The owners of the Riverhead apartment complex named for the 18th century English theologian and founder of the Methodist church take his words to heart:

“Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.”

James Moore and the staff of John Wesley Village, founded in 1981 by a Methodist minister, are quietly at work making sure the neediest children in Riverhead stay warm this winter. They are distributing hundreds of new coats and boots to kids in Riverhead’s elementary schools.

“There’s definitely such a need,” John Wesley Village project manager Tom Farruggia said. “And it’s growing, especially with the border children. They have no winter clothing whatsoever.”

The company began distributing coats last year, when they gave away more than 130. This year, they’ll distribute more than 200, Farruggia said. They coordinate with school nurses and social workers in the district’s elementary schools, including Pulaski, and at the Riverhead Charter School.

Farruggia and coworker Cheri Wirth delivered several shopping bags full of coats and boxes of boots to Phillips Avenue Elementary School Tuesday afternoon; it was the second delivery so far to Phillips, where 80 percent of Phillips’ 589 students receives free or reduced-price lunch, according to building principal Debra Rodgers.

Under income eligibility guidelines, a child is eligible for free lunch if his family’s household income is at or below 130 percent of the federal poverty level: $31,005 for a family of four. A child is eligible for reduced price lunch if her family’s household income is 185 percent or less of the poverty level: $44,123 for a family of four.

Eight percent of the student body at Phillips — about 45 students — are living in temporary housing, school social worker Celeste Gneco-Vasquez said.

“Many of the children are coming to school without jackets, wearing just little sweaters,” Gneco-Vasquez said.

“You should have seen their faces when we gave them the coats,” she said of the first round of 31 coats distributed, which went primarily to the temporarily housed children.

“A student needs to feel safe and before any academics can occur, they need to have a full stomach and good nutrition,” Rodgers said. “We have to take care of the basic needs first and then the academics come after that.”

Farruggia said John Wesley became aware of the dire need for winter coats through the food pantries the realty company supports.

They bought the coats at the end of the winter season last year, dealing with the managers of local discount stores. They also bought 300 pairs of boots.

“We might have to go to 40 stores to get them, but we get them,” Farruggia said.

A lot of people don’t realize how many children go without, Farruggia said. “It’s really kind of hard to wrap your head around it.”

“We decided to try to do something about it.”

Photo caption: John Wesley Village project manager Tom Farruggia, left, with Phillips Avenue social worker Celeste Gneco-Vasquez, principal Debra Rodgers and John Wesley Village administrative assistant Cheri Wirth. (Photo: Denise Civiletti)

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.