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Long Island Cares

Suffolk County Legislator Steve Englebright with his dog, Buster.

Suffolk County Legislator Steve Englebright’s office seeks donations for Long Island Cares’ Baxter’s Pet Pantry

Suffolk County Legislator Steven Englebright (D-Setauket) is participating in the 13th Annual Legislative Pet Food Drive Challenge to collect pet food for clients of Long Island Cares, Inc.—The Harry Chapin Food Bank

In 2009, Long Island Cares established Baxter’s Pet Pantry to assist families who might be having difficulty feeding their pets and to avoid placing those family pets in a shelter due to these challenges.

The drive is for all pet food, including for reptiles, fish, ferrets, hamsters, and others. The pet pantry always needs five-to ten-pound bags of dog and cat food, but larger bags are also accepted, as well as canned dog and cat food, cat litter, treats, and new toys.

“Since my dog Buster entered my life, he never fails to bring a smile to my face,” Englebright said. “I hope my constituents will join me and my colleagues in collecting pet food and essentials for those who need help providing for and keeping their pets.”

All pet food must be unopened and in its original packaging. No opened bags, ripped bags or loose pet food will be accepted.

Donations may be brought to Legislator Englebright’s district office at 306 Main Street, Port Jefferson. Drop off deadline is Friday, May 24. The office is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m.

For more information, please call the office at 631-854-1650. 

From left, Long Island Cares VP, Development & Communications Katherine M. Fritz; King Kullen VP of Store Operations Frank Vassallo; Wild by Nature President Michael Infantolino; King Kullen VP Corporate Strategy and Initiatives and Long Island Cares Board Member Tracey Cullen; Long Island Cares CEO Paule T. Pachter; Long Island Cares Corporate Philanthropy Manager Kaylin Peterson; and Long Island Cares VP for Procurement & Supply Chain Oversight Robert LaBarbara

King Kullen and Wild by Nature recently came to the aid of Long Islanders in need by hosting their annual in-store “Check Out Hunger” campaign, raising $22,000. The money was donated to the Long Island Cares/Harry Chapin Food Bank, which has served Long Island’s food insecure population since 1980.

Tracey Cullen, King Kullen Vice President of Corporate Strategy and Initiatives and the great-granddaughter of King Kullen founder Michael Cullen, observed that King Kullen and its customers have a long history of supporting Long Island Cares.

“Since 1997, the ‘Check Out Hunger’ campaign has played a significant role in helping Long Island Cares advance its mission to provide food where and when it’s needed,” said Cullen, who serves on the Long Island Cares board of directors. “As always, we thank our customers for contributing to the ‘Check Out Hunger’ campaign and our food drives.”

King Kullen was the first supermarket chain to participate in the annual “Check Out Hunger” campaign, a unique partnership between Long Island Cares and the shopping community in which customers can make a donation with a coupon when checking out at the supermarket register. One hundred percent of all donations go to Long Island Cares.

“King Kullen and Wild by Nature have made a meaningful difference in the fight against hunger,” observed Long Island Cares/Harry Chapin Food Bank Chief Executive Officer Paule T. Pachter. “Their customers continue to generously support our mission and we are forever grateful for their support all these years.”

Pictured with some of the donations are William Gonyou, LI Cares Community Event and Food Drive Manager, (left) and Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta. Photo from Leg. Trotta's office

Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta is participating in the 13th Annual Legislative Pet Food Drive Challenge to support Baxter’s Pet Pantry, a program of Long Island Cares. 

Since 2009, they have provided free pet food and supplies to individuals and families in need, in an effort to enable them to keep their pets at home instead of placing them in shelters.

According to Long Island Cares, dog and cat food are the most requested items by their member agencies. “I would be most appreciative if the generous residents and pet lovers in my district would help out,” Trotta said.

The pet pantry needs 5 pounds, 10 pounds or larger bags of dog and cat food, canned and dry cat/dog food, cat/dog treats, birdseed, and food for fish, rabbits, and ferrets, as well as kitty litter and small new toys. 

Long Island Cares asks that all pet food be unopened, and in its original packaging.

The drive is from now until May 1. Donations are accepted at the district office of Legislator Trotta located at 59 Landing Avenue, Suite 1 (first office), Smithtown.  The office is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. For more information, call 631-854-3900.

Marc Perez

By Julianne Mosher

Not only is Marc Perez an executive for Bank of America Long Island, but he has been recognized for being an active local leader and community servant striving to help others.

After initially joining the Bank of America team in 2000, Perez was named president of Bank of America Long Island – based out of Melville – in September 2021. As president, he leads initiatives to positivitly impact Long Island communities while aligning volunteer efforts for the more than 1,200 employees across the island. 

