BAY RIDGE — As 13-year-old best friends Giuliana Astore and Angelina Aviles strode down 5th Avenue in Bay Ridge on Aug. 21, they had a community-driven mission in mind.
The teens stopped into a number of local small businesses, not as shoppers, but as Care2Create, a two-person nonprofit with a pitch for every proprietor willing to listen. They were soliciting tax-deductible donations to help keep alive the food pantry at St. Athanasius Church in Bensonhurst.
The young Marine Park residents’ campaign on behalf of the food pantry is just the latest to be pursued by Care2Create, which Giuliana and Angelina founded two years ago as a way to overcome their extreme social anxiety. Since then, they have volunteered at other food pantries, local parks, and senior citizens facilities that serve the underserved in Southwest Brooklyn.
The girls also volunteer at Owl’s Head Park, where they plant bulbs, add fences, repair walkways, and do overall restoration, as well as at the food pantry operated by St. Brendan’s Church in Midwood.
“Whatever our cause is for going to each place, we just hope to raise awareness, like we are doing at Owl’s Head Park,” Giuliana said. “And we wanted to be able to spend time with people like the elderly,” Angelina added. “They don’t really have anybody to come visit them sometimes, so we wanted to be able to go do that.”
At the moment, they’re focused on raising funding and local awareness about the St. Athanasius food pantry.
Angelina’s mother, Jessica Aviles, applauds what the girls are doing.
“I feel it helps them with their Catholic identity. It teaches them to do charitable work,” said Jessica, who accompanies the girls on their fundraising trips, but generally lets them do most of the talking, even if an occasional shopkeeper dismisses them rudely. ‘’They have to learn how to deal with it. I always tell them to be very respectful — not everyone has to give,” she added.
According to a report by the Hunter College New York City Food Policy Center, 14.5% of residents in the Bensonhurst community face food insecurity. Charlotte Montgomery, lead volunteer at the St. Athanasius food pantry, said an influx of recently arrived migrants into the community has strained its already-dwindling resources.
Even with funding coming in from Catholic Charities Brooklyn & Queens, Montgomery said the pantry still needs donations from the community and The Campaign Against Hunger, and city funding in order to collect enough food to adequately serve the 300 to 400 people who come in weekly.
That’s why St. Athanasius pastor Father Michael Lynch thinks the volunteer efforts of Giuliana and Angelina are so important, saying they “think outside the parking lot box,” when they plan how they can further the mission of the food pantry.
“I think we all learn that from the time of our baptism and beyond, people are setting good examples to us, but eventually someone says to us to be a good example,” Father Lynch added. “Someone says to be responsible, and maybe it’s being responsible by responding to the call of God in our life.”
Both Giuliana and Angelina attend Catholic school and will be entering eighth grade this year. Angelina attends Good Shepherd Catholic Academy in Marine Park, while Giuliana is a student at Our Lady of Grace Catholic Academy in Gravesend.
Care2Create accepts donations online at www.care2create.org.