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Food Pantry

As Federal Assistance Runs Out, Pantries/Soup Kitchens Anticipate Greater Need

Vicky Rybak, front, stands behind the many volunteers at Open Cupboard in Port Jefferson. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr and Liam Cooper

In front of what was the old nuns’ quarters of the Infant Jesus R.C. Church in Port Jefferson, the volunteers of the church’s food pantry stand amongst bag after bag of food items. Inside, even more goods line the main hallway, all before they can be taken in and sorted. 

Alex Valentine and Sabrina Duan, of Mount Sinai, help with the Open Cupboard pantry’s back to school drive. Photo by Kyle Barr

In just a few hours on a Monday morning, a crowd of regular volunteers have brought in the new hoard. Even after they leave, several more local residents swing by the front door of the Open Cupboard food pantry, dropping off clothing items, food, toiletries — a machine of giving.

All of it will be needed, according to food pantry leaders and volunteers, as by the end of the month so much of that food will be gone. The pandemic has led to a massive increase in food insecurity. Open Cupboard now regularly serves 30 to 60 families that come to its doors, and now they arrive every two weeks instead of every month, compared to what it was before the pandemic. 

Though as the number of people needing assistance has increased during the pandemic, according to multiple local soup kitchens and food pantries, so has the number of volunteers hoping to make even the smallest difference.

Vicki Rybak, director of the Open Cupboard food pantry at Infant Jesus, has been on the job for the past 16 years. The pantry serves the surrounding area in Port Jeff, Port Jeff Station, Mount Sinai and parts of Coram and Setauket, and in her words, it serves “the working poor.”

“Now that the working poor aren’t working anymore, we’re servicing the people who aren’t getting anything — whether they’re undocumented and they’re not able to collect, or they’re essential like me and have been struggling,” she said.

During the worst months of the pandemic, the assembled group were Rybak’s “lifeline,” she said. People sent checks when she and others were limited on the number of certain foodstuffs and other essentials they could purchase.

People like Frank Davi, a retired NYPD officer who has been standing in front of the Miller Place Stop & Shop and Giunta’s Meat Farms in Port Jeff Station with his truck since March, asking people to donate food. He has given that food away to Open Cupboard and the pantry at St. Gerard Majella R.C. Church in Port Jefferson Station. He says he gets a truckload a week from people willing to help out.

“I was in Stony Brook [hospital] for six days, had some complications, came out of it fine and wanted to give back,” Davi said. “Everyone’s really generous in the community.”

The Open Cupboard is also in the midst of its back-to-school drive, and one of the downstairs rooms is piled with school supplies such as backpacks, pencils, erasers. It normally services around 185 children for back to school. Open Cupboard volunteer  Jennifer Valentine, of Mount Sinai, said in a few weeks time, most of it will be gone.

Father Patrick Riegger of Infant Jesus RC Church next to bag after bag of donations. Photo by Kyle Barr

But the need will likely increase even more than that, as the pantry plans to work with local shelters as well to provide school supplies. Harder this year is so few schools have been posting what kinds of schools supplies students will need cover September. 

“Even if we don’t go back to school, they will still need the supplies at home,”
Valentine said.

The pantry does much more than just food donations. It helps people apply for mortgage and rental assistance, helps people muddle through social services applications, assists people whose insurance doesn’t cover a particular procedure, all of which have seen a renewed need because of the economic impacts of the pandemic. 

The Open Cupboard director has seen people with leases on nice cars pull up to seek aid, having lost their jobs and being on unemployment, having never before stepped foot into a food pantry in need of aid, whether it’s food or help getting their budgets in line.

“They’re lost, they’ve never done this before,” Rybak said. “People don’t even have the gas to come down here anymore — we’re doing a lot of deliveries.”

Now that a federal program that gave people an extra $600 on their unemployment checks has ended, she expects even more of a need. The hard part will be deciding what the organization is capable of doing, and what it can’t with the resources at hand.

“People are just really bad off, or they’re just barely making it with unemployment,” Rybak said. 

Needy Numbers Likely on the Rise

According to Newsday’s latest nextLI survey about the impact of coronavirus, of the 1,043 respondents, close to a third said their financial situation has been negatively impacted due to the pandemic. 

Things could get worse for the thousands still on unemployment. New York State statistics show Suffolk County had a 12.9 percent unemployment rate in June. Data for July is not yet available. 