Marc Perez volunteers at Long Island Cares.
Photo courtesy Long Island Cares

In addition, he is responsible for delivering access to the capabilities of Bank of America’s eight lines of business to help enhance the well-being of the people, businesses and institutions that call Long Island home. Perez also serves as a market executive for Bank of America Private Bank, delivering responsible growth and client satisfaction. 

“Over his 20-year career at Bank of America, Marc has established deep relationships with teammates, clients and the Long Island community,” Brian Moynihan, chief executive officer of Bank of America, previously said in a statement.

As a 20-year resident of Northport, Perez has also dedicated himself to his community – a passion he shares with his family, and that he often combines with his role at Bank of America.

“I have always admired the passion of people who volunteer and who dedicate their career to serve,” Perez said. “Volunteering of your time, effort or expertise is critically important – helping people in need helps empower our communities.”

Perez has served as a board member of Long Island Cares for seven years, but his involvement with this nonprofit dates back more than a decade. 

“Along with my wife and two daughters, we have participated in several Long Island Cares volunteer initiatives, including food drives and collections to assist families in need,” he said. “Additionally, in my role as [Bank of America] Long Island president, I have the great opportunity to partner with local nonprofits to advance initiatives like the Power Up! program with the United Way of Long Island and Bold Future Leaders with Girls Inc.”

Perez said that this year, the Bank of America team on Long Island volunteered approximately 9,000 hours and Bank of America was able to provide funding, as well.

“Together, it’s the impact of both that makes me most proud,” he said. 

Under Perez’s leadership and connections, his team has consistently supported initiatives in partnership with Long Island Cares, Island Harvest, Girls Inc., Habitat for Humanity and more. 

This past year, Perez said he has two special memories of his volunteerism. 

“It was an honor to be able to meet and speak to graduates of Island Harvest’s Workforce Skills Development Institute, a program that Bank of America helped to launch,” he said. “Engaging with the graduates, their families and the people involved in the program was inspirational and uplifting knowing that these graduates will go on to prosper in a new career.”

His second favorite memory? When he and his wife, Maryann, helped prepare Thanksgiving meals for Long Islanders in need. 

“Not only do these moments keep me coming back to volunteer often but participating in these events helps fulfill a duty we all have to make our communities better for us all,” he said. 

But just because 2023 is nearing the end, that doesn’t mean his community service stops, too. This coming spring, under his leadership, Bank of America will be hosting a Clean Up Day in cooperation with Habitat for Humanity in the Riverside community. 

“There is no doubt in my mind that volunteering is motivating,” he said. “If you can get involved in volunteer work, I recommend that you find an organization whose mission you support and join their efforts.” 

While running a company, managing a team and being a dad to two kids, Perez said that any spare minute of volunteering is 100 percent worth it. 

“I realize that time is precious, since people have responsibilities at home and at work. However, every time I volunteer and give back, I am grateful to have contributed to building up our community,” he said. “There’s nothing like the feeling you get after positively impacting the lives of others. To quote Maya Angelou, ‘I have found that among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul of the giver.’”

For his considerable volunteer work, Marc Perez is honored as a TBR News Media 2023 Person of the Year.

Legislator Stephanie Bontempi with pet food and supplies that were generously donated to the drive by residents. Photo from Leg. Bontempi's office

Upon the conclusion of this year’s joint pet food drive with Long Island Cares, Legislator Stephanie Bontempi (R-18th L.D.) took a moment to express her gratitude to all of the generous donors.  This is the second year in a row that Bontempi teamed up with Baxter’s Pet Pantry, which is a program of Long Island Cares dedicated to assisting pets in need.

“Many of us are familiar with the issue of food insecurity here in Suffolk County, but our animal friends are often suffering just like people, but are overlooked,” said Bontempi.  “Whether it is a lack of food or other basic supplies necessary for a pet’s health and happiness, these are things we have to bear in mind.”

The items donated this year ranged from dog and cat food, pet toys and other comfort items.  “Just as humans do not live by food alone, neither do our pets,” added Bontempi.  “Pets bring so much positivity into our lives; we owe the same love and happiness they provide to us.”

To learn more about Baxter’s Pet Pantry, please visit: https://www.licares.org/what-we-do/feed-long-island/baxters-pet-pantry/.

A scene from the 2020 Harry Chapin documentary

By Melissa Arnold

Throughout the 1970s, singer-songwriter Harry Chapin built a high-profile music career that included more than a dozen hit singles, 11 albums and a host of awards, including two Grammys. Despite his sudden death in 1981 at only 38 years old, Chapin left behind a massive legacy through both his music and a profoundly generous spirit.

