- The streets of Riverhead and much of the East End were covered in ice as temps dipped well below freezing but that didn't stop over 400 people from heading to Polish Hall
in Riverhead for the "Rockin' for the Homeless" benefit concert for Maureen's Haven
In fact, while the event began at 6:30 p.m., there were hopefuls coming to the door as late as 9 p.m. to buy tickets and in typical Maureen's Haven form, no one was turned away.
Darla and Tom Gahan
Grant and Kathleen Werner
Leading the charge was Tom Gahan and a team of volunteers, who noted that they were a bit concerned when only a week prior to the event there were only 200 tickets sold, but the community responded and they sold another 200 more tickets before the doors opened.
The evening was part cocktail party complete with kielbasa and sauerkraut sandwiches and beer; part Chinese Auction with over 50 prizes on the block, and part rock concert with three of Long Island's hottest bands - The Mulligans, Misspent Youth, and Who Are Those Guys
While Gaham was overwhelmed by the response he remarked that, "The more tremendous thing is the homeless situation. We had 59 homeless last night and 35 is the typical number." Shocking for some who see the East End of Long Island as wealthy and prosperous, but a very harsh reality for others who are there day in and day out to help and support the less fortunate in the communities.
The business community jumped right on board to help with auction and raffle prizes that included many baskets from local wineries, namely Ospreys Dominion, Macari, Raphael, and Duck Walk.
Grand prize winners tried for golf and lunch at Island Hills in Sayville and box seats at the Mets
new ballpark, Citi Field. Grant Werner
, of Speonk Lumber, and his wife Kathleen were enjoying the evening and explained that the program reaches both the North and South Forks.
As a member of the Westhampton Beach Rotary Club, Werner and other club members assist at Westhampton Presbyterian every other Monday serving dinner and making bag lunches and notes that when it comes to the volunteers, "The program has grown and is gathering steam."
Volunteers display a 'thank you' note from the record 59 guests of Maureen's Haven
Homeless Outreach on Thursday night.
As the masses packed the dance floor to the sounds of Misspent Youth, making the rounds of the party helping to sell raffle tickets was none other than Denis Yuen, program director at Peconic Community Council and program coordinator at Maureen's Haven Homeless Outreach. He wanted to extend his congratulations to Tom Gaham and his volunteers for working so hard to put the evening together and to thank the bands for contributing their musical talents to the cause.
Gaham explained, "This is our seventh winter operating on the East End and it has been the most difficult. We've had unusually cold weather since the second week in December that has continued - and the economic slow down, especially in the trades, have contributed to our nightly guest population"
"In past winters we'd typically see 25 to 35 guests per night. This year, on average we have between 48 and 59 guests - we have almost doubled, and it doesn't look like 60 guests is far behind," said Yuen. "These increases have of course increased costs of running the program from transporting to feeding to extra amenities. The increase affects not only Peconic Community Council but the pockets of the volunteers and the churches."
April Rocchetta and Denis Yuen
Alyssa Colon and Angela Taylor-Hughes
Founded in 1976, Peconic Community Council works tirelessly to protect and preserve human services in Eastern Suffolk County. One of the many programs under their umbrella is Maureen's Haven Homeless Outreach, a program that provides shelter and nourishment from November to April at local houses of worship including First Presbyterian Church in Southold, Mattituck Presbyterian Church, First Universal Unitarian Church in Southold, St. Mary's Episcopal Church in Hampton Bays, First Presbyterian Church in Southampton, Sacred Heart Parish in Cutchogue, Immaculate Conception Church in Westhampton Beach and East Quogue, and United Methodist Church, among others. All guests receive transportation to and from, a warm bed, as well as dinner, breakfast, and a bag lunch for the next day.
A former guest and now a Maureen's Haven volunteer, Angela Taylor-Hughes, explained about the program from her unique perspective Saturday night. "Everyone gets new boots in November, a place to sleep, a bag lunch, and bus passes seven days a week, 365 days a year." Further, Taylor-Hughes was thankful to the folks who had come to the event and spoke passionately about The Hopeline, "It helps with counseling and finding relief money to help people get back on their feet. They help you and you get to keep going."
One problem for many area homeless is that after they find a job and a place to rent, there is the challenge of finding two months rent and a security deposit. They simply do not have the cash on hand. The Hopeline gets the folks those start-up funds.
Coming up is The Peconic Plunge at Veteran's Park in Mattituck on Feb. 14, with registration at 9:30 a.m. and an 11 a.m. plunge followed by a Survivor's Party and Awards.
Over 400 came to Polish Hall in Riverhead to support Maureen's Haven Homeless Outreach program.
• For more information, to volunteer, or to donate contact Peconic Community Council, 554 East Main Street, Suite 303, Riverhead, 631-727-6831, www.pccouncil.org.
Nicole, an award-winning journalist, is Executive Editor & Publisher of Hamptons.com where she focuses on celebrity interviews, fine living and design, social events, fashion and beauty. She lives on the North Fork with her husband, their two daughters, and Bernese Mountain dog, Cooper. www.hamptons.com