Chris Zuccaro wanted to find a way to help people in his community.
It ended up finding him.
Zuccaro was working as the night manager at the A&P in Park Ridge, NJ, which would give away turkeys on the holidays. Customers started asking if they could claim the turkey, but have the store give it to charity.
"I thought that was not a bad idea," Zuccaro said of finding a place to donate the turkeys. "I got a couple of people and did our first food drive the weekend of Thanksgiving in 1998."
In the 12 years since, Zuccaro has gone from anonymously running the occasional food drive to taking on a more public approach in the form of Pearl River-based Christ's Ambassadors of Charity, Inc., which runs 25-to-30 food and coat drives per year.
"I always had an inclination to do something," said Zuccaro. "I just didn't know what. It took time to mature into what it is now. It certainly has evolved over the last dozen years."
Most of the events are food drives, including one from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Satuday at the ShopRite in Pearl River. Christ's Ambassadors of Charity will also be at the A&P in Park Ridge, N.J. this Saturday and Sunday, then at the Stop & Shop in Nanuet April 16 and 17.
"I invite people to come and see what it’s all about. Come give it a shot," Zuccaro said. "You would be surprised what good yu can do with a couple of hours on a Saturday morning."
Much of the motivation for the Pearl River resident is the need he sees around him in Rockland County.
"It's just an awereness I grew into slowly over the years," Zuccaro said. "The more I kept my eyes and ears open, the more I got to know people form the food pantries, you learn there are a lot of struggling people in our back yard. The middle class are struggling, but the working poor are really being crushed."
The food donations the group collects go primarily to organizations in Rockland County, including People to People, the Martin Luther King Center in Spring Valley, St. Peter's in Haverstraw and St. Joseph's in Spring Valley.
Zuccaro worked anonymously for eight years, then decided he needed to take on a higher profile to continue to expand. That lead to incorporating into Christ's Ambassadors of Charity, Inc., a not-for-profit charity which has 501c3 status.
"I figured if it was going to grow more, I had to come out of the shadows," Zuccaro said. "I never wanted anybody to know what I was doing. I didn't want to be credited for it. But I felt if I wanted to grow this, I had to be the front man. Too many people need too much help for me not to want to grow it.
"I had to force myself. I was happy with anonymity for a long time. But once you put a name and a face to it, it lends a certain credibility to it and more volunteers come forward."
The group expanded to start doing clothing drives in 2008, but those can be more complicated.
"With a food drive, I can stand in front of a grocery store and people will buy food (to donate) on the spot," Zuccaro said. "With a clothing drive, I get a building in the community and advertise. I've done it a lot at Pearl River High School."
The next clothing drive will take place in May. Christs Ambassadors of Charity will be in the Pearl River High School cafeteria from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. May 21 and from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 22 at St. Margaret's Church's Toner Hall in Pearl River.
"I've only done those in Pearl River so far, but I am seeking other places in the county to do those, too."
Zuccaro said he does plan to continue to expand, though that depends on the help he can enlist.
"Expansion seems to be contingent on two things -- the volunteers and the places to do it," Zuccaro said. "I have to get permission to go in front of these places. There are only so many times per year you can go to these places."
Those interested in taking part can email email@example.com or call (914) 661-7923.