Most people know Harry Chapin for his prolific contributions to the world of folk and rock music, but the “Cat’s in the Cradle” singer was also involved in a variety of charity efforts. He was especially passionate about ending hunger around the world. In 1975, he co-founded Why Hunger, a non-profit that supports grassroots organizations in 35 countries. He was also committed to making a difference in his backyard on Long Island, and in 1980, he founded Long Island Cares, which runs food pantries throughout the area.

The documentary Harry Chapin: When in Doubt, Do Something will be screened on Saturday, May 6.

On Saturday, May 6, the Long Island Music and Entertainment Hall of Fame (LIMEHOF) in Stony Brook will host a charity food drive and film screening of Harry Chapin: When in Doubt, Do Something.

“Like many people, my earliest memory of Harry Chapin is when my dad would have our family listen carefully to ‘Cat’s in the Cradle’ on the AM radio in our family station wagon,” said Tom Needham, LIMEHOF’s vice chairman and host of the Sounds of Film radio show on 90.1 WUSB-FM. “Harry wrote songs about everyday people and their struggles, and he had a way of connecting with his audience on a personal level. His life and career serve as a testament to the ability of music and advocacy to bring about positive change in the world.”

The documentary, released in 2020, follows Chapin from a young boy in the shadows of his jazz musician father to finding his own success. When in Doubt, Do Something paints a new picture of the singer-songwriter who used his fame as a launching point to help others and influence politics. It also features testimonials from Chapin’s family, along with fellow musicians including Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, Kenny Rogers, Pat Benatar and many more.

“I always believed that at some time in our history that there would be a documentary film made about Harry’s life and dedication towards ending hunger,” said Paule Pachter, CEO of Long Island Cares. “Half of his annual concert [revenue] was used to raise funds to address food insecurity, and many schools reference Harry when discussing hunger, poverty, and social justice. I was honored to be a part of the film to discuss the founding of Long Island Cares and how we work to continue his legacy.”

According to Long Island Cares media relations specialist Peter Crescenti, there are 230,000 food-insecure individuals on Long Island today, including 68,000 children. The organization’s food pantries have seen significant increases in visitors over the past several years, a trend they anticipate will continue. But Crescenti said they are continuing to expand their reach and programs to meet the growing need.

“In addition to providing millions of pounds of food a year to more than 325 food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters, we also run a pantry for pet supplies and a variety of programs for young people, veterans, the homeless and others seeking support,” he said. “We are dedicated to being the voice of those who have no voice, and addressing why poverty, immigration status, racial discrimination and other root causes of hunger still exist.”

Following the film screening, Tom Needham will lead a Q&A session with members of Harry Chapin’s family and staff from LI Cares.

The event will be held at 2 p.m. May 6 at the LIMEHOF Museum, 97 Main Street, Stony Brook. Tickets are $19.50 for adults, with discounts available for seniors, veterans and children at www.limusichalloffame.org. Each ticket also includes admission to the museum. Food donations are strongly encouraged.

LIMEHOF is a not-for-profit organization — ticket sales support scholarships for high schoolers and music programs in local places of need, including hospitals and senior centers. For more information and upcoming events, visit www.limusichalloffame.org/museum. To learn more about LI Cares and how to support their mission, visit www.licares.org.

Barbie Lux, store manager at East Setauket Starbucks, left, and Irene Michalos, founder and executive director of Agape Meals for Kids. Photo by Raymond Janis

A local Starbucks location and a nonprofit organization are joining forces to alleviate childhood food insecurity on Long Island.

Last month, The Starbucks Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Starbucks Coffee Company, awarded $10,000 to the Mount Sinai-based nonprofit Agape Meals for Kids through its Neighborhood Grants program. The grant was mediated by the Starbucks East Setauket location on Route 25A. Through the partnership, leaders of both organizations are working toward an overall goal of eradicating hunger on Long Island and across America.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service indicates that 10.2 percent of U.S. households were food insecure at some time during 2021. Long Island Cares estimates as many as 230,000 Long Islanders are food insecure, 68,000 of whom are children.

“We find that there are [nearly] 70,000 children on Long Island alone that live with chronic hunger and food insecurity,” said Irene Michalos, founder and executive director of Agape Meals for Kids. “That number is horrible, and we need to do something about it.”

Agape is 100% volunteer-run, providing weekend meals for students who rely upon free lunch programs. After being founded in the fall of 2021, the nonprofit organization quickly began branching out into school districts across Long Island, its program supporting students from Comsewogue, Shoreham-Wading River and Brentwood schools, along with The Thomas Emanuel Early Childhood Center in Corona, Queens.

