Since schools shut their doors back in March, one student from The Stony Brook School has been keeping busy helping her neighbors in Bellport to beat food insecurities.
Emmy Specht is spearheading a food drive and fundraising effort for those who have been struggling to buy groceries because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The 17-year-old has been buying and collecting the food and then boxing up and delivering groceries to recipients.
Specht said a few weeks ago she had the idea to start a food drive and contacted Yolanda Lucas, the Day Care and Family Support coordinator at Boys & Girls Club of the Bellport Area. Lucas connected her with those who she knew needed help. Specht started spreading the word, and soon friends and neighbors were dropping off food on her front porch. When she heard that classmates and relatives in the Three Village area wanted to donate but were unable to make the drive to drop off items, she created the fundraising page Food for Suffolk County.
Lucas said she has been impressed by Specht’s endeavor, and how the high school senior took the initiative to contact her and is running the drive on her own. Lucas said it gives her a renewed sense of hope about young people.
“She’s doing it out of a concern for others,” Lucas said.
Specht, who has traveled to school in the Three Village area since she began her academic career in the Laurel Hill School, has been able to deliver food to 10 families each week, and so far she has raised $7,000. She added that her guidance counselor, Debbie Abrahamsen, whose husband, Stan, owns the Chick-fil-A in Port Jefferson, even contributed 30 gift cards for meals which include a sandwich, side and a drink, which she said is helpful for families to get a hot meal.
“It’s really amazing, and I’m really appreciative, especially since I know it’s a challenging time for everyone,” Specht said.
Abrahamsen said she cried when she heard about the student’s endeavor, especially since she recognized that as a senior Specht may be grieving the loss of prom and graduation.
“Instead of it being about her, she’s helping those in need,” the guidance counselor said. “I just think that’s amazing. How many high school seniors have that type of compassion.”
Every week, Specht aims to have three boxes for each family, and even though she isn’t able to meet them face-to-face, Specht has interacted with some from a distance.
Recently, the student received an email from a woman asking for help. The woman had seen the groceries her son had received from Specht and explained to the student how she was disabled, and her fiancé is an essential worker. She lives separately from her son, who has his own family, and in addition to her children living with her and her partner, there is also her mother who lives with them. In the email, the woman said they were using rent money to buy food. The high school senior said thanks to the generous donations she has received; she was able to help the mother’s household too.
Specht is no stranger to philanthropy. She and her sister Rae, along with friends Maddie Joinnides and Eloise Kocay, founded Four Girls for Families. The nonprofit was inspired by a family visit to Cambodia. Specht’s father, Brian, works for Tara Toy Corporation and travels to China regularly. One year when the family accompanied him on a work trip, they paid a visit to Cambodia.
She said being in Cambodia and seeing kids her age who were unable to have essentials such as an education and clean water affected her greatly.
“That was unsettling to see kids my own age going through something so hard,” she said.
While she and her family visit the country every year, a trip planned for this June had to be canceled due to the pandemic.
Her mother, Joanne Specht, said she wasn’t surprised when Emmy started her food drive as she has always had a soft spot for others, and in addition to Four Girls for Families, her daughter volunteers at Sunrise Day Camp in Wyandanch, which is a camp for children with cancer.
“She’s always looking for ways to help people,” the mother said. “She’s got a very kind heart.”
Emmy Specht said the new fundraising project has taught her about the problems people face on Long Island.
“I’ve never really seen the kinds of needs that are here on Long Island,” she said. “It’s not on the other side of the world. There are also problems here.”
For more information on how to donate to the food drive, visit foodforsuffolkcounty.org.