By Ted Ryan
On March 4, 1984, the Smithtown Emergency Food Pantry opened its doors for the first time, and it has served the community in full force ever since. For their support of residents in need, the Smithtown Emergency Food Pantry is recognized as the Times Beacon News Media People of the Year.
The food pantry was established to assist the residents of Smithtown who need help feeding their families and is made up of seven churches within Smithtown: the Byzantine Church of the Resurrection, the First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown, the Smithtown United Methodist Church, St. Andrews Lutheran Church, St. James Episcopal Church, St. Thomas of Canterbury Episcopal Church and St. James Lutheran Church.
According to Smithtown Emergency Food Pantry Executive Coordinator Pat Westlake, it has only gotten more and more successful since its creation.
“They helped about 40 people that first year,” said Westlake. The number has grown each year as more and more people needed help.
The food pantry’s accomplishments are entirely based on the community’s largesse and support.
“People in town are very generous … everything is donated or we purchase it with donations that people give,” Westlake said. “Everyone here is a volunteer, no one gets paid … we depend on this community.”
Each of the seven churches has its own coordinator, and the churches rotate who is running the emergency food pantry every month. The coordinator from each church runs the daily operations and has at least three volunteers working every day.
The people who come to the food pantry go beyond just the poor. In Smithtown, the list of profiles of those who ask for food is longer and more diverse than one might expect.
“Most of the clients come when there’s a problem,” Westlake said. “They lose a job, they get downsized, there’s illness in the family, senior citizens taking in grandchildren, divorces. Most of our clients need a helping hand through that rough time, and that’s what we’re here for.”
“There are many more people in the community of Smithtown that need assistance than you would ever imagine.”
— Jean Kelly
With so much need from the community, there are many who rise to the challenge to give to the unfortunate.
During the Thanksgiving season of 2015, a man gave food to the Smithtown Emergency Food Pantry. He opened his trunk to reveal more than $100 worth of food to be dropped off.
After thanking the man for the generous donation, Westlake said she ask for his name. “He replied, ‘Joe, just Joe.’ He wouldn’t give his last name.”
After asking what the food pantry was short on, Joe came back the next day with another trunk full of food as well as a dozen turkeys for the Thanksgiving season.
After Westlake thanked Joe for his generosity, he responded, “You helped me a couple of years ago and I always promised I’d pay back.”
It’s because of residents like Joe that the Smithtown Emergency Food Pantry has been able to give to those in need for 32 years.
The food pantry has been a big help to the community, and local legislatures such as Smithtown Town Supervisor Pat Vecchio (R) recognize its role.
“The Food Pantry is a most wonderful organization that does great work for those in need,” Vecchio said. “The pantry lives up to the perception that we should feed the hungry. I am proud of the fact that the pantry is part of our town.”
Jean Kelly, the coordinator at St. Thomas of Canterbury, supervises the food pantry every seventh month and said that people may be surprised how many Smithtown citizens are in need.
“There are many more people in the community of Smithtown that need assistance than you would ever imagine,” she said in a phone interview. ““If they do come in, many people cry; they’re embarrassed. But we try to make them feel comfortable, [we] don’t want them in any way to feel that they are in any way a burden to anyone.”
The Smithtown Emergency Food Pantry is located at 90 Edgewater Avenue in Smithtown. You can call 631-265-7676 to see what donations are most needed or if you need help feeding yourself or your family.