By Amy Nicole Tangel
Even though school is out for summer and the doors have been closed long before, children across the country still depend on the daily meals provided to them so they don’t go hungry. One inspiring man on Long Island has made it his life’s mission to help people in need to put food on their tables and make people smile.
Keith Caputo,39, has spent the past five years building his non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, Helping Makes U Happy, alongside his mother, Cassy Caputo with the support of an entire community. As Founder and Board member, the Center Moriches resident has worked tirelessly to help other people by successfully organizing and producing countless fundraisers, events and drives to raise funds, food and items for those in need. With the guidance of his dedicated and loving mother who has given him the tools to rise above his developmental disability, Keith has created an organization and brought people together in ways one may never even dream of in a lifetime.
Most recently, Helping Makes U Happy is preparing to kick-off its annual Feed the Families project to feed children and families throughout the summer, who are without the breakfast and lunches they receive for free or reduced during the school year. With the help of local businesses and members of the community who donate to the cause, they are well on their way to begin feeding families on July 6, 2020. From that day on, families will receive meals once a week, every Monday through September, but Keith and Cassy said there has been a big jump in numbers of families in need.
“It’s a big list this year,” he said.
Cassy said they usually have an average of 22 families and this year they have 38 families who will be receiving assistance who are referred to Helping Makes U Happy through support of the school district’s social worker, psychologist, the parent-child home program liaison and the liaison to the Poospatuck Reservation. This year, Keith and Cassy said they were concerned about whether they would have enough volunteers to make this happen with everything going on, but the response from the community has exceeded their expectations.
Suffolk Federal has been a long-time supporter of Helping Makes U Happy, and Keith said he was amazed at their generosity this year. With the current pandemic, the credit union was not able to host a food-drive they had planned this past April, to benefit the Feed the Families project’s upcoming initiative, so they did the next best thing, and donated a check for $3,000 to help Keith’s mission. Longwood SEPTA, the Longwood School District Special Education PTA, is currently holding an ongoing virtual spin-it to win-it auction to raise funds for various organizations and this past Sunday, when they hosted a Helping Makes U Happy fundraising day.
The event raised a whopping total of $13,000 for Helping Makes U Happy to not only buy food for the project, but to pay the rent for their building and utilities, and to also help provide approximately 250 backpacks Keith calls “comfort cases” with special items of comfort for children in Suffolk County removed from their homes due to neglect; leaving Keith and Cassy with a huge blessing to simply focus on feeding and supporting families with necessary items to live one week at a time.
“Thank God for the community, because they very generously always donate to our Feed the Families project,” she said.
Local farmers and food establishments alike have not let the current struggling economy stop them from helping out those in need as well. Cassy said the Eastport Green Project, an organization focused on keeping Eastport, N.Y., green and looking beautiful, has offered to continue providing fresh vegetables this year as they have in years past. Nettie’s Country Bakery in Center Moriches is providing fresh bread every week for the project, and Cassy said that is a huge savings for them and delicious for families, too. In addition, they are grateful to the people who raise chickens and give them eggs, but Cassy said those have been hard to come by so far.
One of the biggest hurdles preparing to feed the families this summer for Keith and Cassy has been being able to get the grocery shopping done. They both are immune-compromised and have not been in a grocery store since this past March. In years past, when there was a need for items and they did not have enough volunteers, they would simply go out and buy what they needed themselves, but this year it is not an option. Thankfully, with the help of Mattituck High School Special Education teacher, Jennifer Cressy, Helping Makes U Happy is now utilizing a free virtual signup sheet to schedule and manage volunteer tasks through an app called, SignUp Genius.
Jennifer has been a special education teacher for the past 17 years, and she said she came to know of Keith through of the contributions he has made in the community individually and through Helping Makes U Happy. She said she always read about the organization’s fundraising activities and wanted her family to become involved in the mission.
With the upcoming project, Jennifer said Cassy reached out to her asking for help to come up with a new way to organize the drive, and together they decided on SignUp Genius. According to Jennifer, the new sign-up program has been a hit and immediately they had volunteers signed up to not only shop for necessary items, but to sort and pack food as well as deliver to the local families in need. While Jennifer is humble in her help, she credits Keith and Cassy for doing all of the work.
“Our community has benefited from Keith’s commitment to helping, and he always has a positive attitude. Keith truly understands the joy in giving and is a role model for us all,” she said.
Keith said his favorite part of Helping Makes U Happy is talking to parents and kids, and the inspiration he leaves them with. Keith said he loves to speak at schools, and to boy scouts and girl scouts to tell them about his non-profit. Keith truly loves what he does, and he already has his sights set on his next vision to help raise funds this summer for Helping Makes U Happy with an upcoming, Summer Staycation Raffle. Cassy said this raffle will offer items for people to use in their yards, their homes and with their families. Beyond the summer, Keith was looking forward to celebrating his upcoming 40th birthday celebration-Casino Night- planned for November to benefit the organization, but he is now hoping that even if it cannot go on as planned, it will be rescheduled for 2021 when we can all come together again. Of all the things Keith loves, most of all, Keith said he gives his heart and gratitude for everything to his mother.
“I am most grateful for my mother. She is the best mother ever,” said Keith.
At the very end of the summer when the Feed the Families project comes to a close for the season, Helping Makes U Happy makes a symbolic donation of backpacks filled with supplies for every child in each family with their last food delivery; sending kids back to school a little more prepared and with a bit of extra happiness to start the new year.
Helping Makes U Happy is currently in need of eggs, and jelly, and could always use juice boxes and Chef Boyardee canned goods. Boxes in good condition for delivery in safe and socially distanced practice to families are also needed at this time. Check Helping Makes U Happy Facebook page for updates. For more information or to contact to donate, please visit http://www.helpingmakesuhappy.org.