The 10th annual “Taste of Westport” is Thursday, May 1 (6-9 p.m., Westport Inn).
Most of us have seen the signs and publicity. We’ve heard of the fantastic samplings and tastings from over 2 dozen restaurants and distributors, including Blue Lemon, Bobby Q’s, DaPietro’s, Green’s Farms Spirit Shop, Little Barn, Matsu Sushi, Pane e Bene, Post 154, Rizzuto’s, Spotted Horse and Tarantino.
We realize it’s one of our town’s most popular fundraisers. But most of us know very little about the organization Taste of Westport supports: CLASP Homes.
A true hidden gem, CLASP provides group homes for local residents with autism and other intellectual disabilities. Since 1982, the non-profit has housed hundreds of people — our neighbors — who need a bit of extra help to get along.
This year’s Taste of Westport honors Tracy Flood. The native Westporter joined CLASP just 2 years after it began. Her many fans will celebrate her 3 decades of service on Thursday.
But CLASP — and Taste of Westport — is not really about its incredible staff and volunteers. It’s about people like Neal.
Neal — who has an intellectual disability — was born in Westport, into a large and loving family. Tracy is a few years older than Neal, but throughout the 1960s and ’70s they walked the same streets around town.
Neal — the youngest of 6 kids — was always out with his siblings or his dad, who made sure to include Neal in everything everyone else did. He and Tracy both played in the Compo Beach sand, ran through the Staples halls and hung out at the Ice Cream Parlor.
By the mid-1980’s Tracy was a CLASP house manager, and Neal’s family took the big step moving him into a group home. It was not the one Tracy led, but she got to know Neal’s dad. Whenever anyone needed a volunteer, a worker or friend, he was there.
Years passed. Neal’s siblings moved away. His mom died. But Neal and his dad still went out for bagels every Sunday morning. Neal insisted on paying. It made them both very proud.
Then his father was diagnosed with cancer. It spread rapidly. Neal did what he could for his dad. When asked what CLASP could do, the father said, “Pray, and take care of Neal.” He wanted to know that his son would be taken care of. He wanted to die in peace.
That was years ago. But Neal is still with CLASP. The organization has given peace to Neal’s family — the same thing they’ve done for over 3o years, for countless local families.
Yet CLASP can’t do it alone. The Taste of Westport is one way they raise awareness — and funds.
There are plenty of places to have dinner this Thursday. But only one will give you a true — and wonderful — taste of Westport.
(For tickets to the Taste of Westport — and more information about CLASP — click here.)