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Long Island Cares

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) announced this week that the county will have no choice but to make catastrophic budget cuts to contract agencies that receive county funding if federal funds don’t come in.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, along with other members of health and social services, were adamant about the need for more federal funds. Photo by Julianne Mosher

In a press conference at the Hauppauge-based Diagnostic, Assessment, and Stabilization Hub Wednesday, Sept. 30, Bellone said services like DASH, which offers drug and family emergency care, could face serious consequences if the federal government doesn’t get involved.

The conference was one in a series of pleas to top federal representatives to send aid to local governments as the impending budget crunch draws near.

“We’re still grappling with the virus’ impacts and aftermath within our community,” he said. “There’s too much riding on this for Washington to not get involved.”

Through federal inaction, Suffolk County will be forced to slash funding at unprecedented levels for agencies that provide services for the most vulnerable, according to Bellone. Along with the county executive, heads of several organizations stood by, explaining how the federal cuts could affect the help they provide to the community.

Healthcare and mental health services, addiction and domestic violence help and even safe childcare are in need of funding to keep going.

“Not-for-profits are the fabrics of our community,” Karen Boorshtein, president and CEO of the Family Service League, said. “Without them, everyone is going to suffer.”

Paule Pachter, CEO Long Island Cares, said that his organization, which brings resources to help feed the hungry on Long Island, has seen huge increases in people waiting in line for food.

“Priorities in the USA are completely unacceptable,” he said. “110,000 [hungry] people, an additional 50,000, will become part of the lasting effects if Washington doesn’t take this seriously.”

Representatives from the Child Care Council of Suffolk, the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence and L.I. Against Domestic Violence all said they’ve experienced drastic increases in service inquiries during the pandemic.

Colleen Merlo, executive director of LIADV, said the road to recovery for survivors of domestic violence will be painful and slow, especially without federal aid.

“We’ve been up 31% in calls,” she said. “Counseling services have doubled.”

Executive director of LICADD, Steve Chassman, said because of the COVID-19 crisis, addiction numbers have skyrocketed.

“We have propelled to where we were 6 months ago,” he said.

Bellone made a direct appeal to President Trump requesting that he call upon U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to pass a federal disaster assistance bill in the U.S. Senate to prevent these potential devastating cuts.

He said he’s been working alongside counties throughout the state who all agree help is needed.

“This isn’t partisan, and it shouldn’t be,” he said. “Politics has no place there.”

Earlier this year, Bellone created a COVID-19 Fiscal Impact Task Force to conduct an independent review of the county’s multi-year plan and the true impact to the pandemic. The report found that Suffolk County could face a cumulative budget shortfall of up to $1.5 billion over the next three years because of the economic fallout of the pandemic.

Bellone said the county will need nearly $400 million in federal relief this year to avoid these “devasting” cuts that “should not happen.”

“We’ve seen incredible strength and compassion, while also dealing with pain and trauma,” he said. “We’ve been up and down the mountain, we’ve flattened the curve, and we’ve done that by coming together, supporting each other, and that’s what we have to do if we’re going to recover.”

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

Brian 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

Paule Patcher serves as the CEO of Long Island Cares, also known as the Harry Chapin Food Bank. The organization feeds the hungry and will now supply carbon-free energy at discounted rates to households suffering hardships. Photo by Donna Deedy

On Long Island, 89,030 children go hungry. Who’s counting?

Long Island Cares. Founded in 1980 by the late Grammy Award winning musician and activist Harry Chapin, the organization was Long Island’s first food bank. The nonprofit group provides nutritional aid to more than 580 community-based member-based agencies to distribute more than six million pounds of food each year. The food bank’s accomplishments are extraordinary. But in 2019, the charitable organization also stands out for expanding its services to address an array of causes.

Inside the Long Island Cares food bank. Photo by Donna Deddy

LI Cares installed solar panels on the roof of its 35,000-square-foot Hauppauge warehouse to become the first community solar project in the Hauppauge Industrial Park. The energy it generates will be passed along to discount the electric bills for around 40 households suffering hardship. The system is set to activate in time for the new year.

