Volunteer work is supposed to be done for the sake of helping others and not for the sake of the volunteers receiving recognition. But certain milestones merit special recognition regardless, especially when that milestone celebrates years of helping those in need. This principle applies to the Westbury Neighborhood House, which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. Ray Muntz, president of the board of directors at the house, had a modest take on the anniversary’s significance.
The house, located at 334 Winthrop St., is independent and unaffiliated with any kind of group, relying entirely on volunteers to provide food, clothing and school supplies to Westbury-area people who are in need. The house also provides turkeys at Thanksgiving and toys at Christmas, doing all it can to brighten the holidays for less fortunate children and their families. Muntz estimates that the house gives out close to $60,000 worth of food in a given year. In addition to the goods provided by volunteers, there are services at the house that offer relief in other ways. Social workers provide counseling for visitors and also provide referrals to similar neighborhood houses, which is crucial for those who don’t live near Westbury. Muntz acknowledged that the house was limited to providing relief for people directly in the area, but noted that they will never immediately turn someone away solely because they’ve come from elsewhere.
“If a person comes in and needs food, we will give it to them the first time no matter who they are,” Muntz said. “If they don’t live in our service area, then for the next time we refer them to a place that’s in their area. We recently had a woman who came all the way from the city. The food we gave her cost less than her transportation, so we referred her to a closer [neighborhood] house.”
The house opened in 1916 after more than 100 locals got together to discuss the needs of the community. It has survived ever since despite fairly limited funds; an annual fundraiser, typically held around Thanksgiving, accounts for most of the house’s budget.
“We need a roof replacement that will probably cost around $30,000,” Muntz said. “And we’re on a tight budget. Long-term financing is always a concern. But we’ve been supported by the generosity of the community.”
Despite these challenges, the house remains a vital resource and part of its longevity can be attributed to its ability to be forward-thinking with its initiatives.
“Things that we take for granted now were not happening back then,” said Muntz. “There used to be no organized trash collection in Westbury. The volunteers at the house got baskets and organized a trash pickup. Now of course Westbury has one. We were once the village library before there was a village library.”
Past initiatives of the house have filled a variety of purposes. Volunteers have spread good cheer by setting up choirs to sing Christmas carols at the train station. They’ve beautified the community with plant nurseries and bird houses and during the 1917 polio epidemic, the house sent a nurse around the community to help with treatment.
“When we formed, we were able to get 125 people together,” Muntz said. “The general population in the area was not that large. There are areas with a larger population that you probably couldn’t get 10 people to volunteer.”
Coincidently, the current number of volunteers at the house stands at 10. When asked how 10 people could possibly get so much work done, Muntz couldn’t help but laugh.
“I don’t know,” he said. “We just do. But we’re always looking for more volunteers. Come in and visit us. See what we’re doing.”