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CAST Executive Director Cathy Demeroto and Daniel Delehanty, BNB Bank’s director of community development, unveiled a mobile food pantry last winter. (Credit: Joe Werkmeister)

The North Fork is very much a giving place.

As much as it changes with each passing year, a sense of generosity between neighbors remains.

This holiday season, we at northforker want to pay tribute to some of the charities that have helped people in our communities live fuller lives.

Over the next six weeks, we’ll share the stories of these organizations and let you know how you can help them further their missions.

“There are millions of Americans – one fifth of our people – who have not shared in the abundance which has been granted to most of us, and on whom the gates of opportunity have been closed.

President Lyndon B. Johnson, 1964

There are some charities that have done so much good for their communities over such a long period of time it would be impossible to measure the impact they have had.

Community Action Southold Town, which serves low-income families from Laurel to Orient Point, is certainly one of those organizations.

Perhaps the best way to understand just how much good the nonprofit has done for families on the North Fork is to look at how it got its start and just how long ago that was. The year was 1965 when CAST was launched as a local response to a federal statute adopted following President Lyndon John’s “War on Poverty” speech at his 1964 State of the Union.

The Rev. Ben Burns of Southold Methodist Church was the founding chairman and served as the first treasurer of the organization, which held its inaugural meeting on Feb. 25, 1965 at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Greenport. On the agenda that evening: support for farm labor, the development of a pre-K enrichment program and discussion of a community center.

In the 55 years since, CAST has become that center for a segment of the population that relies on its services for sustenance in the areas of nutrition, education and employment. The group puts clothes on people’s backs, helps them pay their energy bills and provides them with assistance to find the benefits necessary to navigate daily life.

“In times of crisis like we’re in now, it’s literally a lifeline,” said longtime Greenport resident and former mayor Dave Kapell. “It’s the only place locally in the community for help with basic survival needs.”

Grocery bags to help people in the community during the pandemic. (The Suffolk Times)

The organization’s importance in the community was underscored at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic back in March. With people suddenly out of work it went from spending about $1,200 a week on food for families in need and its Greenport food pantry to $5,000 in an instant. CAST executive director Cathy Demeroto said about 20% of the clients seeking assistance at that time were unfamiliar faces to the organization.

The need has persisted, she said in an interview last week, with a slight decline in late summer followed by a recent uptick. In 2020, CAST has serviced the community at unprecedented levels.

“We’re still seeing a high need for food,” she said. “There’s a significant food insecurity issue in town. More people are out of work, too, and with Covid numbers going up, the need is going to increase even more.”

Mattituck, Southold and Greenport high school students prepare minestrone soup last winter with help from local chef Jennilee Morris. (Courtesy photo)

In a town where housing prices have steadily increased and wealthier people are moving into the communities, there is still a mostly invisible poverty issue in town, in particular with housing. One of the biggest concerns for many young families seeking help from CAST is coming up with the next rent or mortgage payment, Demeroto said. The organization works to help people come up with those payments and to counsel them on what benefits they may be entitled to.

At this time of year, some area residents just need help finding the means to put a traditional holiday meal on the table. Demeroto spoke of one family that came in before Thanksgiving looking to do just that. They left with a turkey, fixings, pie and a gift card.

“To see the smile, how grateful they are, that keeps us going,” she said.

And support from the community is what ultimately makes it all possible.

When the pandemic hit in March, Mr. Kapell launched a crowd-sourcing campaign on GoFundMe for CAST. It raised more than $100,000. To keep its mission going, the organization can always use more.

“The North Fork is still very much a working-class town,” Kapell said. “Tens of thousands of people have benefited from CAST over the years.”

Reached this week, Rev. Burns, now 90 and still living in town, said it feels good to see how much CAST has expanded over the years and to see it still living up to its core mission.

“It is just amazing,” he said.

A photo collage of families helped by CAST over the years on display at the organization’s 50th birthday celebration in 2015. (Credit: The Suffolk Times)

Want to donate?

Here are two ways to support CAST’s capital campaign:

Make checks payable to the CAST Capital Campaign. Mail to: Cathy A. Demeroto, Build What Matters Campaign, P.O. Box 159, Greenport, NY 11944.

Or make a donation right now via paypal.

Interested in volunteering?

Office assistants, marketing, food pantry, CAST is always looking for volunteers to fill a wide range of needs.

If you want to lend a helping hand call them at 631-477-1717.