Speech by Cassandra Agredo, Executive Director, at the Roaring 20s Speakeasy Fundraiser:

The Xavier Mission Spirit Award is presented to individuals who represent the core values of Xavier Mission –
welcome, service, compassion, determination, and resilience.

First, a shoutout to those individuals who were chosen to be honored in 2020 and 2021, but who didn’t get their moment of glory because we weren’t able to have events those years. Without these people, Xavier Mission wouldn’t have been able to open during the pandemic and they have our undying thanks.

Christina Bowman, former Director of Outreach
Rachel Johnson, Director of LSEP
Justine Kahn, Welcome Table Leadership Team
Michael Costello, Welcome Table Leadership Team
Jeanne McGettigan, Catholic Charities
Pat Evanego, Driscoll Foods
Lea Faminiano, founder of the Chelsea Community Fridge and Pantry
Easy Hunt, Jr, LSEP alumnus

Thank you so much for everything you did in those early days of the pandemic to continue providing services to our community!

This year, we recognize several individuals who have gone above and beyond over the last couple years to make sure that Xavier Mission could continue its work even at the height of COVID.

April Feng and Peter Sluka, Investors and Friends
April and Peter are relatively new members of our community. One afternoon, in the early days of the pandemic, as I was unloading a delivery of food, a woman came up and introduced herself as a neighbor. She and her husband had seen the lines of people still coming to our Welcome Table and our pantry. They were grateful we were still open and wanted to help. April and Peter haven’t stopped helping since that day. They have been extraordinarily generous with their resources and also their emotional support. I still have a card on my desk that they sent me almost three years ago with a funny and encouraging message. To this day it makes me giggle and lifts my spirits. Without their generosity over the last few years, we would have had a helluva time being able to serve everyone who needed us. For their dedication to helping Xavier Mission stay open throughout the entire pandemic, we honor April Feng and Peter Sluka.

Rosemarie Sauerzopf and Ken Norz, Food Pantry Volunteers
Our next Spirit Award recipients are being honored together, as you rarely see one without the other at Xavier. Roe and Ken have been food pantry volunteers for longer than I know they’d want me to say. Every month they show up at the pantry, rain or shine, to man the ‘Miscellaneous Table.’ It’s not an easy job. While every other table is sufficiently stocked, the miscellaneous table is just that – any random items that are donated go on that table. Some months there is almost nothing. Other months Ken and Roe have to figure out how to convince people to take home 3 cases of grape jelly each. But they always make it work and no matter how much they have on the table to offer guests, they always offer a smile and words of welcome. When COVID hit, many of our volunteers had to stop coming but Roe and Ken wouldn’t have it. They continued to come to the pantry and helped us deliver groceries to our families in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and the Bronx during that first year. Even now that our pantry has re-opened for regular service, they still deliver groceries to ill and homebound guests who aren’t able to come down and pick up their food. For their unwavering commitment to the guests of the Mission and their courage in the face of an unknown invisible agent, we honor Roe Sauerzopf and Ken Norz.

Roxanne De La Torre, Director of Outreach
Our next honoree this evening is someone many of you likely know. Roxanne joined the Mission team in April of 2021, when the pandemic was still raging, which meant she jumped feet first into an emergency situation. Where other people might have been overwhelmed, Roxanne didn’t miss a beat. She figured out what was going on and what needed to be done. She did an amazing job of securing resources that allowed us to provide lots of fresh produce and culturally appropriate foods for our guests when so many other programs were shuttered. Her calm presence and kindness were a godsend during a time when violence and hate was on the rise just outside our doors. She did everything in her power to make things easier for our guests during that difficult time. Roxanne had never known a pre-COVID Xavier Mission, so after learning everything about the programs and how they run, she then had to relearn everything when it was time to re-open our programs for normal operations. Through it all she has been a steady, peaceful presence for our guests and volunteers (and me). For taking an extraordinarily challenging situation and making it look easy, and for the way that she lives and breathes our mission, we honor Roxanne De La Torre.

Lorenzo Laroc, Financial Assistance Program Recipient
This evening we are highlighting our financial assistance program. This program assists families with paying their back rent to avoid eviction, as well as with critical expenses such as utilities, medication, phone, Internet, medical debt, etc. The COVID-19 pandemic has made this program all the more necessary. Not only does our program prevent evictions and homelessness, and relieve debt for families, it also benefits all New Yorkers. In New York City, it costs more than $100,000 to provide shelter for a family, which is far greater than a typical family’s rent arrears. Last year Xavier Mission assisted 75 families with rent assistance, saving taxpayers $7.5 million in shelter costs.

Tonight, we have a recipient of our Financial Assistance Program who will share his COVID story with you. For his determination and resilience in the face of unimaginable difficulty, we honor Lorenzo Laroc.

Lorenzo’s Story

I was born, raised, and educated in New York City. My parents were hard-working, working-class immigrants, who taught my five siblings and I that if you worked hard, your dreams would come true. My dream was to become a professional concert violinist. I attended a public high school for the arts and majored in violin in college. My professional musical career began in 1982, and for the next 40 years I worked steadily as a freelance artist, playing with various groups and musical projects.

I’ve had the privilege to travel the world as an artist, and have played in venues such as Madison Square Garden, and for celebrities such as Prince William and Princess Kate, Astronaut Buzz Aldrin, Apollo 11 Mathematician Marion Lee Johnson, Derek Jeter, Boomer Esiason, and Michael Bloomberg, among others. I always had steady work and income as a full-time violinist. As my parents had promised, through hard work and perseverance, my dreams came true.

Then on March 16, 2020 – my 60th birthday – I received a series of phone calls from clients canceling all of my performances for the remainder of the year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Within 48 hours, 100% of my income was gone. For the first time in my adult life, I was unemployed. I have two teenage daughters and was faced with a situation I have never experienced. I had no audience, no venue, no concerts, and no job. The pandemic completely shut down the music and entertainment business and left me without any means to provide for myself.

As a freelance artist, I was not eligible for certain state and federal assistance. I went through my meager savings account quickly, and began falling behind on my rent, phone, and utility bills. What was once a dream career was now a nightmare. I had no other job experience outside of the music industry. I was desperate to provide for my daughters.

To make ends meet, I visited local food pantries. That’s how I found Xavier Mission.

Xavier Mission was offering crucial assistance to the community. It was difficult for me to ask for help, as I had been self-sufficient for my entire adulthood, and had never needed government or private assistance before. My experience with Xavier Mission was lifesaving. At the most difficult point in my life, financially and emotionally, Xavier Mission provided me with the assistance to bridge the gap between jobs. Their support kept our phone and Internet service active, which was essential for my daughters’ remote learning. They also assisted with my utilities and other bills.

As the music business slowly comes back, and I’m finally booking jobs again, I cannot imagine how my children and I would have survived physically and mentally without the timely support and assistance of Xavier Mission and their highly professional staff. As a lifelong New Yorker, I am proud of this city and of organizations like Xavier Mission, who make a direct positive impact on our communities and on fellow New Yorkers like me. I’m a living testament to the reality that even those who feel secure can suddenly have their lives turned upside down by something out of their control. I’m thankful to Xavier Mission for being there to help me turn things around.