“The LI Cares solar project is significant in so many ways,” said SUNation Solar System’s co-founder and CEO Scott Maskin. “While it’s not the first community solar project on Long Island, it is the first one in the Hauppauge Industrial Park, now known as The Long Island Innovation Park at Hauppauge.”

Sandy Chapin, wife of the late Harry, who co-wrote with him the gold record song “Cat’s in the Cradle,” serves as chairperson of the group’s board.

Paule Pachter has served for the last 11 years as the group CEO and said that the organization addresses the humanitarian need of veterans, immigrants, seniors and others struggling with economic and social challenges.

SUNation Solar Systems installed the solar project and Maskin compliments the organization for its leadership.

“Paule Pachter is a leader by nature and was the first to engage in the Hauppauge Industrial [Association] power project which aims at transforming the park into a 100 percent renewable park by 2040,” he said. “More importantly is that the power generated from the LI Cares roof will be strategically directed to those most vulnerable and those with food insecurity. As Paule always says, ‘It takes more than food to feed the hungry.’”

For the 50 or more families that will be receiving discounted energy to their homes, their savings of $0.05 per kilowatt hour will go toward meeting their other needs, Pachter said.

This project is designed to provide benefits for 25 years or more, according to Maskin.

“This is a project that would not have come together without the laser focus and direction of Paule, his amazing board of directors, the efforts of LIPA, PSEG and the HIA-LI,” Maskin added. “We at SUNation are humbled to play our role with LI Cares. While we design and install so many projects on Long Island, this one is truly special.”

 

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Holden Cone from Setauket sits with the bags filled with 179 coats that he collected for Long Island Cares. Photo from Christina Cone

For a 7-year-old Setauket resident, it wasn’t enough that Minnesauke Elementary School was collecting coats just for children. He felt a drive should be organized to collect outer garments for all ages and sizes, so he started one of his own.

“I thought if we do a drive for any type of coat it would help more people,” Holden Cone said.

Helping more people is exactly what the second-grader did. When his month-long coat drive ended Dec. 17, he had bags filled with 179 coats.

It all started when Holden told his parents Chauncy and Christina his idea. He said they began researching online how to organize a gently worn coat drive and found the website for the nonprofit One Warm Coat that connects those interested in conducting drives with reputable organizations. They discovered they could donate coats to the Hauppauge-based organization Long Island Cares Inc.

“We were very proud of the fact that he wanted to start something on his own and make it more inclusive, not just a kids’ drive,” his father said. “He wanted to help as many people as he could.”

Holden Cone holds the flier he and his father posted in the area and placed in neighbors’ mailboxes. Photo from Christina Cone

Holden said he and his dad hung up fliers and put 101 more in mailboxes. He also put a sign on the family’s front lawn directing contributors to place coats in a bin on the porch.

In addition, his mother said Holden spoke to her and her husband’s students at Smithtown West High School, where they are both teachers, about the drive. She said she was proud of how he presented the project and many of their students contributed to the cause.

While he hasn’t been able to meet the majority of those who donated because many just left coats on the family’s porch, Holden said one person wrote a thank you on one of his fliers. His mother said Holden was thrilled when he came home from school every day and saw more coats on the porch.

“I feel happy, because the more coats we get the more people we help in the world,” Holden said.

His mother said the family wishes they could thank everyone in person who helped with the drive.

“It’s just a testament to our community,” she said. “I was just commenting to someone the other day how I love our neighborhood. I love our neighbors. They picked up on this and then jumped right in.”

William Gonyou, community events and food drive manager for Long Island Cares, said the number of children organizing projects like Holden’s is slowly growing, and he hopes the 7-year-old’s coat drive will inspire other youngsters to do the same.

“It’s always so wonderful and humbling to hear when young children stand up for other people,” Gonyou said. “There is so much need on Long Island, and to learn of somebody so young realizing that, and choosing to do something about it is very inspiring. Students like Holden will be the future social advocates of the world, and seeing them start so early in life is a great sign of much needed changes on Long Island.”

