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Food Pantry

Recent volunteers with the Stony Brook University’s food pantry gather at the location. Photo by Greta Strenger

Stony Brook University is ahead of the curve when it comes to ensuring students are well nourished.

In December, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) unveiled a proposal of the 2018 State of the State that includes the No Student Goes Hungry Program. The five-point plan was conceived to combat hunger and food insecurity for students in kindergarten through college. If legislation is passed, all State University of New York and City University of New York schools will be required to offer a food pantry on their campuses or enable students to receive food through stigma-free means — something SBU has been doing since 2013. Currently half of all SUNY and CUNY campuses offer food pantries, according to the governor’s office.

“This program is essential to the success of future New York leaders and this administration remains committed to removing barriers to healthy food options, while providing a supportive, effective learning environment for students across this great state,” Cuomo said in a statement.

According to Hunger on Campus, a report and survey conducted by a number of national campus organizations, 48 percent of college-aged respondents to surveys experienced food insecurity within 30 days.

A student volunteer stocks the shelves of the food pantry with nonperishable items donated by SBU community members. Photo by John Griffin/Stony Brook University

SBU clinical assistant professor Donna Crapanzano, pantry co-director since 2016, said associate professor Carlos Vidal of the School of Health Technology and Management brought the idea to the university in 2011. Since it opened in 2013, the pantry has provided food donated by members of campus organizations to 4,100 food-insecure students, faculty and staff members. Currently open 10 hours a week in the university’s Information Technologies Study Center at the Grey College building, approximately 20 student volunteers man the pantry, and there are plans to expand operating hours in the spring.

“I think it’s a great initiative,” Crapanzano said. “One of the things that’s really important to me, and I joke about this all the time with students, is I believe the first thing of your day should be breakfast. You can’t get a good day started if you’re not fueled up, and your brain doesn’t work without having fuel. So, [Cuomo’s] initiative is starting with pre-school and going through 12th grade and then to extend that because you’re still a student, you’re still being educated. We know that food is a primary source of you not only succeeding in your academics but eventually succeeding in the workforce.”

To use the SBU food pantry, one only needs to provide a school identification card.

“One of our goals was to really make it an environment where you don’t have to have any other reason other than being a SBU student, faculty or staff, because one day may be different from another day,” Crapanzano said. “It’s not based on overall finances, it’s based on what the needs are in your life at the time.”

The professor said she and fellow director Richard Sigal, SBU’s assistant director for college housing for Roth Quad, have worked with a nutritionist to provide balanced choices to pantry visitors, and each guest to the pantry receives a fruit, vegetable, protein and a carbohydrate. The food pantry asks for nonperishable food items that contain less than 30 percent of the overall daily intake of sodium and 25 grams or less of sugar. If donated food includes higher amounts of salt and sugar, it is placed on a “junk” table where volunteers will remind a person taking it to make sure it is balanced with something nutritious. Crapanzano said one example is cutting Ramen noodles with another type of pasta or beans.

“We do our best to educate the guests who come to know what are better ways for them to make a healthy eating choice when they can,” she said, adding that volunteers adiscuss food labels with pantry guests so they know what to look for when they shop on their own.

“It’s not based on overall finances; it’s based on what the needs are in your life at the time.”

— Donna Crapanzano

Crapanzano said every academic year an intern works with the directors. Since the fall semester of 2017, SeungJu Lee, a graduate student in social welfare, has been collaborating with them on projects such as creating more community outreach.

“I didn’t know we had this pantry at first, [until] I became a social work student,” Lee said. “Many students aren’t aware about our food pantry. So we’re trying to do many promotions and give awareness of food insecurity and the food pantry.”

The graduate student said it has been a positive experience for her, and she has met many people from the university community.

“The food pantry is an informal place where we welcome guests and make small talk with them,” Lee said, adding that volunteers and patrons often will discuss classes.

One experience she said she will always remember is a conversation with a college staff member who donated food, telling Lee she once needed help from various social welfare agencies and now wanted to pay it forward.

Crapanzano said there have been a number of people who have used the pantry in the past and have later come back to volunteer.

“It’s full circle,” she said. “You help out somebody and then they return the help, and then you develop a relationship that you know helped that person get a little bit further because they just needed something at that time.”

Members of Miller Place Fire Department, EMS volunteers and community members come together at Stop & Shop in Miller Place to raise donations for those in need this holiday season. Photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

Local families in need have a group of Miller Place volunteers, generous strangers and a big red bus to be thankful for this holiday season.

