Widgets Magazine

Chatting Health, Spirit & Charity with Paula DiDonato of The Giving Room

Paula is in the center. Q: “The Giving Room” is an unusual name for a business. What kind of business is it?

A: The Giving Room is a center for health and well-being, originally established in 2010 as a yoga studio and community center. The intent was to bring together yoga and art to raise money for local charities. We wanted to create a space for people to come together.

We were very impressed with groups like CAST, Maureen’s Haven, and The Retreat, and wanted to support them.  Hence the name, The Giving Room. About a year and a half ago we added the Juice bar and grocery.

Rowan Hausman of Mattituck, a juicer at The Giving Room  Health Food and Juice Bar in Southold brings over freshed pressed juice over to  Ross Moran of Jamesport who made a stop over for lunch on Wednesday, April 23, 2014. The Giving Room organic juice bar and health food shop in Southold offers juices, smoothies, organic foods and products. By Randee Daddona

Q: How do you raise money for the groups?

A:   Basically we create fun events—cocktail parties, art exhibits, and the like—and the proceeds go in full or in part to the charity. Recently we did a well-attended event for ALS in honor of local chef Gerry Hayden, who recently and tragically lost his battle with ALS.

We are also dedicated to offering free yoga classes and providing discounts for teachers, students, seniors and others.

Q: It’s an unusual conception for a business, to put charity in the center of it. How did you get the idea?

A: One night over Thanksgiving leftover dinner—the Saturday night dinner—we came up with the idea to create The Giving Room. At the table at the time were farmers, artists and yogis. Both my partner Judy Teeven and I were doing a lot of yoga at the time. Ironically our first effort at charity in the wake of the idea failed.

Q: Failed?

A: Well, after the leftover dinner, we still had leftovers, so we called up Maureen’s Haven and tried to give them the leftovers. Maureen’s Haven said thanks but no thanks, right now everybody is trying to give us food, we have plenty. What we need is long-term support. So our first fundraiser was for Maureen’s Haven.

Q: How did you get to the North Fork?

A: I found the North Fork because I Googled “house” and “boat”, because I wanted a house and Judy wanted a boat. I found a listing of a house with a boat in the backyard, because the house was on a creek. We looked at that one house, put a bid on it, and that was it. Judy and I moved out here in 2010 as weekenders—we both worked at American Express at the time—and we quickly fell in love with the North Fork, as everyone does. The beaches, the farms, the people.

Even though I grew up in Northport I’d never been out here. Not even to pumpkin pick.

Q: You’re full time now, right?

A: Yes, I live here full time now, though Judy’s still a weekender. For me I was really looking for a complete change of lifestyle. I enjoyed my time at AmEx but I didn’t want to be a corporate person for life. I was looking for a more balanced lifestyle that included a healthier, more spiritual experience.

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My passion for yoga came out of a desire to move into the second half of my life in a place that was healthy. It has allowed me to be calmer—it has a physical, emotional and spiritual benefits.

Q: You mentioned that the juice bar was an addition to the original Giving Room; how did it come about?

A: Well, combining yoga’s benefits with a healthy diet is really for me a home run. That’s what the juice bar grew out of. We also teach stand up paddle yoga, so after the paddles we would bring our clients watermelon juice.  People loved it, so we set up a juice bar in the back of the yoga studio and it was really just the perfect compliment to it.  We were able to expand into the space next door a year and a half ago.

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The demand for fresh, organic juice has been amazing. We source from local farms seasonally for stuff that can grow here. Obviously we don’t get pineapples from here. I just came from Ira & KK’s  farm where I picked up biodynamic butternut squash, apples, and beets. So our special fall juice will be a Haspel creation.

Q: You’ve already expanded once, by adding the juice bar. Do you have any further expansion plans?

A: The truth is I want to do more community fundraising; that’s the part I want to expand. I’m content with our product and service offerings and scale. The yoga program is extraordinarily busy—it welcomes all ages and all fitness levels.

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We just filled our second class of yoga teacher training. We’re the only studio on the North Fork accredited by the Yoga Alliance to license new teachers.  The juice bar is also super busy. Now that the businesses are established I’d like to refocus on more fundraisers and redouble our efforts in that area.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?

A: When I helped found this place, I was reading the biography of Doris Day.  She was so extraordinary, helped so many. Hearing the Pope recognize her as one of the four most inspiring Americans was really timely for me, reenergizing me in our original mission. Judy and I are incredibly grateful to have this opportunity to serve our community and it is our great desire to do much more.