Caribe Tapas – Leading the way to help feed the community

By Keith Shikowitz

There’s a saying the charity begins at home. That is not always the case. Sometimes it begins in the community and extends back to the home. On Tuesday May 12, in the middle of the Coronavirus pandemic shutdown, Caribe Tapas Restaurant, in the Village of Haverstraw, in conjunction with the Rockland Universal Lions Club, set out to serve over 250 meals to those in the community in need of a meal and to those who are homeless and could not get a meal on their own. 

This event was the brainchild of Ivan Arroyo director of Promotions and Marketing and Edward Valverde owner Caribe Tapas. Arroyo said, “We just felt we wanted to give back to the community, the homeless and anybody out there who is in need some kind of food. We can’t feed the world. We can’t feed everybody in Rockland County, but we can feed as many as we can.”

“Yes, for sure we’re definitely going to have 200. Where actually anticipated a little more so we’re prepared for just a little bit more,” Valverde stated.

Arroyo added, “It’s not that we want to just keep it at 200. We want to make an extra 50 or 60 plates because we want to get into our cars and go out to where the homeless are sleeping. Under the bridges. Under the tunnels. There are certain areas where the homeless are sleeping and we want to take them some food.”

They got together with the pharmacy next door Care RX pharmacy, the Lions Club and their softball team El Vecino, just to offer a little bit of help. They felt this was a way of saying thank you to everybody in Rockland County for accepting then in the neighborhood as a new restaurant. “We just wanted to do our part to help the community and the homeless and others who need it,” he added.

“Just to add to that. We decided we wanted to give back to the community. To do something for the people of the town. We came together collectively and decided to take on this project. Hopefully in the future we’ll do much more,” Valverde explained.

After the last set of storms and earthquakes that hit Puerto Rico and the Caribbean last year the same group of people organized a relief effort for the island of Puerto Rico. Arroyo compared this relief effort on the local level to that relief effort. “You know we had already done the Puerto Rican relief which was phenomenal. We raised over $12,000. We kept it going a few more weeks after the initial day, because there were still sponsors and donors out there.”

Then they went to Puerto Rico themselves because they wanted to make sure that the donations went to the people that needed in the most. “We made over 4000 packages. We gave out to everyone in need who was sleeping in the street. We went over to the homeless and the people who are homeless because their buildings had come down.” Arroyo explained. Along with the physical donations of needed materials they also bought gift cards from Rite Aid, Home Depot in Puerto Rico. “Everybody got a $50 card, $75 card, $250 card, depending and how much damage they had. Plus, they got a bag of needed things including, bathroom tissue, antibiotics and mosquito repellent. Everybody got a real big bag. A school from Rockland County (Sloatsburg Elementary) donated over 200 book bags. We gave one to all of the kids that were going back to school.”

Due to the pandemic, there are going to be many businesses that are not going to reopen at all. There are those like Caribe Tapas that are not planning on closing for their doors for good.  Valverde said the restaurant has gotten a very good response from the community during the pandemic. “It’s not quite what it was before. But it is what it is. They said it’s not quite what it was, but the doors are open and people are responding. We’re basically surviving.”

Valverde voiced the concerns all businesses are having. “The concerns about having to close permanently are always there. At this point I think things will give out and on Friday we’ll see what happens. The concern of closing is not something I’m trying to entertain at this time. We’re just surviving at this point.”

Valverde and Arroyo both agreed that as long as it’s needed there’s going to be more types of these events. “I know it’s going to be needed for a long time. I think we’re going to do it a few more times. There are people out there who want to donate funds to buy more food to do it again and we will do it again. That’s not a problem.”

The success of this event could not have happened without the volunteers from the Rockland Universal Lions Club and others putting the food into the aluminum tins, bagging them up with sodas or waters and handing them out to the residents and homeless who came by to get them. The current President, Annette Martinez explained how they got involved with this worthwhile event. 

“Ivan contacted me. I spoke at the pharmacy I work for and told him we were working on the food donation drive and right away my employer wrote out a check for $500 to start this event. I’m very grateful that he did that. That was on a Friday. On that same Friday we had already collected $1000. I just wanted to say this is only the first event we are going to have here at Caribe Tapas. We’re going to be doing many other events during this year when the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted. The event will be to help the villagers and anybody else in need. This is not just about the Village of Haverstraw. It’s about anybody in any community and anywhere in Rockland County who need help.”

“There are a lot of people in need in this community and we want to just help out the community. We want to give a little bit of what we have. I also want to thank the donors for what they did for this event today. Two of the donors are Care RX pharmacy and the softball team El Vecino from the Bronx. I also want to thank Ivan Arroyo, the Promotions and Marketing director for the restaurant for everything he did to promote this event.”

Carol Torres, Secretary of the Rockland Universal Lions Club, explained further the involvement of the organization. “We’re here for a COVID-19 relief food distribution. We’re also going to go in outreach to the homeless and anybody who needs food. They call us. If they can’t get to us, we’ll go to their residence or the destination they give us for them to get a plate of food.”

She added Caribe Tapas, Ivan, Edward, the softball team and the Care RX pharmacy for the donations that they gave to this event and all the Lions members who she said are dedicated to these events to her list of people and groups she was thanking for creating and participating in this event.

It wasn’t just the members of the Lions Club working on that day to feed the homeless and others in the community. Ada Cruz and Ada Caruso exemplify what it means to live in, work in and be part of a community. They took their own time to come out to help others less fortunate. Cruz, who has been a resident of Rockland for the last 8 1/2 years came to know the owners of Caribe Tapas a few years ago. “When I saw they were having this event to help the community, it just moved me to give back. Being home, I thought ‘What can I do to contribute to the community being here in Rockland?’ It just moved me to join the efforts with the owners here.”

“I was told to anticipate that there will be more than 200 or 250 people coming for this event. Like the old saying goes, ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’ She added to that saying, ‘It also takes a village to feed the village. In the Latino community, I think our hearts are happy when we’re feeding people. I think just giving in to our natural instinct to feed people in spite of everything. I think that this will definitely not only put a warm delicious meal in their bellies, but it will soothe their hearts.”

Caruso, who has been in Rockland for the last 18 years and works at the Harbors of Haverstraw said, “I would have to agree with Miss Cruz. I know the owners due to coming here and so when I saw that he was doing an event to help feed the community and the homeless, I thought what can I do to give back to the community, especially the community that I work for. I was definitely interested. I reached out to Ivan he said definitely come in and help.”

Caruso summed up what they feel is the heart and soul of the Latino community. “I think that’s just the way it is in the Latino community. She also pointed out that many other communities have the same attitude about food as Latino community does, relating her own personal experiences as a child. “When I was growing up there was always food even when somebody was coming over or not. I always say always make enough food you never know who’s going to stop by or who might need some tomorrow. Always better to have more than to run out.”

Caribe Tapas met their goal of the 200 to 250 meals and probably then some. As Valverde and Arroyo said, this may be the first event, but it won’t be the last.