Cold, windy weather did nothing to stop Miller Place Fire Department members from gathering outside Stop & Shop at 385 Route 25A for five hours last weekend. In fact, the dozen volunteer EMS members, engine company officers and firefighters were all smiles as they collected 800 pounds of nonperishable items from passing shoppers, whose contributions were packed into a fire department bus and dropped off to St. Louis de Montfort R.C. Church in Sound Beach the next morning.

Former Miller Place captain of EMS
Debi Rasweiler, on left, collects
donations. Photo by Kevin Redding

Canned food, condiments, paper towels and much more stock the shelves at the church’s food pantry for Miller Place, Sound Beach and Mount Sinai families struggling to make ends meet. The donations will help them have a proper Thanksgiving.

“The outpouring is always incredible — people here are just amazing,” said Debi Rasweiler, a former captain of EMS at the fire department and organizer of the 7th annual EMS Stuff-A-Bus Nov. 17, which ran from 3 to 8 p.m. “Last year we stuffed the bus from floor to ceiling, rear to front. It just grows every year.”

During the event, shoppers on their way into the supermarket were handed a list of items needed for the pantry — including pasta, dry cereal, canned vegetables, soaps and toothpaste — and asked to donate if possible. It didn’t take long before residents wheeled their carts over to the bus to chip in. Some dropped off one or two items while others outdid themselves, handing over full bags of groceries and cash.

“I just think we all have to give back,” said Shoreham resident Peggy Debus, who donated peanut butter, jelly and cereal. “When people stop giving back, the world gets very bad.”

John Barile from Mount Sinai, who handed over paper towels, said he takes any opportunity he can to help others who need it.

“If everybody gave something, we would never have any problems,” Barile said.

“If everybody gave something, we would never have any problems.”

John Barile

When asked what inspired her to donate multiple items, another shopper simply said, “It’s the right thing to do.”

Stephen Rasweiler, Debi’s husband and a lifelong volunteer firefighter, voiced his appreciation for the community as he held up a donated bag of yams and turkey stuffing.

“This is somebody’s Thanksgiving dinner just in one bag,” he said, beaming. “This time of year is very stressful, the economy’s tough for a lot of families and we know we’re helping a lot of people. It’s sad that this is needed but it’s been a great department and community effort.”

It was the Rasweiler’s daughter Jessica who initially brought Stuff-A-Bus to the community seven years ago after being involved in a similar event with her sorority at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven. When she came home from college, and joined the fire department as an EMT, Rasweiler was determined to adopt the donate-and-transport event.

She got local businesses to sponsor it and went door-to-door from Setauket to Wading River to spread the word. As a full-time nurse at St. Catherine of Siena in Smithtown, she was unable to be at this year’s event, but said over the phone that the event’s continued success makes her heart smile.

“I wanted to do more for the community,” she said. “I knew we could do something greater than just wait for the whistle to blow for any kind of call that we get at the fire department. I just can’t believe it and it’s amazing the community has just latched onto it. It’s a very special event.”

For Bobby Chmiel, 2nd Lieutenant of EMS, the Stuff-A-Bus is a highlight every year.

St. Louis de Montfort’s outreach coordinator Jane
Guido shows off her new inventory as a result of the
annual Stuff-A-Bus event. Photo by Kevin Redding

“It’s not just residents helping people, it’s helping people they might know,” he said. “They could be your friends or neighbors. The community in Miller Place and Sound Beach will unite around a common cause. When it’s one of our own that needs help, especially during the holiday season, we’re there.”

On Nov. 18, the big red bus delivered its boxes upon boxes of items to the church. The various foods were stacked into the church’s pantries and will be given out to families, many of whom the church takes care of year-round.

“It’s a blessing and I can’t thank them enough,” said Jane Guido, St. Louis de Montfort’s outreach coordinator. “The families are very appreciative because a lot of them wouldn’t’ be able to put that kind of spread on their table for a holiday. It’s just too costly. People are so generous — we get plenty of stuff that holds us through the year — without their help, our pantry would be bare.”

After all the boxes were brought inside, Debi Rasweiler announced that on top of the food, one resident who asked to be anonymous donated $1,400 worth of Visa gift cards.

“It was a single parent who had been needy for a long time,” Rasweiler said.

An emotional Guido hugged her.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you everybody,” Guido said.

Bethel Hobbs Farm's Run the Farm 4-mile challenge kicks off. Photo from Councilman Kevin LaValle's office

By Kyle Barr

For Ann Pellegrino, the founder of Bethel Hobbs Community Farm in Centereach which donates 90 percent of its locally grown vegetables to area food pantries, the mission hits close to home.

