By Anya Tikka
MONTICELLO Despite the financial difficulties over the last few years, Community Unity keeps on going, and it celebrated the work of one of its branches, the Federation for the Homeless in Mr. Willy’s restaurant in Monticello with a “Community Heroes” dinner on December 6.
Supporters and well-wishers came to honor the award winners NYS Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther and The Federation for the Homeless Program Administrator Steve White and his wife Suz for their work.
Gunther could not be present at the awards, because of her work in Albany “making something happen,” commented restaurant owner and emcee Bill Sipos. Her assistant Rachel Steingart accepted the award on her behalf.
Mike and Adrianne Dollard of The Fitness Factory in Monticello and Zumba instructor Nicole Muscara were also given recognition awards for the outstanding fundraising they’ve done, bringing in thousands of dollars in donations for Community Unity.
Sipos thanked everyone in the room for their support.
Suz White accepted the gave the speech, saying both she and Steve hate public speaking, but then adding jokingly, “I was elected to give it.”
She also said, “A community is only as good as the way it treats its most needy” and added, “Every single person in this room has extended themselves. It’s all of us together.”
The couple received a standing ovation.
Steve later explained that the organization provides roughly 40,000 hot meals per year, and supplies another 40,000 meals to pantries.
“We are the only place in Sullivan County providing a soup kitchen for the homeless,” he added.
The Federation is open Monday to Friday for breakfast and lunch at 9 Monticello Street in Monticello. There are no homeless shelters in the county, so motels are the shelters, he said. There is a huge need for emergency housing in the county, and there are 136 homeless children in the Monticello School District alone, explains the Community Unity information brochure.
Community Unity is a coalition of The Dream Tank, The Federation for the Homeless, Rise, and The Recovery Center, providing services for those in need in the community. All the work is done on a voluntary basis. Assemblywoman Gunther found a private donor to help save the Federation after the state funds were cut last year, said Sipos, the driving force and founder behind Community Unity.
Sipos explained he started Community Unity about five years ago, “Just to try to make a difference.” He’s been providing about 500 Christmas meals for the CASA kids for the past 10 years, giving them a Christmas party.
“We try to give back,” smiled Sipos, adding, “My staff also helps, donating their time to help the kids.”
CASA Court Appointed Special Advocates is an organization that “Advocates for Children of New York State… for the best interest of children in cases of abuse and neglect,” according to its web site.
The restaurant was full, and about 130 tickets were sold, estimated the organizers. A raffle at the dinner raised some more funds for the organization.