The new director of North Strand Helping Hand promises “good things” for the nonprofit, which serves many families from its headquarters at 2501 Long Bay Road, off S.C. 90 in Longs.
Peter Casamento, who calls himself “a Jersey boy,” took over the Helping Hand operation in September following the departure of Margaret Owens who took a job with Clemson University. Casamento wants to tweak the food distribution process to make the food pantry one of client choice. This was the case at the pantry of Our Lady Star of the Sea, started by Casamento while he was a pastoral associate at the North Myrtle Beach church. “They came in, then went shopping [and] they left with goods they wanted,” he said.
Casamento is an ordained deacon in the Franciscan order. This followed a 27-year career as a police officer in Bergen County, northern New Jersey, where he retired as a captain. “The Franciscans are really big in outreach. It’s about living the Gospel.” Casamento taught at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, part of the City University of New York. He also has a master’s degree in administration from Seton Hall University. He recalls he was never out of Jersey except on vacation – and it was a golf vacation that introduced him to the area. “The taxes and weather sold me.”
He moved to the area four years ago after serving in Franciscan parishes following his ordination in 2004.
The pantry at at Our Lady of the Sea is temporarily closed, parish business manager Linda Britkze says. “They’re working on it [a plan for reopening] right now.” (Britkze referred a caller to Pastor Anthony Droze, who could not be reached for this editorial.)
The closing of the pantry at Our Lady of the Sea put heavy demands on North Strand Helping Hand, and area churches were called upon to collect nonperishable food for the pantry. “We’re in a lot better shape than we were three weeks ago,” Casamento said last week. “People have responded.” Churches of many denominations are the backbone of the area’s many food pantries, including three Helping Hand organizations and Churches Assisting People in Conway, the latter four being community partners of the United Way of Horry County.
North Strand’s focus now is on providing Thanksgiving dinners for 320 families. It doesn’t help that the price of turkey is higher. North Strand will purchase turkeys and will welcome contributions for that as well as donations of food such as canned vegetables, gravy, sweet potatoes, chicken broth and packages of rice.
Meanwhile, the Pee Dee office of Catholic Charities is in the process of relocating from 537-B S.C. 90. That food pantry closed two weeks ago, said Maria Aselage, director of media relations for the Diocese of Charleston. She said the Pee Dee office, including the pantry, will be reopening, hopefully in a more central location in the next couple of weeks. “We are not sure where. We are very diligently looking.” Clients needing assistance may call 843-402-9115, Ext. 15.