Boca Helping Hands’ Output Surges Under New Director

When James Gavrilos became executive director of Boca Helping Hands in June 2010, the economy still seemed in the depths of recession. Demand for services from the Boca Raton–based food bank and kitchen was high, and volunteers were busy assembling 600 grocery bags of food each month for poor families, mostly from the Boca Raton area.

Nearly 16 months later, the number of food bags handed out has not diminished. In fact, it has more than tripled, to 2,000 bags each month.

If this nonprofit is any indication, economic conditions are not better for most people, even people living in and around a city closely associated with wealth.

Not only is Boca Helping Hands swamped with demand for its bags of food, it also has seen rising demand for its hot–meal program at its 1500 N.W. First Court headquarters. About 3,500 hot meals are served each month, up from 2,200 in June 2010.

By this time last year, Boca Helping Hands had served 19,555 hot meals. The number so far this year: 31,463 meals.

“The numbers are staggering,” Gavrilos said.

Gavrilos said many of the people seeking his organization’s help are divorced women. Their ex–husbands either have lost their jobs or been out of work for a year or more. As a result, these women no longer receive alimony or child support, forcing them to scramble for food while juggling housing costs.

Countywide, demand for assistance through the federal government’s food stamp program has soared just as much as the demand for food from this Boca Raton nonprofit.

In Palm Beach County, 161,250 of the county’s 1.3 million residents – 12.4 percent – received food stamps in August, close to 22,000 more than last year and triple the amount from August 2007, according to data from the state Department of Children and Families.

At Boca Helping Hands, government assistance is not the norm. Only about $25,000 of its $1.2 million budget is from public sources, Gavrilos said. The rest comes from private corporations and foundations.

Among the companies stepping up to give: Sun Capital Partners Inc.

The Boca Raton–based private equity firm gave Boca Helping Hands a whopping $100,000 last year, an amount so generous that Gavrilos said he did not expect to receive any money this year.

However, Sun Capital officials recently told him they were so moved by the number of people needing help, they could not stop their support.

They produced another check – this one for $50,000.

“Sun Capital Partners has long recognized the important work that Boca Helping Hands performs, and we feel it is important to continue our support of the organization. It’s clear that many people are still struggling to make ends meet,” said Marc Leder, co–chief executive officer of Sun Capital Partners. “Our employees proudly assist the organization by organizing food drives and volunteering at Boca Helping Hands. We all understand its vital role in the local community, and we are happy to do our part to fight hunger and poverty in the region.”

There are signs that more companies, and their employees, are being moved to help those who are suffering through the economic downturn. Just a week ago, the employees of Boca Raton–based Jarden Consumer Solutions dropped off a check to Boca Helping Hands for $20,000.

As CityPlace and its lender work through a foreclosure lawsuit, the dispute has caught the eye of real estate professionals on the hunt for distressed properties.
Among them: David Paladino, who originally assembled the CityPlace land in downtown West Palm Beach.

Back in the 1980s, together with partner Henry Rolfs Sr., Paladino quietly began buying up parcels of land in a blighted section of town. Their vision: Downtown/Uptown, a new office center. When the recession of the early 1990s hit, Paladino and Rolfs lost the land in foreclosure, and the city, through a series of complicated legal dealings, scooped up the property.

Despite the bad feelings, Paladino clearly still has an attachment to the property.

“If the current owners of CityPlace default, and the city of West Palm Beach has to take the development back, I would be interested in forming a group to take it over,” Paladino said last month. He said he’s already talking to some real estate heavyweights.

West Palm Beach finance director Randy Sherman said it’s unlikely the city would be saddled with CityPlace, despite the filing last month of a $150 million foreclosure action against CityPlace Retail LLC by a special servicer of the project’s debt.

Sherman said the mortgage is between the lender and CityPlace, and the city is not involved. If CityPlace doesn’t pay, the lender would take over the property and sell the property, or sell the loan to another investor.

West Palm Beach does own the land under the buildings, and CityPlace continues to pay on a land lease, Sherman said. If CityPlace stopped paying, Sherman said it is likely the lender would honor the lease to maintain control of the buildings.

Only if the lender, or another owner of the property, failed to pay the lease would the city wind up with the CityPlace buildings, Sherman said.

Look for the return of the West Palm Beach Antique and Flea Market.
Organized by attorney Bill Jacobson, the eclectic market will be open the second, third and fourth Saturday of every month, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., starting Saturday.

The flea market will be in the 500 block of Clematis Street, a change from last year’s location on Datura Street. Jacobson said the market will draw people to the block’s unique stores and eateries, including Habatat Galleries, Union of Angels clothing store, longtime bar/restaurants O’Shea’s Irish Pub and Respectable Street and newcomer LongBoards.

As part of the fun, look for food trucks, children’s activities, live music and a variety of vendors selling antique furniture, jewelry and vintage clothes.

The event will help highlight the block’s newest addition, Union of Angels, a store by designer Cindy Bapst. The store, opening this month at 537 Clematis St., bills itself as a “fashion–forward, fresh and feminine designer clothing line,” with a sophisticated twist at an affordable price.

Bapst, who will make frequent appearances at the store, was just named the “Designer to Watch for 2012” by Council Magazine in Washington.

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