Long Island Cares delivers a shipment of food to Island Heart Food Pantry in Mount Sinai. Director of the pantry Kathy Lahey said they have received a near doubling in clients since the start of the pandemic. Photo by Lahey

Paule Pachter, CEO of nonprofit Long Island Cares, said LIC has seen about 75,000 people coming for the very first time to the its distribution centers looking for emergency food since March 13. Most came after losing their jobs.

In normal times, the food bank operates six stationary and several mobile distribution centers. During the worst of the pandemic, the nonprofit saw the closure of close to one fifth of pantries it distributed to. Things have gotten better, and now they see only 31 closed. The rate of people LIC has seen seeking help has also dropped some small degree.

Still, Pachter has a strong suspicion that with the loss of benefits such as the unemployment funding will lead to a new wave of people seeking aid. He estimates another 50,000 will come in for food in the long run.

“The fact that people are laid off, furloughed, permanently terminated from their jobs and these are people who historically are living paycheck to paycheck … the whole unemployment scenario has been driving people to the food pantries or food distribution centers,” Pachter said. “If we don’t pass another stimulus bill or another extension on unemployment, that’s going to drive even more people to seek aid.”

Though as of the start of August, the federal program that put an extra $600 on top of people’s unemployment checks ended. Congressional leaders from the Democratic-controlled House and GOP-led Senate are locked in a debate over reinstating that relief, along with billions upon billions of dollars in other potential aid to people, businesses and local governments. The Senate is scheduled to take a recess, but it is unknown whether congressional leaders will leave such aid hanging. Republicans have balked at the idea of additional money on top of unemployment checks, saying it disincentivizes people to get back to work.

In the meantime, local pantries and soup kitchens expect the loss of those extra funds on unemployment checks could mean even more people needing assistance.

Lori Presser, the director of Trinity Friends Kitchen, a soup kitchen that operates out of the Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Rocky Point, said she has no doubt it will get more people coming in within the coming weeks. While the kitchen before the pandemic was serving the same recognizable faces every Thursday, a host of new people showed up at its doors every week to pick up a hot meal, some hearing it from the church’s food pantry that’s now open every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Before the pandemic, the kitchen was serving 250 meals per month, but now she estimates it serves about 350 per month.

“The $600 really helped keep everybody in a good position, but without that you will see many more people looking to stretch whatever available funds they have,” Presser said. 

While the soup kitchen head said it is currently up to the task with current volunteers, she also worried about having to potentially bring more people into the kitchen should numbers pick up once again.

The Middle Island-based Island Heart Food Pantry, which hosts its food donations at the Mount Sinai Congregational Church on North Country Road, has felt the devastation of the pandemic. “It’s been the perfect storm,” director Kathy Lahey said.

The food pantry has experienced visibly longer lines since March, which is exacerbated by a decrease in volunteer staff. 

Legislator Sarah Anker joins the Island Heart Food Pantry, which operates out of the Mount Sinai Congregational Church, in a food drive. Photo from Anker’s office

“There is at least a 25 percent increase in customers,” Lahey said. “In a month we’ve fed about 500 to 600 families.” 

On an average Wednesday before the pandemic, the food pantry would feed around 35 families. Now, it feeds 62. Lahey expects these numbers to continue increasing. The pandemic has caused many more families to be in need of the pantry’s services. 

On top of its longer lines, Island Heart has also been trying to give more food to each family as well. With many kids doing online classes during this time, more families who depended on school food programs now need more food in the house during the day. 

“Because kids were home from school, we also tried to give more food,” Lahey said.

Although the lines are getting longer, the volunteer staff is decreasing. Many of Island Heart’s volunteers remain skeptical about coming in, considering that, although they wear masks, remaining socially distant at the food pantry is difficult. Numbers are down to a skeleton crew of just three a day. 

Between more patrons and less volunteers to work with, Island Heart was unsure if it was going to keep open. 

“We’re taking it day by day,” Lahey said. 

People Are Helping However They Can

What has surprised Rybak and others is just how much people have been willing to give, even while they too have been impacted by the global pandemic. While the Open Cupboard pantry normally has over 60 volunteers, even more people have put themselves out there to help since the start of the pandemic, a contrast with some of the difficulties Island Heart is dealing with.

