The Coastal Star

Coastal Stars: Caring — and helping — form second career for Boynton Beach couple

Joe and Toni Mastrullo have become active at St. Vincent Ferrer Catholic Church in its Care Ministry, as well as in the Sovereign Order of St. John of Jerusalem. Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star

By Janis Fontaine

Joe Mastrullo says he works harder now than he ever has before.
    When Mastrullo, of Boynton Beach, retired about 11 years ago at age 72, he knew he wanted to do a little volunteer work, but he wanted flexible hours.
    As members of St. Vincent Ferrer Catholic Church in Delray Beach, he and Toni, his wife of nearly 50 years, learned about the SVF Care Ministry at a parish fair, and Joe decided to join.
    The ministry is a 24/7 hotline that provides temporary assistance to poor and disadvantaged people in Delray Beach, with a commitment to help all in need, regardless of nationality or creed. “We provide assistance with rent, food, clothes, housing and utilities. There’s such a big need,” Joe Mastrullo said.
    All kinds of people call in looking for help, and each Care Ministry volunteer is responsible for a shift of calls. The money the ministry distributes comes from poor boxes and collection plate offerings a few times a year. But no one gets cash or a check. Payments are made to service providers directly, and if the Care Ministry can’t help the caller, it can usually refer the caller to other organizations that may be able to help.
    In the decade or so since he joined, the former telecommunications sales exec who just wanted a little part-time gig got hooked on helping others. With his strong affinity for numbers and his logical mind, he helped shore up the Care Ministry’s infrastructure as its treasurer, and he helped establish guidelines and streamline procedures, so the ministry could function at its best.
Once a week, the 20 or so care ministers meet as a group to compare notes and discuss difficult cases. It’s no surprise Joe Mastrullo, a natural leader, has a voice there.
    Once they got a taste of volunteering, Joe and Toni, who isn’t retired, wanted to do more. So about five years ago — when the couple was invited to join the Sovereign Order of St. John of Jerusalem, Knights Hospitaller, an ecumenical Christian order focused on helping sick and poor people — they accepted the honor and the responsibility with humility.  The order dates back some 900 years.
    Today, the growing Palm Beach Commandery has 68 members. Toni Mastrullo is its commander. Part of the Commandery’s responsibility is to support smaller local charities such as the Florida Outreach Center for the Blind and One Love — One Community Foundation, which provides school clothes for children in Palm Beach County. The Mastrullos each have their own pet projects.
    Joe Mastrullo collects clothes, food and household items for churches in Belle Glade and Pahokee. Every week, he brings carloads of goods to Father Morales St. Hiliare of First Haitian Baptist Church of Belle Glade, who never met a donation he didn’t want. Bags and boxes disappear in no time.
Recipients are polite, grateful and needy. May is the annual food drive, and Joe and Toni hope to collect 1,000 bags of food for the next one.
 “Last year, I drove about 50,000 miles,” he said.
    Toni Mastrullo has a soft spot for shoes. She’s a member of the board of directors of In Jacob’s Shoes, a charity formed in memory of 17-year-old Jacob Zweig by his parents, Harlene and Murray, in 2009. The nonprofit provides new and gently used shoes, backpacks, school supplies and athletic gear to South Florida children in need.
 Toni Mastrullo is a clever fundraiser, holding bake-less cake sales (you just donate the amount you would have spent on ingredients, plus a little) and shoe-cleaning parties (volunteers arrive to clean donated shoes for redistribution, and enjoy wine, cheese and good humor for their troubles).
    Joe Mastrullo says, “You start spreading the word, you keep finding people who are willing to help.”
    It’s in their hearts to help, Toni Mastrullo says.
 “Our faith has always been strong,” Joe Mastrullo says. “But you can’t explain how good it makes you feel when you help someone less fortunate.”
Joe says even folks who claim they are too busy are suddenly asking what they can do. So, the duo keeps encouraging people to help, and leading by example. “We tell the story, and if they take to it, great.”
    Joe says sometimes people don’t realize what they have. That stray can of peas in the pantry, those too-small shirts in the closet don’t seem like much by themselves, but to someone living on the edge, it’s dinner or clean clothes.
    Little things add up and even small kindnesses make a difference. As Joe says, “We’re not huge, but we’re mighty.” 

How to Contribute
Have items to donate? Call Joe Mastrullo at 445-1558. Monetary donations can be mailed to Commander Toni Mastrullo at 7036 Vesuvio Place, Boynton Beach, FL 33437.

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