Alex Porten's last gift to strangers in need will keep dozens of homeless families fed in Roosevelt.
Porten, of Hicksville, was known for helping others, mostly anonymously. When he died at age 53 in June 2011, he left $25,000 "to be donated to a homeless shelter at the discretion of the executor," said longtime friend Marc Arkind, also of Hicksville, the executor.
The legacy gift ended up at the Rosa Parks INN (Interfaith Nutrition Network) "after much research, and trial and error and finally meeting the fundraiser for The INN," Arkind said.
He and his wife, Elyse, decided to use the money toward a new kitchen at the 28-year-old Rosa Parks facility, which can serve up to 40 people at a time. The shelter currently has 26 occupants, including eight families, with 12 children ranging in age from 1 to 14 years old.
The need for such services is great, said Lawrence Levy, executive director of Hofstra University's National Center for Suburban Studies.
"Even before the recent great recession created legions of new temporarily poor, Long Island was growing poorer overall, with pockets of poverty growing larger and larger," Levy said. "Soup kitchens and other not-for-profit service providers can't keep up with the need for food and volunteers, and governments haven't been willing or able to fill the gap."
The official ribbon cutting for the kitchen at Rosa Park could be as early as Monday, said INN development chief Dorian Stern.
Porten, whom Arkin described as a poet and a photographer, was also a fan of food.
"Alex had a passion for cooking and a desire for people to have enough to eat," Arkind said. "I thought the kitchen was a good fit for him."
The kitchen is to be named in Porten's honor.
The $25,000 turned out to be just the seed money for the kitchen's final cost.
Superstorm Sandy hit Long Island on Oct. 29, 2012, shortly after the kitchen project was selected. The storm focused everything the shelter did toward the needs of the guests and keeping general operations under control, officials said, delaying the kitchen project.
When the project was back on track a year later, the shelter had trouble finding a contractor, Stern said.
Longtime INN supporter Michael Ambrosino, owner of Ambrosino Consultant Corp., a Garden City-based construction company, rallied his resources of subcontractors to take on the project.
"Ambrosino's added time, labor, material and supplies would have a fair market value of about $60,000," Stern said, adding that Ambrosino will be the INN's honoree at its annual fall luncheon in October.
"The house -- and the kitchen -- had been built in the 1920s and had not been upgraded since," Stern said. She added the kitchen has been closed since June 25 for the work and the group has been feeding INN guests from its soup kitchen in Hempstead.
The kitchen's completion, Stern said, coming nearly two years after the Arkinds started discussions about using Porten's donation, "will soon begin making a vast improvement for guests at Rosa Parks."
Rosa Parks INN in Roosevelt
Has provided emergency housing options to families since 1986.
Is one of two family shelters operated by The INN (Interfaith Nutrition Network), which also provides shelters for single men and formerly homeless veterans needing supportive services.
Can accommodate about 278 individuals or 46 families.
Has annual operational costs of about $320,000
Source: The INN 2013 Audited Financial Statement