“Years ago I was a single mother with three kids working two different jobs, and I’ve had to go to food pantries a couple times,” she said. “But when you go to the typical food pantry, you get boxed stuff, stuff that doesn’t have any nutrients, stuff that doesn’t have any vitamins in it, it’s just stuff to fill your belly.”

Bethel Hobbs Community Farm in Centereach holds an annual community race to raise money for the farm. Photo by Kyle Barr

Because the mission is so important to her, when government funds ran dry, she needed help.

Brookhaven Town Councilman Kevin LaValle (R-Selden) stepped in with an idea to host a local race to bring the community together while helping to raise funds for the farm.

LaValle called for help from Suffolk County Legislator Tom Muratore (R-Ronkonkoma) and Hobbs Farms volunteers and the annual Run the Farm Four-Mile Challenge was born.

Now in its third year, more than 200 runners of all strengths and abilities came out on a warm, humid day Aug. 19 to support the farm. In total, more than $7,500 was raised.

“This is the last remaining farm in Centereach — It’s not only a part of our history but an active part of our history,” LaValle said. “You have kids 5, 6 years old, you have college kids, high school kids, seniors that are out there volunteering. It brings so many people together in this community for a great cause.”

The runners lined up at the start in front of the Oxhead Road Elementary School and waited for the horn. Their route took them in a loop that ended on the west side of the farm where they were greeted by cheering family members, friend and volunteers. Tall yellow sunflowers and green vegetables could be seen growing beyond the archway to the farm and a sign saying “Love Grows Here.”

“I was remarried and I was able to step back a little bit because people were there for me,” Pellegrino said. “I wanted to give back to people stuff that wasn’t just packaged.”

The Bethel Hobbs Community Farm’s founder, Ann Pellegrino, donates most of the produce to local food pantries. File photo

The volunteers at Bethel Hobbs farm are often community members, with a handful of student volunteers from Suffolk County Community College and Stony Brook University.

“I live three houses down from here, so I’m always here helping out when I’m not in college, and when I’m not busy during the semester I stop by and do some help inside the community,” said SCCC student Bershell Hall. “I think it’s really great what they do here, because they have health standards, people in the community can come here and pull for their own usage.”

Kraig Rau placed first in the race with a time of 22 minutes, 52 seconds. He strode across the finish line with a body and face streaming with sweat, and he gladly took the water bottle from a volunteer’s outstretched hand. Rau grew up in the community and graduated from Centereach High School.

“It’s my second time here; I was here last year,” he said. “I think it’s a great event, it’s the local community here. I live a mile away so I run here and then I just run home.”

The run was sponsored by several groups, including a few large-scale food chains like Whole Foods and ShopRite. A group of 21 employees from the Selden ShopRite showed up to support the event.

“The farm is vital to the infrastructure of the island and Middle Country, and we’re very fortunate to have it,” said Charles Gallagher, the owner of the Selden ShopRite. “We need to make sure we continue to support it, it’d be a real shame if it went away.”

St. Louis de Montfort Roman Catholic Church in Sound Beach provides food for those in need. Photo by Giselle Barkley

A full stomach may hurt sometimes, but not around the holidays.

The holiday season is typically the busiest time of year for food pantries like those at the Sound Beach Community Church and St. Louis de Montfort Roman Catholic Church in Sound Beach. Each year the Sound Beach Civic Association sponsors one family from each church during the holidays. In light of this, Bea Ruberto, president of the Sound Beach Civic Association, said they thought their meeting on Monday, Nov. 9, was a good opportunity to discuss the churches’ work.

St. Louis de Montfort is no stranger to running a pantry. According to Jane Guido, the church’s outreach director, the facility established its pantry around 25 years ago. Around 150 families are registered for the pantry services at the church. The church saw an increase in those in need during the recession when countless businesses downsized staff and many were left without a job.

“A lot of our local families who were okay now find themselves without a job or [they’re] getting a job with less pay,” Guido said. “With the high cost of living on Long Island, it makes it very difficult to take care of the bills and the food.”

Though St. Louis de Montfort doesn’t prevent people of different faiths from using its pantry services, community members must live within the areas the church serves. This includes Sound Beach, Mount Sinai and Miller Place. While the church receives monetary donations and local organizations like schools, the fire department and the Girls and Boys Scouts donate food, Long Island Cares provides a good portion of food for both church pantries.

According to Hunger in America 2014, around 88 percent of households are food insecure within the Long Island Cares and Island Harvest area.