“This is a 6,000 family parish, the volunteers really represent the heart of the parish, but we’ve noticed how more people have taken an interest since the pandemic,” said the Rev. Patrick Riegger, pastor at Infant Jesus. 

Frank Davi, second from left, has filled up his truck every week to donate to local food pantries. Photo from Davi

Brain Hoerger, a trustee on the board of Theatre Three, and Doug Quattrock, a longtime actor with the company, have helped host two huge food collection drives with the theater in June and July, filling several carloads and the theater’s van “floor to ceiling” with items which they donated to Open Cupboard, enough to completely line the pantry’s main hallway, The theatre is now working on its third such drive for August.

“Now I come home and I find bags by my door, people just dropping stuff off,”
Hoerger said. 

Quattrock said he knows many of the people donating are still unemployed, yet they are still looking for ways to give back, “doing what they can,” he said.

Port Jefferson Rotary Club has also lent a hand in a big way the past few months, having been a regular supporter of the pantry for years. In addition to their Stuff-a-Van food collection events four times a year, fall food collection and their backpack packing event for back to school, Rotarians are also expected to bring in a specific product once a month.

The Selden Hills Warriors, an online group of runners based on Facebook, have also started hosting drives for eight pantries all over Long Island. There are currently four separate teams among the several hundred members buying food with a budget of about $100 each team per week.

“We’re just trying to keep it going, especially through the summer,” group leader Lou LaFleur said. “We have a generous group, and we want to do what we can because we saw the need.”

Despite its hardships, the Island Heart director said the pantry has experienced an increase in donations, both food and monetary. Many churchgoers at Mount Sinai Congregational have even been donating fresh produce from their own gardens, just so the food pantry can remain open. 

Selden Hills Warriors group head Lou Lafleur, right, next to members Bob and Barbara Haughn. They, among many others from the online running group, have donated to several local food pantries. Photo by Kyle Barr

“We’ve seen so many donations from people even outside of our church,” Lahey said. “People just want to help.”

Food pantries and soup kitchens are relying on each other to keep open during these difficult times. Island Heart has gotten a lot of its food items from stores and food banks. 

“Trader Joe’s, Long Island Cares and Island Harvest have been extremely helpful,” Lahey said. “We keep having to order more and more food.”

And as more needy people are potentially on the way, keeping those donations coming in could be make or break for a lot of shelters.

“We’re seeing a lot of new families coming in,” Open Cupboard’s Rybak said. “We had people who used to come to us, they were documented and they’re getting $600 a week, they’re buying us food. They’re giving back, so we know we’re doing the right thing, but the people who come in to us, they’re really getting hammered.”

Long Island Cares delivers a shipment of food to Island Heart Food Pantry in Mount Sinai. Director of the pantry Kathy Lahey said they have received a near doubling in clients since the start of the pandemic. Photo by Lahey

This post has been updated April 8 to give information about the Island Heart Food Pantry

By Leah Chiappino

In the wake of COVID-19, local food banks and pantries are struggling to keep up with increased demands, and in some cases decreasing volunteers and inventory.

For instance, Hauppauge-based Long Island Cares, a food bank that operates six distribution centers and has several mobile distribution events, has seen the closure of 44 out of the 349 food pantries to which it distributes. While their donations are down 23 percent, LIC holds more than a million pounds of food in inventory, and anticipates receiving an additional 375,000 pounds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Long Island Cares CEO, Paule Pachter, said the problem does not stem from lack of inventory, but public hysteria. 

“With having to limit volunteers, it becomes hard for us to do mass distribution events when you have people in a panic yelling at our volunteers and staff demanding more food.”

— Paule Pachter

“People are starting to panic,” he said. “When you have people hoarding toilet paper, and coming to multiple distribution events, it becomes hard to handle. There are [some] 300 food pantries open that people can access. With having to limit volunteers, it becomes hard for us to do mass distribution events when you have people in a panic yelling at our volunteers and staff demanding more food.” 

He added he is confident that school districts mostly have the resources to provide meals themselves, and only need limited help from outside sources. The food bank has responded to almost 650 COVID-19 related calls, and is operating a 24/7 hotline for those in need of assistance. LIC is continuing mobile distributions while practicing social distancing and leaving home delivery donations outside people’s doors.

Island Harvest Food Bank, also from Hauppauge, is seeing a dramatic influx of need, too, due to COVID-19, with donations down about 40 percent, according to Randi Shubin Dresner, the organization’s president and CEO.

