CAST volunteer Biff Harney stocks shelves Nov. 18 in the food...

CAST volunteer Biff Harney stocks shelves Nov. 18 in the food pantry at the organization's Southold headquarters. Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

A Southold-based nonprofit says rising food and fuel costs are creating higher demand for assistance than in recent years, prompting it to request $100,000 from Southold Town for critical operations that assist those in need.

However, while the majority of the Southold Town Board has agreed to assist the agency, some board members have differing opinions on how to proceed.

Cathy Demeroto, executive director for Southold CAST, or Center for Advocacy, Support and Transformation, told Newsday on Monday that CAST is seeing “unprecedented need” on the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic due to inflation raising food and fuel costs to 40-year highs.

For that reason, the agency has put in a funding request for its food relief and client support services programs, the latter of which provides emergency assistance requests to its clients for urgent needs that impact health and safety. 

“We anticipate to provide over 340,000 meals this year, and just for some perspective, before COVID, we did between 40,000 to 45,000 meals a year, and the first year of COVID was about 198,000, the second year was 244,000 in 2021,” Demeroto said. “And this year … we’re seeing more and more new families coming to us for help due to the high cost of living.”

The nonprofit, which serves over 900 families in the Southold community, has received 365 new families seeking assistance since moving to its new headquarters on Main Road last year, according to Demeroto. It requested the funding during the 2023 preliminary budget hearing this month.

While the agency has requested funding for services from the town in years past, it has never asked for a specific amount, Demeroto said. The agency annually receives Community Development Block Grant money  ranging from $5,000 to $9,000, although the funds are federal and flow through the town. 

Thus far, most members on the six-member town board have agreed in principle to the funding request but are still discussing how to provide it, according to board members. The board is considering using American Rescue Plan Act money — which provides money to state and local municipalities affected by COVID-19 — as one possible avenue.

Southold Supervisor Scott Russell told Newsday on Monday that while he is not against funding for CAST, he is concerned about the lack of a process for such groups coming before the town for funds. Russell said he plans to organize a roundtable discussion with nonprofits on the issue.

“Every other community has put some sort of application process together. We have none,” Russell said. “When you take taxpayer funds, you need to include the taxpayers in the discussion. That has not taken place. It is not for us to take taxpayer money and donate it to the organizations as we see fit. They need to be part of that discussion.”

Southold Councilman Brian Mealy, who supports the funding request, told Newsday that Councilman Greg Doroski is developing criteria for help organizations in Southold to apply for such funding. Mealy said the board hopes to resolve the situation by next month.

“My concern is that nothing will happen and nobody gets assistance. That would be a travesty as we enter the holidays,” Mealy said. “So I hope we can come to an agreement. … If we can assist that, that’s helping ourselves as far as ameliorating the great need in Southold.”

  • Southold CAST submitted a funding request during Southold’s preliminary budget hearings on Nov. 1. The funding request would cover the nonprofit’s Food Relief Program and Client Support Program, which includes emergency assistance for rent, mortgage and heating oil.
  • With demand for the nonprofit’s services growing, Southold CAST is projecting their operating budget to approach $1.4 million in 2023, which is higher than their $1.1 million budget for 2022 and up from $295,000 in 2017, according to Cathy Demeroto, the executive director of Southold CAST.
  • The increase is in response to recent crises such as inflation and the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the high cost of food and other essential products and the growing needs of the Southold community, according to Demeroto.

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