MAHOPAC, N.Y. - Thanks to the hard work of some Mahopac teens, some Putnam County families struggling with homelessness will struggle a little bit less.
The Mahopac Library’s Teen Library Council, which recently merged with Teens Who Care, embarked on a program to collect items for goodie bags that would be given out to families entering the Brewster Emergency Shelter Program (BESP). On Thursday (Oct. 10), which was also National Homeless Day, the teens presented the bags to Corina Waldrup, chair of BESP, at the library.
“We collected these items and the kids brought some in, and we reached out to local businesses as well,” said Gail Perillo, director of youth services for the library. “The packages include gift cards from Dunkin’ Donuts and CVS. There are socks, handwarmers, toiletries, lotions. When they first come in [to the shelter], they are looking for some [basics].”
The newly revamped Teen Library Council is comprised of students in grades 6-12. Thursday’s event was just the second time they’d met since Teens Who Care was folded into the group.
Waldrup was excited to get the bags, saying BESP relies totally on volunteers and donations to stay operational.
“We get a lot of help from churches and local organizations,” she told the kids. “And I heard a rumor that you guys heard about some of the things we need, and I am excited to see what is in your bags.”
Waldrup said that while the donations may seem modest, they make all the difference in the world to the families who are struggling.
“You guys may think this is nothing—some toothpaste, a toothbrush— but when you don’t have the basics, something like these bags you put together means more than anything you can possibly imagine,” she said. “The people we serve have a backpack and this is literally all they have.
“It’s a big problem,” she added. “It’s not just in the big cities; it’s in the small towns as well. So, I really want to thank you guys for taking an initiative and doing something like this because it is very much-needed. It will mean a lot to a lot of different people. So, take that home with you.”
Waldrup said that while BESP gets a lot of support and donations from adults, she said getting the kids to step up was “extra special.”
“I think that kids today are aware of the problems that exist in our communities and around the world, whether it’s homelessness, global warming or whatever,” she said. “Teens are trying to get involved and have the desire for it because they really want to make an impact on the future.”
Ninth grader Stephanie Bozier is an example of that. She’s taken part in the Midnight Run since she was in fifth grade. (Midnight Run coordinates over 1,000 relief missions per year, in which volunteers from churches, synagogues, schools and other civic groups in the metropolitan area distribute food, clothing, blankets and personal-care items to the homeless poor on the streets of New York City.)
“My dad is in the military, so helping this country is kind of like what I do,” she said. “I follow that [path] and my brothers do it all the time. I wanted to help out. If my family does it, why shouldn’t I do it?”
Bozier and her family just came to Mahopac last month.
“Now that I am in a new community, I wanted to help out here as well,” she said.
Mia Caldarella, who just joined the group this year, said helping people in need is just something she’s always wanted to do.
“I have always liked helping people and making them feel better about themselves,” she said.
Lucy Hernandez said she feels strongly about the homelessness issue because she’s had relatives who’ve struggled.
“My cousin and aunt were homeless for a short time,” she said. “I really like to help with that. You have to realize that they don’t have the same things as most people, like running water and food. Most people don’t think of those things as things they cannot have, but homeless people have to wish they get those things.”
The local businesses and organizations that contributed to the Teen Library Council’s BESP project were Friends of Mahopac Library, CVS Pharmacy in Mahopac, Rooney Orthodontics, Caremount at Jefferson Valley, Dr. Martha Pimentel, Stop & Shop and Tops.