Witnessing the problem from up close, Michalos has observed food insecure children often exhibit an inability to focus in class, show a tendency to act out and can have health outcomes.

“When you’re hungry, you feel aggravated, frustrated,” she said. “Their behaviors are interpreted as naughty, but they’re not — they’re hungry.”

Barbie Lux, store manager at East Setauket Starbucks, explained how the partnership with Agape first came together. Lux became aware of the program through a mutual contact at the Greek Orthodox Church of the Assumption in Port Jefferson. After meeting Michalos and learning about Agape’s community impact, she described herself as fully on board.

“I found out about the amazing work that she does with the kids,” the store manager said. “You tell me you’re feeding children, and I’m there to help you.”

Within the New York Metro Starbucks region, which comprises stores across Long Island and New York City, Lux began raising awareness about Agape. First at her store and then others throughout the region, word soon got out.

Lux and Michalos coordinated a food packing event in December, during which Starbucks staff and Agape volunteers filled backpacks with donated foodstuffs, which were later distributed to children in the program. Since then, the two organizations have forged even closer ties.

The Starbucks Foundation’s Neighborhood Grants program enables Starbucks staff to vote for a nonprofit organization reflective of their organizational and philanthropic priorities. Lux detailed her behind-the-scenes efforts to generate votes for Agape.

“To get 250 to 260 partners to vote for one organization, I hounded them,” she said. “I started to cry when I saw that Agape got $10,000.”

Agape currently feeds approximately 200 children. Michalos said the grant money allows the organization to grow considerably.

“We can comfortably see ourselves, through this incredible grant, being able to add 25 more children from September to December and another 25 between January and June,” she said.

With this momentum, Michalos and her organization are just getting off the ground. She outlined an ambitious goal for both the region and the nation.

“I think that childhood food insecurity and alleviating poverty in this country is something that we can do,” the nonprofit founder said. “There are many programs that we can expand and support to meet the needs of our families and children here.”

Lux added that public awareness of food insecurity represents an essential first step toward a resolution, noting that responsible stewardship of food waste would also play a role.

“There’s so much waste in the world, so much waste of food,” she said. “Just donate it in a timely manner so that it’s fresh and everything … because a child could be hungry.”

Along with East Setauket Starbucks, Agape collection baskets remain open at various Starbucks coffee shops, including at Stony Brook, St. James, Miller Place and Centereach. 

Lux said she hopes to continue strengthening the partnership between Starbucks and Agape, with plans for another food-packing event and related activities already in the works.

The store manager said she does not plan on ending this partnership: “I’ve had so many people I’ve worked with, but the day I met [Michalos], I was like, ‘She’s doing good, we need to help her.’ So it’s not going to end.”

METRO photo

We have a hunger problem on Long Island. 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines food insecurity as “a household-level economic and social condition of limited or uncertain access to adequate food.” Last year, Long Island Cares published a study that states as many as 230,000 Long Islanders are food insecure, with a staggering 68,000 food insecure children. These estimates come as food prices and inflation continue to climb.

The United States has the largest national economy by GDP on the planet. We lead the world in scientific and technological innovation as well as defense spending. Still, nearly 70,000 children right here on Long Island are food insecure.

In our democracy, citizens finance the government with the understanding that our tax dollars will advance meaningful public ends. In exchange for our votes, we expect government officials to plow our roads, secure our neighborhoods and ameliorate the condition of society in common. 

Unfortunately, politicians don’t always follow these guidelines, instead pursuing the policy preferences of the donor class financing their campaigns. Too often, our elected representatives serve special interest groups over ordinary citizens.

The next national budget asks Congress for $858 billion in defense spending — a figure that dwarfs the $122 billion budget request for the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. 

While we certainly acknowledge the necessity of national security, we remind our leaders to balance this priority with the equally significant need of feeding children. The values of providing for the common defense and promoting the general welfare are not mutually exclusive.

For New York state, Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) has proposed cutting funding for the state’s Hunger Prevention and Nutrition Assistance Program — which funds food banks and pantries — from $56 million to some $35 million. 

This proposal comes less than a year after Hochul helped broker a deal to construct a new football stadium for the Buffalo Bills — whose owner is worth $6.7 billion — using $600 million in taxpayer funds.

The governor’s decision to prioritize football over food banks is inexcusable, in part benefiting millionaire athletes and a billionaire owner at the expense of hungry Long Island school children. We encourage Hochul to reconsider her budget request, making the appropriate investment in alleviating hunger in our communities.

As with any complex social issue, we cannot blame any person or group. But we must ask ourselves if our elected leaders can do more to combat food insecurity. Fortunately, we have recourse. 

