bring together those serving our most vulnerable neighbors to ensure we are filling gaps in critical services effectively and efficiently.

We will share program information, resources, grant opportunities, best practices, and camaraderie as we battle the tough issues plaguing our community and negatively impacting the well-being of so many. We hope Southold Town will participate. CAST looks forward to working together to build a thriving community where every member is free from worry about basic necessities and able to build a better future for themselves and their families.

Ms. Demeroto is executive director for the Center for Advocacy, Support and Transformation.