Every year Paula Miritello does a charity in honor of her late brother Vincent, who had cerebral palsy and passed away 11 years ago at age 20. She walks for Special Olympics and collects food and winter coats to keep his memory alive.
Miritello has been holding the food and coat drive for the past few years, but this year it's on a bigger and grander scale. All donations will be accepted at several locations through Nov. 19, when all efforts will culminate with a party at the Elks Club in Yorktown. There will be crafts, cupcake decorating, dancing and more.
"I will be giving the food to the Food Bank of Westchester and any other charity in need," Miritello said. "The coats will go to the Westchester Coalition for Homeless and Hungry. In addition, I will be taking 150 coats over to Mohegan Park Home for Adults and letting the residents take some of the coats and giving out personally coats on Christmas day with my niece for the homeless in Manhattan on the street."
The Yorktown Girl Scouts Troop Leader Christine Giorgio had also contacted her for a joint effort. The Girl Scouts will be collecting coats at Yorktown Schools and will be writing 150 holiday cards personally to the residents of Mohegan Park Adult Home in Mohegan Lake, which will be delivered with a holiday basket prior to Christmas.
When Miritello's brother, the youngest of six children and who was a student at the Pines Bridge School for the disabled in Yorktown, passed away, she said she felt lost and wanted to help and volunteer in her community.
She said people might not know much about those who are disabled in their community and many assume if one has a disability, he or she is unhappy. But that's not the case, she said.
"I wish people would understand and love someone that was disabled," she said. "All though [Vinny] did not speak or walk, he communicated and was happier than most people. He never lived his life with jealousy, petty behavior and he was truly pure of heart. I miss him everyday and as I write this the knot in my throat is still there."
She called him "beautiful, giggly, happy" and someone who always had a smile on his face.
Miritello said she hopes people can donate food and clothes and help out those who are still struggling in these tough economic times.
"It takes a group effort to help our community and to make society better," she said.
This Saturday, you can drop off food and coats between 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at "My Brother Vinny Let's Give Thanks Holiday Food Drive" at the Yorktown Elks Club. Miritello urges people to come out and help their community.
"Everything, I am and the woman I have become came solely for loving him and the beauty of his innocence," Miritello said of her brother. "Without wonderful family and friends and a community that supports me this all would not be possible. My brother Vinny is everyone's brother Vinny now and I love that."
In addition, Miritello does the "Special Olympics Miles for Medals Walk" walk-a-thon at F.D.R. Park every year in honor of her late brother.
"Our team 'My Brother Vinny' is currently top team in the county and they are renaming the walk after him to the Vincent Miritello FDR Miles for Medals Walk," she said.
After being in a car accident at the end of January which left her with a broken hip and pelvis in numerous spots, Miritello said she was unable to walk herself in this year's May walk-a-thon.
"Being unable to walk and getting therapy to walk again made me feel even more love and respect for how hard people have it and how strong our disabled community is," she said. "It made me more sensitive to how people are struggling and how an accident can change your life. I was lucky and many are not."
To donate food and coats to "My Brother Vinny," drop off locations are at the law office of Sal Lagonia on Commerce Street; the Yorktown Elks Club on Nov. 19 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. For more information contact Paula Miritello at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Click here for "My Brother Vinny Let's Give Thanks Holiday Food Drive" Facebook page.
Click here for the "Vincent Miritello FDR Miles for Medals Walk" Facebook page.