Organizations such as Agape Meals for Kids and Long Island Cares are contributing valuably, working to address food insecurity on Long Island and eliminate hunger. We should support such organizations by donating money or volunteering our time. 

Childhood hunger should be regarded as a national security risk and a critical societal danger. Children are the next generation of soldiers, workers and leaders in this country. If adequately fed, they will be more competent in school and more successful in life. If not, the entire nation loses.

We must hold our representatives to a higher standard and do our part to support nonprofits making a change. With our aims in focus, let us end childhood hunger on Long Island.

For an Island as rich as ours, to have 68,000 children go hungry every day is more than unconscionable. It’s a sin.

Catholic Health patients identified as having food insecurities will be able to take home a bag with enough food for three days. Photo from Long Island Cares

A local health care system and nonprofit have joined forces to help patients in the area.

Catholic Health and Hauppauge-based Long Island Cares food bank have been working together to help patients battling food insecurities.

“We have to engage health care partners in the fight against hunger,” said Jessica Rosati, Long Island Cares vice president for programs.

A pilot program was launched last summer in Catholic Health emergency rooms, including St. Catherine of Siena Hospital in Smithtown and St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson, to identify residents who need grocery supplements. The initiative includes health care practitioners screening emergency room patients for what are called “hunger vital signs.” If a screener deems a person is food needy, the patient can take a bag that has enough food for one or two people for three days.

Dr. Lawrence Eisenstein, Catholic Health vice president and chief public and community health officer, said there has been data showing that 10-15% of Long Islanders experience food insecurities.

“We don’t want people leaving our hospitals and going to a home with no food,” Eisenstein said.

The doctor said questions asked during screening include if there is enough food in the patient’s home or if they have enough money to buy more. Eisenstein said the bags are meant to be a bridge until a person can receive additional help. Health care professionals will also ask patients if they need help connecting with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as SNAP, or social services.

Rosati said food insecurity is a social determinant of health.

“It makes a lot of sense for health care providers to start screening individuals for food insecurity, simply because it has such a strong correlation with other diseases and disorders,” she said. “If we can treat people when they immediately come in, then we have a better chance of linking them with the appropriate services so they have all of their needs met — not only their physical health, but everything else.”

Eisenstein added that the hope is to prevent unnecessary readmissions. He gave the example that if a patient with congestive heart failure may not be able to afford nutritious food, they may be back in the emergency room with health problems.

He said unnecessary admissions might mean financial consequences for a health care system, but ensuring people don’t return to the emergency room unnecessarily is part of a hospital’s mission “to be humane and serve the most vulnerable.”

According to Rosati, more than 1,000 meals in to-go bags were distributed at all six Catholic Health hospitals to date. She added all the food included in the bags are nonperishable, shelf stable, and staff ensure food is nutritionally sound before being purchased.

She added Catholic Health officials approached Long Island Cares about initiating the program and the health care system has taken ownership of the program and found donors to expand it. She commended Catholic Health for its efforts, adding that such an initiative is “imperative for people’s overall health and the success of their health,” and hopes other providers will take note.

Bags are now also being distributed throughout the Catholic Health’s ambulatory care, walk-in clinics, home care operations and cancer institute locations throughout Long Island, including Smithtown, Port Jefferson, Commack and East Setauket.

Uniondale-based Harris Beach law firm recently donated $5,000 to the program, according to Long Island Cares, which will cover 2,000 meals.

Image from Stony Brook Athletics

The Stony Brook University Athletics Department has expanded their partnership with Lidl to launch the “Hoops for Hunger” campaign. Lidl, recently ranked a top 5 U.S. grocer in the USA Today 10Best Readers’ Choice Awards, will donate one dollar for every basket that the Stony Brook men’s basketball team makes at Island Federal Arena throughout the 2022-23 season. All proceeds will be donated to Long Island Cares, a local food bank on a mission to feed Long Island’s food insecure.

“We want to thank the Stony Brook University Athletics Department and the men’s basketball team for joining with our corporate partners at Lidl to launch this very exciting Hoops for Hunger campaign,” said Paule Pachter, CEO of Long Island Cares.  “Lidl is one of our major corporate donors that donates thousands of pounds of food to assist The Harry Chapin Regional Food Bank in meeting the needs of 230,000 Long Islanders struggling with food insecurity. We’re also very grateful to the players on the Stony Brook men’s basketball team for getting involved in this campaign. Each ball scored will bring hope to those in need of emergency food assistance here on Long Island.”

At the completion of the 2022-23 campaign, Lidl will host an on-court check presentation revealing the total money raised throughout the season with representatives from Long Island Cares.