The food bank started an emergency response plan about two weeks ago, while trying to still deliver food to local food pantries and community organizations. As more and more places closed, Dresner said the organization began to pursue other avenues to ensure those who are in need still have access to food. 

“We have a long list of people waiting to get food from us,” Dresner said. “Every day there is hunger on Long Island, even in normal times. When you couple that with a pandemic, things become very difficult.” 

Normally 90 percent of Island Harvest’s inventory is donated, but recently it had to make a $450,000 purchase of food supplies, an amount Dresner said is likely to double in the future. A large portion of the purchases are “family boxes” of food, enough to feed a family of four for four days. Others are individual meals and meals for seniors. 

“There are tens of thousands of people that are homebound, and we can’t get to them all,” Dresner said. “We’re going to do as much as we can, and hopefully some of our partner organizations will be able to accomplish what we can’t. These are uncertain times and unchartered waters that we’re dealing with. People are scared, and we want to be responsive to as many people as we can, which is what we always do.”

A food pantry donation. File photo by Elana Glowatz

The organization is working to deliver food to homebound seniors and veterans. It is also partnering with school districts such as William Floyd, Copiague, Brentwood and Wyandanch to help supplement the meals the districts are providing and ensure there is enough to bring home to entire families, not just children. 

Dresner said Island Harvest is committed to keeping safe practices. Employees are rotating working from home and going into the office, and field and office workers are separated.

The organization also employs what it calls community resource navigators, to help people apply for food stamps or referrals to other services. Dietitians are on staff to help with nutrition needs. 

Dresner said the food bank has not had a problem attracting volunteers, as people who have to stay at home want to find a way to help out. 

The CEO added Island Harvest is accepting prepared and unprepared food from various restaurants, caterers and country clubs.

The organization prefers monetary donations over food donations, as the organization specifically can buy bulk food at a discounted price. Monetary donations can be made on the organization’s website at www.islandharvest.org/covid. Those in need should email [email protected] or call the headquarters at 516-294-8528.28

Some local food pantries seem to be operating at a reduced level. The Ecumenical Lay Council Pantry in Northport, whose staple is allowing people to come in and feel as though they are shopping, is still operating during normal hours but by a drive-through process. 

The Island Heart Food Pantry, which is located in Middle Island and has operated out of the Mount Sinai Congregational Church for 40 years, has had to reduce its normal bevy of volunteers to just three a day on average, according to director Kathy Lahey. This is the new rule, mostly to maintain social distancing.

Meanwhile, because so many surrounding food pantries have closed, she said they have seen a doubling in the number of people who come to pick up food, especially seeing a large increase in the number of children looking for meals, now that many don’t have access to breakfast and lunch at school.

Before the pandemic, the organization operated as a “client choice” pantry, where people could walk in to choose which foods they got. Now everything is done with the clients inside their vehicles. Volunteers, bedecked in gloves and masks, go to each, in turn, to ask what their preference is, before giving it to them in bags and having them head out as soon as possible.

“We’re adapting and changing things and everyone is getting used to it,” she said. “We want to offer as much compassion and understanding and a smile, especially if they come with kids in the car.”

A sample of foodstuffs at the Island Heart Food Pantry. Photo by Kathy Lahey

Island Heart is currently accepting monetary donations for volunteers to purchase food. They are also accepting food they usually do not receive through Long Island Cares, including tuna, cereal, oatmeal, rice and beans. All these can be dropped off to the Mount Sinai Congregational Church, located at 233 North Country Road in Mount Sinai. While they normally would accept any help in terms of volunteers, they currently wish to practice as much distancing as possible.

The Smithtown Emergency Food Pantry, which normally operates from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. five days a week, is only open Tuesday through Thursday this week, and is leaving bags of supplies at the rear entrance for people to pick up, according to its voicemail. It asks that only one person at a time goes into the location, completely eliminating contact. The pantry will continue to update its policies as time progresses.

Lighthouse Mission, a faith-based mobile food pantry, is also suffering from dwindling volunteers and donations. 

“People are afraid,” Pastor Jim Ryan, president of the mission, said. “People are uncertain about their own future and are not thinking about donating. They are making an effort to practice social distancing by keeping people 8 feet away from each other at outreaches and are looking to pre-bag food to limit contact.”

