Before Olivia Carbonaro became Family Promise of Bergen County’s new accountant, she was for years a dedicated volunteer. In that capacity, she learned things they don’t necessarily stress in accounting classes.
One is to look around. Here’s an example.
In 2021 Olivia began volunteering at Family Promise’s nightly Walk-in Dinner Program at the county homeless shelter in Hackensack. Each day a two-person team would deliver packaged meals to shelter residents the county had moved to motels after COVID closed the shelter. One was Travelodge of South Hackensack, which occupies a flood-prone site in the flight path of Teterboro Airport.
On Olivia’s first such assignment, she was paired with Anne, a veteran volunteer. As Anne turned her car off Route 46 onto Huyler Street, a forlorn-looking woman sat on a wall at the busy, noisy corner.
Olivia didn’t pay the woman much mind; there were dozens of meals to deliver at a place that could be chaotic or water-logged or both.
Which is when she learned to take a broader view of her mission.
Instead of ignoring the woman on the corner, Anne pulled over, got out of the car, and offered her one of the meals. This was not the first time, and the woman had gotten to know Anne, and trust her.
This detour had not occurred to Olivia – or to many other volunteers — understandably focused on the immediate task of delivering meals quickly to motel doors, and then moving on to do the same at another motel 20 minutes away.
“I was thinking of the people in the Travelodge and delivering the meals to them,’’ she says. “But Anne saw that woman, too. … She made a personal connection.’’
So the next time she was driving to the Travelodge, Olivia stopped and offered the woman on the corner a meal. She seemed suspicious of the newcomer, and took only a bottle of water. But it was a start.
Olivia Carbonaro’s parents were born and raised in China. They came to the United States to pursue their educations, and Olivia was born and raised in the Flushing section of Queens.
She majored in international business at Pace University. After graduation she first worked in commodities trading on Wall Street and then, until the first of her two sons was born in the mid-1990s, in marketing for Seagram.
She began volunteering weekly in the Family Promise office, handling calls and helping with events such as the Gala and the Golf Outing. She began working as Family Promise’s accountant in February.
She and her husband of 30 years, Joe, live in his native Hillsdale.
Asked about her many experiences at the Walk-In Dinner, Olivia returns to the woman on the corner. “Most people would just drive past her and not think twice, not even see her,’’ she says. But she had been reminded of what she already knew: The people you don’t see are often the ones you should.