If helping makes you happy, Keith Caputo must be constantly overjoyed.
The 37-year-old Center Moriches resident, who was born with Down syndrome, was inspired to start a nonprofit organization to give back to the community following the sudden loss of his friend, Anthony Parlato, with whom he coached basketball at Our Lady Queen of Apostles Regional Catholic School and Clayton Huey Elementary for eight years.
Parlato was a mentor, coach, and brother-like influence, said Cassy Caputo, Keith’s mother.
“Anthony really took him under his wing,” she said.
Parlato died suddenly in 2013 at the age of 44 from heart problems.
Parlato and Caputo met during a Sunday sermon at St. John’s Roman Catholic Church in Center Moriches. Parlato asked if Keith would like to help him coach, and their friendship blossomed from there.
“That’s where Keith learned the importance of helping,” said Cassy Caputo, the former director of purchasing for the Town of Brookhaven. She retired in 2012.
In 2015, Helping Makes U Happy was established as a way to keep Parlato’s legacy of giving alive. Cassy, a former board director of the Moriches Community Center before leaving to help Keith found the organization, thought of the name.
“Coach guided me,” Keith said, adding that Parlato taught him about helping others. “Making everyone here happy makes me happy, too.”
Helping Makes U Happy prides itself on never turning anyone away who is in need of help. From care packages to scholarships, to collecting winter clothes for the homeless and toys for kids during the holidays, this nonprofit does it all.
It has since grown to over 90 volunteers and constantly takes in new supplies. It was more than the Caputos were able to accommodate in their ranch home.
“It just sort of exploded,” Cassy said.
So in 2017, they opened the expanded to an official office at 1 Neville Road in Center Moriches.
Keith Caputo has amassed local stardom, with many people stopping him on the street to shake his hand and thank him for his service to the community.
He has even met several celebrities, like Michael Strahan and Mario Lopez.
One time, when Caputo got discouraged to continue the nonprofit, a man came up to him and congratulated him on his dedication to giving back. It was a moment that inspired the Caputos to never give up, he said.
The nonprofit currently provides food for 24 families in the area and volunteers are preparing backpacks for the upcoming school year.
From there, they will go straight into collecting costumes for their annual Halloween drive on Sept. 28 at their facility. Soon after will be the annual Chinese auction on Oct. 19 in the Center Moriches High School gymnasium. Last year, the auction raised $38,000.
Caputo emphasized that no donation is too small and that both old and young are welcome to volunteer, donate, or just drop by to show support and say hello.
“It makes me feel good, my body feel good, my heart pumping with joy,” Caputo said.
One time, a young volunteer collected $120 in pennies in his neighborhood, which funded the purchase of dozens of backpacks.
“Just one little helping thing can end up helping a lot of people,” Cassy said.