Still, twice a day, Lighthouse Mission’s box trucks cart food, clothing and basic necessities for volunteers to set up in public parking lots, including in Port Jefferson Station and Rocky Point, and give to those in need. For those who choose to listen, a volunteer will give a gospel message and pray with the attendees who ask. The organization, which was started 28 years ago, serves 10 different locations throughout
Suffolk County.

Ryan, who was a 2012 Times Beacon Record Person of the Year, has now begun a program in which volunteers will deliver food to elderly residents at their homes. 

“These are people who always come out,” Ryan said. “They may be in a wheelchair or holding an oxygen mask, but they are always there. Now they just can’t come out because they cannot get this virus.” The pastor added that volunteers will leave the items at the door to mitigate contact.

“We will keep operating as long as there’s food to give.”

— Jim Ryan

The mission, which is not publicly funded and runs solely on donations, is urgently in need of food, clothing and supplies. According to its website, it accepts nonperishable food items (canned goods, pasta, cereal, bottled water, etc.); meats (hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken, turkeys, etc.); dairy products, fresh fruits and vegetables. It does not take cooked meals. 

Ryan said that paper items, especially plastic bags, would be helpful. Donations can be dropped off at Lighthouse Mission’s office at 1543 Montauk Highway in Bellport. Monetary donations would be appreciated, as the organization recently had a truck break down and is lacking the funds to fix it. 

“I am confident God will send blessings our way,” Ryan said. “We will keep operating as long as there’s food to give.”

Those in need can attend Lighthouse Mission outreaches on Thursdays from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. at 499 Main St., Port Jefferson Station, in the commuter parking lot at the corner of Hallock Road and Route 112; on Wednesdays from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. at 683 Route 25A in Rocky Point at the Knights of Columbus front parking lot; or on Fridays from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. at 2150 Middle Country Road, Centereach in the parking lot near Ocean State Job Lot, on the south side of Route 25.

Those that are elderly and would like food delivered to their homes, as well as people looking to volunteer to deliver the food, can call the office at 631-758-7584. 

Additional reporting by Kyle Barr

Stock photo

The season for giving is here, and while North Shore residents plan their holiday feasts, it’s a good time to consider the plight of people less fortunate. 

Imagine, more than 89,000 children on Long Island are hungry, according to Hauppauge-based Long Island Cares. These children aren’t dreaming of visions of sugarplums, they are wishing for substantial meals to get them and their families through the day.

Some centers, such as the Community Food Council on East 5th Street in Huntington Station, are reporting a 33 percent increase in demand over the last three months. It’s unclear why the sudden surge in food insecurities but the food banks are in need of supplies and volunteers, and counting on the local community to find ways to pitch in. So, it’s a good time to develop a plan. 

When preparing to donate to a food bank, a good rule of thumb is to call the nonprofit or visit its website to see what is needed. During this time of year, many have volunteers on hand to put together holiday meals. Throughout the year, depending on donations, there may be a surplus of one item and a deficit of another.

While many may be inclined to reach into their pantry to find nonperishables, a cash donation can often be the most beneficial to nonprofits, so they can turn around and buy food in bulk. This can also save volunteers time, because they don’t need to go through items looking at expiration dates.

If one wants to donate food, a trip to the supermarket is the best bet to ensure the donated items aren’t expired. Though if your cabinets are bursting at the seams, reach in and make sure to check expiration dates on cans and boxes. Also, look cans over to ensure they are not dented or leaking and that boxes aren’t damaged. And steer away from food in glass jars as these containers can easily break.

Take into consideration more nutritious options, too, such as cereals high in fiber, whole wheat pasta and low sodium soups and vegetables. When it comes to any kind of mixes, remember many households may be out of milk or eggs, so choose a mix that can be used with water. Another thing to consider is purchasing toiletries such as toothpaste, deodorant, diapers and toilet paper.

To increase the spirit of giving, organize your local Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops or religion classes or get your children involved. Or, if you already know of a group organizing a food drive, contribute your items to the event. Collecting food for those in need is a wonderful way to inspire young ones to help others and it encourages them to continue charitable pursuits when they reach their goals or succeed them.

