As head of the James Beard Foundation, Susan Ungaro raised funds to rescue that non-profit from a fiscal crisis. Previously, as editor-in-chief of Family Circle, she’d helped sell that magazine to exacting advertisers.
And on a recent Sunday, Susan — now retired (or, as she says, “rewired’’) – used her talents to pitch 50/50 raffle tickets to fellow parishioners at Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church in Haworth.
The beneficiary: Family Promise of Bergen County.
Although she’d seen many homeless people on the street in 40 years working in New York City, Susan told the congregation that she’d never met a homeless family until she started volunteering years ago in Family Promise’s congregational network program.
“My perspective on homelessness was profoundly changed as I left those evenings thinking about the mostly single mothers who had jobs, and yet their children had no place to call home,’’ she said. “I thought about my children — and now grandchildren — who get to sleep in the same comfortable bed in a lovely bedroom every night.’’
Which helps explain why Susan joined the Family Promise board of trustees last fall. In an interview, she called FP “a little engine that does big things’’ to address a problem that many people in Bergen County don’t even know exists.
Homeless working families with children are “the hidden homeless,’’ she said. “We don’t know about them because we don’t see them. …. They’re living in cars, or doubled up with some relative who doesn’t really want them.’’
As a member of the Family Promise board’s capital campaign committee, Susan hopes to use the skills she employed at the Beard Foundation (a culinary arts organization from which she retired in 2017) and Family Circle (which she edited from 1994 to 2006) to advance the organization’s mission “after years in which COVID threw a wrench in things.’’
Susan was born in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan, and moved with her family to New Milford when she was 8. She and her husband Colin, also a former magazine executive, live in River Vale. Both are graduates of William Paterson University. They have three adult children and two grandchildren.
She closed her recent appeal at Sacred Heart with a saying she loves: “No man or woman stands taller than when he or she bends down to help a child.’’
At Family Promise, we agree.