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Friday, October 24, 2014

Helping hand to homeless recognized

By Maya Rajamani
Posted
Marisol Díaz/The Riverdale Press
John Benfatti, who organizes an overnight shelter for homeless men at the Riverdale-Yonkers Society for Ethical Culture, carves a turkey for a pre-Thanksgiving gathering at the site last year.

As the No. 1 train rolled into the last stop at West 242nd Street, John Benfatti and others volunteers walked the platform to offer food, clothing and shelter to homeless individuals who had traveled to the end of the line. 

“I remember one story where a person, we gave him a jacket, a suit jacket. And he actually came back and told us that he was able to get a job interview wearing that jacket,” Mr. Benfatti, 64, recalls. “It was nice. We were having some impact.”

It was one of Mr. Benfatti’s first projects aiding the Bronx’s homeless population as a board member of the Riverdale-Yonkers Society for Ethical Culture. 

Last week, Mr. Benfatti received one of four Community Service Awards from Community Board (CB) 8 for his work in fighting for — and now coordinating — volunteer services at the Ethical Society’s Emergency Overnight Shelter, which provides food, company and a place to sleep for six homeless men every Monday night. 

The three other award winners were Lucy Lang, for her work at the Hebrew Home at Riverdale, Louise Scribner, who volunteers at the Bronx Arts Ensemble, and Charlene Dubin, who carries out restoration and community work with Friends of Van Cortlandt Park. 

Since the shelter’s inception, Mr. Benfatti has rarely missed a Monday night. 

‘What I try and do with the shelter at the society is to make people feel welcome — make them feel like they are coming into my living room or my home,” he said. 

Mr. Benfatti and his wife joined Ethical Culture in 1991 while looking for a place to raise their daughters, now 22 and 18. He has served on the board since 1992; in 1993, he represented Ethical Culture on a Riverdale Presbyterian Church committee dedicated to helping the area’s homeless population.

“The tenet of Ethical Culture is to live your life in a way that makes the world a better place, which is basically a tenet of any religion,” he said. “This is something I felt we should be practicing in Ethical Culture and so I took it on — I made it my project.”

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