“It’s really sad to know that in an area that’s pretty well off, we need two pantries,” Ruberto said.

Pastor John D’Eletto of the Sound Beach Community Church said various organizations also donate food to his establishment. Members of the church also support by donating money, which goes toward buying food for the pantry. According to D’Eletto, the church’s five-year-old pantry serves 10 to 15 families weekly.

“We feel that because we’re a church, we have to go above and beyond just giving people food,” D’Eletto said. “Because we do care — we want to focus on the spiritual aspect of the people too — not just giving them physical things.”

D’Eletto’s church will also cater to residents facing additional hardships through prayer, to help them through their difficulties.

But one of the more difficult times for families to put food on the table doesn’t stop with the holidays. Ruberto said January and February are also difficult months for food pantries. According to the Sound Beach civic president, food donations slow down significantly following the holiday season.

“Yes, we’re all very generous over the holidays, but remember in February they still need food,” she said.

Guido added that pantries are an asset to the communities they serve.

“They know they have a place to go and get food … We live in a remote area [and] there’s not [many] places for people go,” Guido said. “There are soup kitchens, which are a blessing, but that’s only one day a week and one meal a day, so the pantry supplements that also.”

Kaylee Corrar, 4, held a food drive to benefit the group’s food pantry. She is pictured with her sister, Abby, 3. Photo from Katie Corrar

A 4-year-old Selden girl has warmed the hearts of many after organizing a spring food drive that helped feed close to 70 needy families in the Middle Country community.

Kaylee Corrar, a preschool student at Unity Drive Pre-K/Kindergarten Center in Centereach, was discussing an upcoming Disney cruise with her parents when they explained to her how lucky she was. Kaylee questioned what it meant and her parents explained that not everyone is as fortunate as they are. That’s when the idea hit the 4-year-old.

Through the Kaylee Cares Spring Food Drive, Kaylee Corrar helped feed nearly 70 families in the Middle Country community. Photo from Katie Corrar
Through the Kaylee Cares Spring Food Drive, Kaylee Corrar helped feed nearly 70 families in the Middle Country community. Photo from Katie Corrar

“She stood up and said she was going to feed the homeless,” her mom, Katie Corrar, said.

Kaylee hosted a two-week-long food drive in March called the Kaylee Cares Spring Food Drive to benefit the Selden Centereach Youth Association’s Helping Hand Food Pantry in Centereach.

“I heard that people was homeless,” Kaylee said. “I feel bad.”

Kaylee’s mom and grandmother, Janet Taggart Corrar, of Yaphank, helped spread the word through social media and before she knew it, Kaylee was receiving boxes of food from family all over the country. Boxes filled with canned vegetables, pancake mix, syrup and more came from Kansas, Florida and Pennsylvania.

“It felt good when opening boxes because I really wanted to feed the families,” Kaylee said.

With some help from grandma, her parents and her 3-year-old sister, Abby, Kaylee filled their living room with food. The family even did some shopping of their own, visiting Trader Joe’s, ShopRite and Target where they bought meat, fresh vegetables and toiletries.

Taggart Corrar even reached out to her friends at Gallagher Bassett Services, an international insurance agency with a location in Melville. The office ran a food drive in Kaylee’s honor and raised enough food to fill a third van with goods.

Kaylee Corrar, 4, poses with her certificate of appreciation from the Selden Centereach Youth Association. Photo by Barbara Donlon
Kaylee Corrar, 4, poses with her certificate of appreciation from the Selden Centereach Youth Association. Photo by Barbara Donlon

According to Sal Bush, the youth association’s executive director, the pantry was in desperate need of the food. He said Kaylee’s donations helped feed between 60 and 70 local families.

“I kid you not, this little girl was instrumental in getting this food,” Bush said. “We were fortunate enough that Kaylee came to the realization that people were hungry.”

The Middle Country school district and the Selden Centereach Youth Association recognized Kaylee’s hard work at a April 22 school board meeting. Mother Corrar couldn’t contain the pride she had for her daughter.

“I feel our heart is bursting with pride,” she said. “I’m not surprised, she’s always been like this. She’s caring and always goes out of the way.”

Taggart Corrar called herself Kaylee’s biggest fan.

“As a grandma, I can’t not have tears,” she said. “It’s very moving and inspiring to see a 4-year-old do this.”

The family hopes to make the food drive a tradition. And while Kaylee will help out, she also plans to tackle another issue.

“I’m going to recycle and pick up garbage at the beach because I don’t want the animals to get sick.”

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