Rosemarie McCarthy, who started Harmony Café in 2016, which offers wholesome meals to those who need it,
paying what you can afford or not at all, has taken her nonprofit forward with a new initiative: teaching
people to make healthy food choices. The program, called FEAST (Food Education, Access, and Support Togeth- er), is the first one on Long Island, McCarthy said, and will offer 12-week classes, once a week for two hours, that enable
families to live healthier lives.
But besides FEAST, McCarthy is in the midst of a virtual fundraising raffle in hopes of raising $5,000. Harmony Café fed 1,000 just through COVID alone, in addition to the 2,000 since its founding, and people are still hungry. The raffle ends June 22 with a live drawing on June 25, so tuck into your wallet. There’s a 50/50, plus more raffles. (Tickets@ wwwharmonycafeli.org.)
The FEAST program is in the creation stage, so McCarthy is trying to spread the word. Harmony needs a space with a small kitchen for the classes. The VFW Hall on Edwards Avenue has been their base of operation for the monthly meals offered there and where the soups are made, but McCarthy said she hadn’t approached them just yet. They need a space with a small kitchen.
“My plan is to hold a pilot session for 10 to 20 people,” said Bernadette Smith,a Harmony Café board member, who will teach. She had just completed a required FEAST training class. “Each class has a theme and there’s always food for a cooking demonstration.” Mary Ellen Grimes, a registered dietician who teaches nutrition at SUNY Farmingdale, will also head classes.
“The program was created by a non- profit in California,” Smith said of the Los Angeles-based organization that began in 2013. “It’s modeled around recovery programs and incorporates whole foods, nutrition education, includ-
ing label reading, behavior modification with meditation, helping people to be in charge of their outcomes, including healthier eating.”
“Cheap, fast, processed food is less expensive than whole food,” Smith pointed out, and many are poor. But those choices can be costly in health tolls and medications. Nutrition-related diseases are obesity, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and hypertension.
“The diabetes mortality rate is 14 percent of all deaths in Suffolk County and 29.1 percent of its population is obese,”McCarthy said, touting statistics from the Suffolk County Community Health Needs and Improvement Plan 2019-2021.
McCarthy also mentioned local statis- tics on poverty rates from needs assessment figures: Patchogue’s is 12.4 percent and Bellport’s is 16.9 percent. “We’re targeting low-income parents for the classes, pay what you can, but anyone can come,” McCarthy said.
While McCarthy started Harmony Café’ in 2016 single handedly, her passion has attracted a devoted core of unpaid volunteers, herself included. Supporters include the VFW Jayne-Lattin Post 2913 on Edwards Avenue, where most of the meals are doled out; Great- er Patchogue Chamber of Commerce; COAD and Patchogue Wellness Center, where McCarthy rents a small admin- istrative space. Toast Coffeehouse has been generous and supplied last year’s Thanksgiving meal.
“The Village Idiot gives us trays of food regularly, Rudi’s Patchogue (on Route 112 – besides good food, check out their Hometown Heroes web page) is a big supporter, too,” said McCarthy. Others are listed on the raffle website.
McCarthy, a paralegal and real estate sales associate, is turbocharged with ideas and Harmony Café activities like the free wellness classes they are currently partnering with at the Pat- chogue-Medford Library. Her dynamism is fueled by a childhood growing up in the 1970s, when she remembers where money was sparse and there was a worrisome situation: a dad who got sick and couldn’t work.
“You usually had to struggle,” she said. “But I’ve experienced that with people who start nonprofits.”