In our coverage area, in addition to Long Island Cares and the Community Food Council, there are the Smithtown Emergency Food Pantry, St. Anthony of Padua R.C. Church in Rocky Point, St. Cuthbert’s Episcopal Church in Selden, Ecumenical Lay Council Pantry through the First Presbyterian Church in Northport, St. Gerard Majella R.C. Church in Port Jefferson Station, Our Daily Bread Food Pantry in Setauket and many more. 

As the lights come down in a few weeks, remember when it comes to food banks, the hungry keep coming. The spirit of giving can last all year round as these organizations are always in need of donations no matter what month on the calendar.

The gift of time, too, is also a generous way to contribute.

Susan Delgado and her husband, John, stand in front of St. Cuthbert’s food pantry in Selden. Photo from Tracy LaStella

One woman’s passion for helping others has benefited many who are in need.

For the past 15 years, Susan Delgado has headed up the food pantry at St. Cuthbert’s Episcopal Church in Selden, and at 79 years old, she has no plans for slowing down.

The Delgados with their children, Paul, David, Tracy and Dan, who they raised in Selden after moving to the area 50 years ago. Photo from Tracy LaStella

Christina Rundberg, the church’s vestry clerk, said when the church decided to offer a food pantry, Delgado soon took over as coordinator.

“The food pantry has become her pride and joy and her baby,” Rundberg said.

Delgado and her husband John can be found working in the food pantry a few times a week, according to Rundberg. Susan Delgado coordinates pickups with drivers from the food banks Long Island Cares and Island Harvest, picks up food with her husband at various locations including Bethel Hobbs Community Farm in Centereach and ShopRite in Selden and stocks the shelves.

“I don’t know where she gets the energy,” Rundberg said.

The pantry that was initially opened only Fridays from 6 to 7 p.m. is now open on the same day from 10 a.m. to 12:15 p.m as well. Rundberg said the additional hours were added when Delgado was worried about people walking and riding bikes at night, especially during the winter months, and she decided it would be helpful to open it to the public on Friday mornings, too.

Rundberg, who volunteers in the pantry Friday nights, said it’s open to anyone in need, not just to congregants. When it comes to holidays, the vestry clerk said Delgado always ensures there are enough food items, so clients can have a Thanksgiving, Christmas or Easter dinner. She also helps to raise funds and items for a local battered women’s shelter, coordinates an adopt-a-family program during the winter holidays to buy families in need gifts and helps to collect backpacks filled with school supplies for children in need before the school year starts.

Father Charles Schnabel, a retired priest who helps with church services, said he’s always impressed when laypeople keep a church going, and Delgado is no exception. He said there’s hardly a time he doesn’t see her there working.

“She is very well focused on this area of ministry, and it’s so needed today.”

— Father Charles Schnabel

“What I see in Sue is a woman of great faith and dedication, and it’s rooted, I think, in her faith and membership at St. Cuthbert’s,” he said, adding she’s emblematic of the church’s congregants.

He described Delgado as a quiet, unassuming person, who at the same time isn’t afraid to stand up and speak at services to inform church members about what is needed at the pantry, whether it be food, toiletries and even toilet paper. The priest said she sees those who stop by the pantry as more than clients, and he remembered one time when she made a plea to the church members and was near tears.

“She is very well focused on this area of ministry, and it’s so needed today,” he said.

Delgado’s daughter, Tracy LaStella, said in addition to volunteering at the pantry, her mother works full time for a local IRS office in its mail room. The pantry, the daughter said, on average serves 342 households and 274 individuals per week.

“Every time I go there I can’t even believe how many people need the help and that [the church is] able to help them and give them food,” LaStella said.

She said she always thought of food pantries as only having canned foods, and she’s amazed at the quality and variety of foods that are available at the St. Cuthbert’s food pantry.

She said her mother has also partnered with Middle Country Public Library, where LaStella serves as assistant director for youth services. Members of the teen advisory council there have helped stock the shelves of the pantry before Thanksgiving and make tote bags for the families to use to pick up food.

LaStella said people come up to her in the library all the time and tell her about her mother — and father as well.

“It just warms my heart that they’re doing such great work for the community that they live in, and we all grew up in, too,” she said, adding her mother has four children and seven grandchildren.

The daughter said talking about her mother’s good deeds makes her teary-eyed.

“From what I can remember as a child, she was always helping neighbors,” LaStella said. “She was always helping her sisters. If she grew up in this day and age, she probably would have been a social worker. She has a really big heart. She would give her coat off her back for somebody.”

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.”