At press time, the Cone family’s van was loaded with bags of coats, and they said they were planning to bring them to the Long Island Cares office before Christmas. When it comes to the visit, Holden said he isn’t looking for praise.

“I don’t care what they say, because I’m just happy I’m helping people,” he said.

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Port Jefferson Station dentist Alan Mazer is reviving his annual holiday food drive later this month to benefit Long Island Cares and the Harry Chapin Food Bank.

Mazer will be accepting donations of nonperishable food and personal care items at his office, at 140 Terryville Road, between Nov. 19 and Dec. 10.

“We hope to collect barrels of nonperishables so that Long Island Cares can do their magic and assist needy children, seniors, the working poor, the disabled and the homeless,” Mazer said in a statement.

The dentist can be reached at 631-473-0666 or at www.dralanmazer.com.

Long Island Cares and its food bank, founded in 1980 by the late Chapin, a Grammy Award-winning songwriter, helps feed hungry individuals and families in Nassau and Suffolk counties. According to the organization’s website, it also has support services for other community organizations, like soup kitchens and emergency shelters, and hosts programs that promote self-sufficiency, such as job training. The group distributes more than 6 million pounds of food every year.

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A food pantry donation. File photo by Elana Glowatz

Every fall and winter, good-hearted Long Islanders far and wide reach into their pockets to donate goods and food in the spirit of the holidays.

It’s so easy to imagine life without a jacket or a warm Thanksgiving dinner when it’s November or December. You won’t have to look hard to find numerous coat drives and food drives around that time of the year. And that’s a great thing. But it’s not enough.

Summer hunger pangs exist right in our own backyard. And they are growing Island-wide — particularly among children who rely on school lunch programs but don’t have access to that food during the summer.

Island Harvest food bank, a hunger relief organization based in Mineola, reported earlier this month that it expanded its summer-food service program. Last summer, they served 103,000 meals to 3,500 kids at 49 sites throughout the Island. This year, they anticipate dishing out more than 175,000 meals to about 4,000 children at 55 sites.

Those are some eye-opening statistics, especially when you consider what we already know about hunger on Long Island. A 2010 national study prepared for Island Harvest and another nonprofit, Long Island Cares, claims 283,700 people on Long Island receive emergency food each year. Of that group, 39 percent are under 18 years old.

For many of us who are fortunate, summer is our kick-back-and-relax season — a chance for us to embark on those sun-soaked vacations and long weekend trips or just leave work early on Fridays. But there are some who can’t afford to get away, and constantly struggle to make ends meet.

We urge our fellow Long Islanders to channel the holiday spirit this summer. Pitch in by donating money, your time or food. Grab a cardboard box your local deli may not need and bring it to the office — get your co-workers in on it — and collect some food. Donate the box to your local food pantry.

Charity shouldn’t be seasonal. It’s time we step up to the plate all year long.

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Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta with his dog Buddy. Photo from Susan Eckert

By Jenni Culkin

Suffolk County Legislator Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) will be holding a food drive for pet food in his office from now until Thursday, April 30.

Donations will be accepted during the normal business hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on the normal business days of Monday through Friday.

The drive is going to bring pet food to the Harry Chapin Food Bank so that those who are assisted by the food bank can feed their pets as well as themselves.

Trotta also said he believes that pets can be an extremely important part of people’s lives, especially when they’re down on their luck.

“Pets keep many people going, giving them comfort and a reason to survive in difficult times,” said Trotta.
Trotta himself has a dog named Buddy.

The office is currently accepting donations of canned and dry cat or dog food, dog treats, birdseed, fish food, kitty litter and small toys that are unused.

According to Long Island Cares, the organization that runs the food bank, dog and cat food are items with high demand because the costs of heating a home, buying medications, paying the bills, and putting food on the table prevent some people with financial hardships from properly caring for their pets without assistance.

Long Island Cares has been providing pet food for its clients since 2009. There is hope that the people of Suffolk County can continue the pet food donation trend well into this frigid winter over five years later.

Donations can be dropped off at 59 Landing Ave. in Smithtown throughout the duration of the drive, Trotta said.