Protecting the family unit

Matthew P. Pellegrino II Memorial Foundation helped fund $150,000 project at Bucks County Emergency Homeless Shelter

By Samantha Bambino

The Times

Building hope: Approximately 100 volunteers gathered together in October to construct the recently opened family units at the Bucks County Emergency Homeless Shelter in Levittown. The $150,000 project was funded with the help of the Matthew P. Pellegrino II Memorial Foundation and local vendors. Source: Nicki Bedesem / Family Service

Matthew Pellegrino II was selfless in every sense of the word.

After hearing a woman on the radio say she couldn’t afford Christmas presents for her children because her car needed repair, Pellegrino called in to help without hesitation.

“He was a generous guy,” said his wife Cynthia Gruccio. “He was always doing things for other people.”

Unfortunately, the life of this young father of two was cut short on July 5, 1995, after a work-related accident. Though she was shocked and saddened by her husband’s untimely passing, Gruccio knew she needed to somehow carry on his legacy. In 1997, the Matthew P. Pellegrino II Memorial Foundation was formed to continue his work of helping those most in need.

Each May, the nonprofit hosts a golf outing, with proceeds donated to a different, deserving cause every year. The 2017 recipient was Family Service’s Levittown-based Bucks County Emergency Homeless Shelter, which used the donation to help fund the $150,000 project of building two new family units.

In Bucks County, more than 500 people are homeless but for many, the traditional, dormitory-style housing in most shelters doesn’t work. Too often, a father is separated from his young daughter, a mother is unable to stay with her teenage sons and a person with physical disabilities is turned away because the shelter isn’t equipped with a handicapped accessible restroom.

Within the Emergency Homeless Shelter’s new units, the above mentioned are welcome. And everyone can stick together.

“The shelter is now able to take in families with unique situations,” Gruccio said. “It opened up a whole new range of people who can utilize the space and get back on their feet.”

The two units each consist of a sleeping area large enough for four people and a family-sized bathroom. These additions allow the shelter to house up to an additional 10 people at a time. Residents can include two-parent families with children and family groups for whom dormitory-style housing is not appropriate or doesn’t work well.

Family Service recently obtained occupancy permits for the units, which are now in use by families in need.

“We are grateful to the Pellegrino family for providing the funding and workforce for this critical project,” said Audrey J. Tucker, chief executive officer of Family Service. “Thanks to their support, we can now provide safety, shelter and support for a variety of family structures.”

Gruccio learned of Family Service and the project last year when Franco D’Andrea, a close family friend and ongoing shelter supporter, suggested the project. It aligned perfectly with the values her husband held close to his heart, and Gruccio was immediately on board.

The Matthew P. Pellegrino II Memorial Foundation has been donating to charities for more than two decades, but there was just something special about the shelter.

“This was probably our best-feeling year,” Gruccio said. “This is going to help so many people.”

On a Saturday in October, D’Andrea led a team of approximately 100 volunteers to build the new family units. In previous years, he assisted in renovations to the shelter’s kitchen and bathrooms, so stepping up as project manager was second nature.

The day kicked off at 6 a.m. as D’Andrea gave a brief yet beautiful speech to remind everyone why they were there. After the first two nails were hammered in by Pellegrino’s children, Matthew and Marlena, volunteers got to work and didn’t stop until 7 p.m. The majority of construction was completed that day, but no one complained about being tired.

“It was such a great day,” Gruccio said. “Everyone was laughing. Everybody was happy.”

As the project neared the end, those present turned the units into time capsules, placing favorite pictures of Pellegrino in the walls before sealing them up. If the structure, for whatever reason, needs to be torn down in the future, those who discover the smiling faces of Pellegrino will get a glimpse into the life of this man who inspired so many.

Until that day comes, current unit residents can appreciate one of Pellegrino’s favorite sayings to tell Gruccio artistically painted across the walls — I love you more than I can say and twice as more tomorrow.

The Bucks County Emergency Homeless Shelter, 7 Library Way in Levittown, is open 24/7 and serves as a temporary residence for those who have lost safe and stable housing. On-site services include case management, counseling, budgeting, job search resources and health evaluations. The shelter is operated by Family Service, 4 Cornerstone Drive in Langhorne, a nonprofit that serves more than 26,000 people in need each year in Bucks County.

If you or someone you know is homeless or experiencing a housing crisis, call the Bucks County Housing Link at 1–800–810–4434 or visit fsabc.org/shelter. To learn how you can support the Bucks County Emergency Homeless Shelter, contact Joanne Bogrett, chief development officer, at 215–757–6916, ext. 211 or jbogrett@fsabc.org. ••

Samantha Bambino can be reached at sbambino@newspapermediagroup.com