BY THERESA JUVA
THE JOURNAL NEWS • DECEMBER 8, 2008
PORT CHESTER — Jose Antonio Correa folded his hands and bowed his head in prayer over a lunch tray.
Correa, who is looking for carpentry work after losing his pizzeria job four months ago, is grateful for the hamburger and soup he gets at the Don Bosco Community Center.
Peggy Lieb, a community organizer with the Westchester Hispanic Coalition, works at the day laborer site, negotiating wages between potential employers and workers. She said the growing number of men looking for construction work is pushing up demand at the soup kitchen.
With an economic recession in full swing, fewer potential employers have been looking for workers to paint walls, hammer together floors, or spruce up gardens in Greenwich, Rye or Mamaroneck.
“Today, we have 69 people who came and two employers,” she said. ” In the past it was 10 or 15.”
Bill Varccaro, a deacon at Holy Rosary and one of the kitchen’s organizers, said the kitchen is on pace to serve 42,000 meals by the end of the year – 9,000 more meals than last year. On Thanksgiving, the kitchen served 365 people; last year it served 225.
“We knew (with) the economy the way it is there would be less work available, so we planned for more groups to do food drives,” he said, noting that meal supplies come from local churches and the Food Bankfor Westchester. “We expect a further increase. I think we’ll hit our highest numbers in the next year.”
Selvin Maldonado, 35, gets a meal at the kitchen almost every day, now that he has been out of work for the past month. He arrives each morning at six, hoping to get picked for a construction job.
“I get coffee and wait for someone,” he said slowly in English. “This year is much more difficult.”
If he can’t get a job by the afternoon, he returns to his apartment on Madison Avenue and reads the Bible to pass the time. But he doesn’t dwell on his plight.
“It will make you go crazy if you think,” he said. “No sleeping. No eating.”
Ovidio Cifuentes, who last worked in Greenwich three weeks earlier, worried about not being able to send money home to his parents and girlfriend in Guatemala. He used to make $500 a week from painting and putting up gypsum wallboard. He eats at the soup kitchen to save the little money he has.
“This is a place we can eat and we don’t have the extra expense of ing food when we’re not working,” he said in Spanish.
Correa said not having a job stirs up the anxiety he felt when he decided to leave Honduras 10 years ago. That’s when Hurricane Mitch ripped through the country, causing flooding and mudslides that killed his neighbors and destroyed homes.
These days, he worries about losing his home because he can’t pay $300 for his December rent. To put a few dollars in his pocket, he collects cans and bottles and returns them to the supermarket.
Still, he is hopeful that his afternoons of eating at the soup kitchen will soon end.
A man recently called and said he might have work for Correa next month in a company cafeteria on Westchester Avenue.
“I have faith,” he said. “God will provide.”