At a time when a pandemic is crippling the nation’s economy, workers across nearly all industries are struggling to find jobs and an ever increasing number of people are facing food insecurity, those in need have a place to turn to on the North Shore.
Peggie Como, 73, is the president and driving force behind the Mutual Concerns Committee, a grassroots group that formed 44 years ago to meet the pressing needs of residents of the North Shore School District. The non-profit supports older adults and individuals in need in the community, providing direct assistance to residents through efforts like its senior lunch program, food drives and the Sea Cliff Mini Mart, to name a few.
“At the time, there was a need within the Russian community; they needed food,” Como said. “So this group of people went to all the churches and asked for help, and they came up with this idea [for] Mutual Concerns.”
For all of her work on behalf of the Sea Cliff and Glen Head communities, the Herald is proud to name Como its 2021 Person of the Year.
Como grew up in Valley Stream before moving to Sea Cliff in 1976, where she still lives today. She got her start working with the Mutual Concerns when she was in the dairy section of the grocery store over 25 years ago and was approached by then president, Rose Capuco, who was in need of a recording secretary.
“I thought, OK, I could do that. They [only] meet, like, once a month. I could take notes. I can take shorthand,’” Como said. She remained secretary for Mutual Concerns until 2009, when she became the organization’s president, a role that she still holds today.
Mutual Concerns provides assistance to the community through a number of civic projects and different programs throughout the year; the organization runs the community’s emergency food center at Village Hall, provides a weekly senior lunch program, and offers Thanksgiving and Christmas Day food baskets for those who cannot visit family, the food insecure or those who would not otherwise be able to enjoy a holiday dinner.
Before the coronavirus pandemic, the senior lunch program met twice a week. Seniors were given a delicious lunch and the chance to socialize. They would also frequently do chair yoga, play bingo and trivia, and take short trips. The program took a hiatus during the peak of the pandemic, but restarted last summer and is now held once a week at St. Luke’s Episocal Church in Sea Cliff.
“I didn’t realize how much they loved it until we went back,” Como said. “They were stuck in their house, and some of them live alone. They don’t even have partners, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that we can just keep it running now.”
Como’s dedication to the senior lunch program is not a one-off; those who work closely with her are quick to gush over her selfless personality and her hard work to help people in need on the North Shore.
“Peggie is an incredibly compassionate person. All the volunteer work she does is because she really wants to help,” said Bill Long, owner of Metropolitan Bistro, a frequent lunch spot for the senior lunch program. “I watched her at the senior lunches we [hosted], and she always managed to say something kind to everyone there.”
Terry Sciubba, who was one of a handful of people who nominated Como for Person of the Year, described her as “the ever-consummate do-gooder” in the village.
“She takes care of [everyone, from] the young to the elderly, in need of food, help with bills or just plain old-fashioned support,” Sciubba said. “That type of selfless work continues all throughout the year. She always has a smile on her face.”
Como said anyone who asks for help receives it; no questions about age, income or occupation are asked.
“There’s some people that have a family, and they can’t really afford daily necessities,” she said. “And it’s hard to believe that in this area, there’s need, but there is. There is. There’s all sorts of stories here.”
Mutual Concerns is funded entirely by donations from the community and local organizations like Kiwanis, the Sea Cliff Lions Club, the Knights of Columbus and the American Legion.
“Luckily, I have the resources, I have the food there, I have money that I can go out and buy fresh food with if I have to,” Como said. “So it comes in and it goes out again, and that’s fine. That’s the way it should be. That’s kind of what keeps you going, knowing that people realize there’s a need and they know it’s important.”
Como said she feels fortunate to have relationships with generous and giving people in her community who give to Mutual Concerns each year, but others credit Como as the reason essential help is provided to those in need on the North Shore.
“I have known Peggie for over 25 years and have always admired her grace, magnanimity and constant desire to assist others,” said Ed Lieberman, former Sea Cliff Mayor, who hosts a historic bus tour around Sea Cliff and surrounding communities for seniors with Como and Mutual Concerns.