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Three local charities get a surprise — and very welcome — holiday boost

RSVP Animal Rescue was one of the beneficiaries of a holiday fundraising drive by members of Temple Israel, who distributed $21,000 in donations yesterday. Pictured, from left: RSVP treasurer Roy Bozzello, with "DeeDee," Rabbi Michael Rascoe, Temple Israel board president Jaime Siegel, board member Harley Abrams, RSVP president Lillian Lennon and "Oreo Cookie." Photo: Denise Civiletti

A fundraising drive by members of Temple Israel in Riverhead netted $21,000 for local charitable groups.

“It’s about sharing in the holiday spirit by extending goodwill to others,” said Temple Israel president Jaime Siegel.

They chose three local groups with three different outreach missions.

“Different causes attract different people,” Siegel said and members of the congregation pitched in with their own contributions and solicited donations throughout the larger community, he said. “It was all done very quietly.”

The result was a whopping $21,000, which is more than Siegel and others expected to raise in this first-time holiday giving campaign.

Olga Cortes, community resource pantry manager with Jaime Siegel, left, and Rabbi Michael Rascoe. Photo: Denise Civiletti

The Long Island Council of Churches, Maureen’s Haven and R.S.V.P. Animal Rescue each got a $7,000 check from Siegel yesterday at the Northville Turnpike synagogue.

The money was like a bolt from the blue for each of the recipients. Siegel had the pleasure of making the phone calls to inform the groups of the donation. They were fun calls to make.

“They were all, like — wow, this just doesn’t happen,” he said.

“This couldn’t come at a better time,” L.I. Council of Churches community resource pantry manager Olga Cortes said yesterday, thanking Siegel and Rabbi Michael Rascoe for the donation check.

“With all the cutbacks we’ve been experiencing and community donations [of food and supplies] dropping off, our shelves are getting bare,” Cortes said.

RSVP Animal Rescue representatives said they were “blown away” by the donation.

“This kind of thing doesn’t usually happen,” said RSVP president Lillian Lennon. The funds will help the rescue group buy food and care for the numerous animals they look after.

Much of their work is focused on animals who have homes but are not properly cared for, she said. They are dogs who are kept outside on a chain 24/7, often without shelter. Or dogs and cats who don’t receive the medical care they need.

Sometimes, personal hardships, such as loss of a job or illness, prevent families from taking care of their animals — they can’t afford adequate food or veterinary care.

In many other cases, it’s the animal owner’s philosophy.

“Some people don’t see the animals as part of their family. They view them as their property,” Lennon said.

Lennon and Ray Bozzella, a trainer and the group’s treasurer brought two of RSVP’s canine wards with them to Temple Israel for the check presentation.

“Oreo Cookie” is a timid male pit bull mix who’s about 10 years old, Lennon said. He’s currently in foster care, now that RSVP volunteers talked his owner into surrendering him. The dog spent his entire life up to that point — eight or nine years — tied up outside in all kinds of weather, without proper shelter or veterinary care. It’s against the law to tie up a dog for more than two hours, but it’s a very hard law to enforce, Lennon said.

“He has Lyme’s disease and could barely walk. And he has COPD,” Lennon said. “He would not have made it through this summer. The owner told us that if the dog died, ‘it was his time’ and that was that,” she said.

“We feel bad he lost so many years,” Lennon said, stroking the dog’s back. “Whatever time he’s got left, he’s going to live like a king.”

Lennon said it’s very hard to find people to adopt senior pets. They use volunteer foster parents to provide homes. “RSVP pays for the animal’s food and vet bills, she said, so people who volunteer to foster them don’t have to worry about being stuck with a big vet bill,” Lennon said.

“We’re always looking for foster families.”

RSVP volunteers also manage and feed 15 feral cat colonies in the area.

Siegel said what attracted his organization to RSVP is that it’s an all-volunteer group. “No one is paid a salary. They’re all volunteers, salt of the earth people. They’re keeping the money in the community and all the money goes to taking care of the animals,” he said.

Maureen’s Haven interim executive director Maryann Gesler with Jaime Siegel, left, Rabbi Michael Rascoe and Harley Abrams. Photo: Denise Civiletti>

“This is enormously helpful,” said Maryann Gensler, Maureen’s Haven interim executive director, “especially — as you can imagine — this time of year,” she told Siegel, Rascoe and board member Harley Abrams.

Maureen’s Haven has been sheltering homeless people during wintertime on the East End since 2002. Homeless guests are transported to participating churches, where they are fed a nutritious meal and given a warm place to sleep. Volunteers staff the shelters.

The organization opened a day center in Riverhead in 2012. It’s open year-round. “Anybody can come in and get food and clothing and something to eat,” Gensler said. “We also provide case management services. We help get people housed — ultimately, that’s the goal,” she said.

“It’s a real concrete gesture of helping the most vulnerable among us,” Gensler said. “Thank you so very, very much.”

Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter and editor, an attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including a “writer of the year” award from the N.Y. Press Association in 2015. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website. Email Denise.