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May 31, 2011 | Staten Island Advance
Port Richmond pantry offers healthier food options
Staten Island Advance
May 31, 2011
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- Is it a food pantry -- or is it a supermarket?
Community Health Action of Staten Island is rewriting the rules by offering families a profusion of healthy options at its Community Food Pantry at 2134 Richmond Terr., Port Richmond.
"One of the benefits of our pantry is that it's customer-choice," said Diane Arneth, CHASI's executive director.
"You give [families] the dignity of feeling like they are in a supermarket," noted Ronnie DiGiacomo, CHASI's director of resource development.
The CHASI pantry is supplied by the Food Bank of New York City and City Harvest. Also, it's one of seven food pantries on the Island to benefit from the United Way's Just Food Campaign, which delivers fresh produce each week.
Ms. Arneth said that the superior selection ensures that folks won't be saddled with food they already have, cannot eat or do not know how to prepare. "You get to have some degree of choice in what you bring into your house," she stresses.
Customers choose among vegetables both canned and frozen, including potatoes, sweet potatoes, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, cabbage and spinach. Fresh produce includes apples, bananas and pears. Milk, grains and whole-wheat products are always available.
In addition, there are demonstrations on proper food preparation; a recent session featured kale.
CHASI Community Food Pantry opened in 2004 and has occupied its present location since 2009. In 2010, it served nearly 800 families per month. "It just makes a huge difference," said Ms. DiGiacomo.
Said John Shevlin, Director of Client Services. "You're just helping them [needy families] clear across the board."
In the tough economic climate, and against the backdrop of some other food pantries shutting their doors, staff and volunteers work diligently to assure CHASI Community Food Pantry's continuation. Each year, the agency holds three fundraisers, including a Valentine's Day dinner/dance auction.
"The agency has made an investment in the community, and we're committed to keeping this program going," said Shevlin.
CHASI Community Food Pantry is open to the public on Friday from 2 p.m. until 8 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. Anyone with questions is encouraged to call 718-808-1870.
December 19, 2010 | Staten Island Advance
The Louis R. Miller Business Leadership Award winner Diane Arneth
Staten Island Advance
December 19, 2010
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- In the biblical story of Esther, the young queen is called upon to go before the king in order to save her Jewish people from being slaughtered by their enemies.
Back then, it was upon risk of death that anyone -- even the queen -- would dare go before the king without being summoned. It is Esther's elder cousin Mordecai who turns to the frightened young woman and says, "And who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?"
Back in the mid-1980s, when the HIV/AIDS epidemic crashed onto the shores of Staten Island, it was Diane Arneth who stepped forward for such a time as this. However, there was no king to offer protection, no cousin Mordecai to advise and inspire, and the people had no way to defend themselves.
They just died.
Yet, up against insurmountable obstacles, Ms. Arneth proved she was worthy of the moment. She banded together with a group of concerned community advocates, service providers, and HIV-infected and affected people to create assistance through the Staten Island AIDS Task Force, now Community Health Action of Staten Island.
Queen Esther was ultimately able to deliver her people, helping them destroy their enemies.
For Ms. Arneth, the story doesn't have such a fairytale ending. HIV/AIDS has not been defeated and is still taking the lives of Staten Islanders, but her unfettered courage and determination has allowed those here affected and afflicted with HIV/AIDS to live longer, healthier lives.
For her efforts, Ms. Arneth has been named the most recent recipient of the Louis R. Miller Business Leadership Award in the category of Non-Profit.
While the main focus is still HIV/AIDS services, Community Action Health of Staten Island (CHASI) -- based out of 56 Bay St., St. George, with several other satellite sites in the borough -- has expanded to provide health-related outreach, education, prevention and direct services to the borough's most vulnerable populations: HIV-positive youth, people of color, substance abusers, the poor, immigrants, the mentally ill, and the LGBT community.
CHASI's programs address concerns such as early intervention, screening, direct and preventative health care services, anti-poverty services, HIV testing and counseling, case management, assistance to local jail parolees, and even a community food pantry. The agency serves 600-700 HIV/AIDS individuals, and in addition, 24,000 individuals outside of that annually.
It has 96 employees and a $5.6 million budget.
If you get the feeling that Ms. Arneth is on a mission, you couldn't be more correct.
"I feel like it's my community and my responsibility to leave it better than when I got here. I want to make an impact in my community ... we have created some really wonderful programs and helped a lot of people and also raised the level of awareness of the community," she said.
She remembers those frightening early days; they were far from pretty.
"People died every day," she said. "It was really difficult and really nothing you could do to slow down the inevitable end. The disease was quick and horrible and people likened it to a plague."
In the almost 30 years since HIV/AIDS became a national pandemic, the landscape on which the disease operates has changed. People now know much more about the condition and its transmission and prevention, and additionally, there are treatments to keep the disease manageable, allowing people to live longer.
A nurse by vocation, the intelligent, caring, socially-conscious activist and advocate said it was this background that moved to her "to working with people and working on issues I felt involved human dignity and social justice."
Her years in the field include: Being an aide at the former Willowbrook State School; a day care center staffer, and a house mother to unwed mothers in Brooklyn. She spent three years as a nurse in the Pediatric Surgery Unit at the Downstate Medical Center, before she reached her "true calling in community and public health."
But it didn't come without a cost. While working as the health services coordinator for the Group Home Program at the Mission of Immaculate Virgin, Mount Loretto, Pleasant Plains, she was fired for providing birth control information to the teenagers she served.
She helped found the Staten Island Teen Pregnancy Network in the early 1980s, where her early work with HIV/AIDS began. The Task Force was created in 1988.
In 2004, the Task Force became CHASI. "The name Task Force made it clear, but it created a barrier for people to come to us and get help," she said.
As an HIV/AIDS advocate here, she fought the hard battles: The syringe exchange program, funding cuts to programs, the discrimination often endured by the Island's LGBT community. But she has been part of the victories as well, including CHASI's opening of the first-ever Staten Island LGBT Center, a free-standing service and community center dedicated to the borough's LGBT community.
Her drive for social justice was forged, she said, as a teenager at the then all-girls, progressive St. Joseph by-the-Sea School. The future activist became involved in women's issues, funding drives and war protests. She recently revisited those protest roots by being one of 18 AIDS activists arrested for blocking traffic with a sit-down on Broadway in Manhattan in a planned civil disobedience protesting unfair rent charges for those with HIV in New York City.
When asked, she didn't hesitate: "Staten Island has to be represented," she said. "This is important."
She won the CHASI 2008 New York Times Company Nonprofit Excellence Award for Overall Management Excellence and was named a 2007 Staten Island Advance Woman of Achievement.
The Island native, 58, grew up in Oakwood.
She now makes her home in West Brighton with her second husband and fellow bicyclist Robert Brown. She has a daughter, Clare Heath, and a granddaughter, Ella Heath Emmerick, 3½.