Food pantries are currently feeding over 1,000 families, and many more individuals on the South Fork.
Lost jobs, pending foreclosures, a medical crisis — each recipient has a story, and their numbers are increasing.
So far, the generosity of East Hampton and Southampton communities is meeting the hunger challenge with help from religious institutions, local government, and Long Island Cares.
Over 90 families seek help on a regular basis from the Montauk pantry, 80 from the Springs pantry. The East Hampton Food Pantry, which also serves Amagansett, expects to help 500 families this winter. Human Resources of the Hamptons, a nonprofit organization that distributes food to the needy in Southampton, serves over 400 families each month.
“The need has grown dramatically, for different reasons. Some families struggle in the winter — no job, unemployment, now the economy. In the last few years, we’ve been very busy,” said Inez Fox, a founder of Montauk’s food pantry, on Tuesday. The pantry is in its 23rd year.
She credited St. Therese of Lisieux Catholic Church and Father Michael Rieder, in particular, for leading the effort to renovate the basement of the former Little Flower School, located across the street from the church, to accommodate the pantry’s growing needs. “He’s been terrific.” The new pantry was dedicated just before Thanksgiving.
“The summer community has helped too. We doubled, and tripled, and quadrupled the number of volunteers who saw the need. There are 30 or 35 volunteers now, and people keep calling us. We’re growing in a beautiful way. We just got a donation for a refrigerator, and someone donated a laptop so we can keep a list of our clients,” Ms. Inez said. The Montauk School holds Thanksgiving and Christmas food drives.
Montauk’s pantry has recently started to deliver food to those who are unable to pick it up. “We know a woman who’s in her 80s and can’t drive. She gives me a hug when I bring her food. She’s so happy,” said Ms. Fox.
She said the pantry started from scratch 23 years ago. “Fran Ecker and I were working with the Montauk School. We noticed that a couple of kids didn’t have lunch. We ended up buying peanut butter and a loaf of bread. Fran said, ‘Maybe I’ll get some food.’ She talked to Ed Ecker (her husband) and got $100. I think I went through my husband’s pockets, or something,” Ms. Inez said with a laugh.
People heard about the effort and began to help. “A neighbor of mine had connections to Long Island Cares and hooked us up.”
Long Island Cares, the first food bank on Long Island, was founded by the singer Harry Chapin in 1980. Each year the group distributes six million pounds of food to 560 food pantries in both Nassau and Suffolk Counties including both the North and South Forks. The Montauk Food Pantry keeps a tally and description — numbers of children, adults, families — of its clients. The information is fed to Long Island Cares so the group can gauge its assistance.
“We started seeing an increase in 2008 when the economy went south,” said Robin Amato, a spokeswoman for the organization. “Unemployment is so high on Long Island, and we don’t see it getting better yet. People think the iconic Hamptons are rich, but we know clearly through agencies on both forks, that’s not the case.”
Ms. Amato said that Long Island Cares has joined forces with the Southampton and Montauk School Districts in a pilot program that provides food on weekends for children at risk.
“The kids at risk who take part in the free breakfast programs are identified by the schools. When they go home on the weekends, there’s not enough food. We deliver to the schools and they distribute it discreetly to the silent populations,” Ms. Amato said.
Donations to Long Island Cares can be made through the group’s Web site, LICares.org.
Since 2004, the East Hampton Food Pantry has provided food with the help of an annual block grant through the town’s Department of Human Services. It costs the pantry approximately $4,000 per week to operate. Before the town got involved, local religious institutions distributed food to the needy.
Every Tuesday from 2 to 4 p.m., people can pick up food at the East Hampton pantry’s main location, the community center at Windmill Village II at 219 Accabonac Road. The Amagansett annex, which also distributes food on Tuesdays from 2 to 4 p.m., is located at Scoville Hall across from the Presbyterian Church on Meeting House Lane.
Kathy Byrnes, the pantry’s chairwoman, said she had seen the need grow from 11,000 individual requests for food three years ago, to 24,000 last year, and “we expect 45,000 this year.”
Ms. Byrnes watched as dozens of people collected food at Windmill Village on Tuesday. “Do you want these?” Arthur Tiedemann, a volunteer, asked a woman as he held out a bag containing two large onions.
Ms. Byrnes provided a sheet of statistics that showed there were 8,317 visits to the pantry last year by people who needed help feeding their families. By contrast, families already had been provided food 12,669 times through October. The same increase is seen in Southampton.
“People who used to be donors are now recipients,” said Mary Ann Tupper, executive director of Human Resources of the Hamptons. Ms. Tupper said about 400 families are now served, up considerably from two years ago.
The group will receive $5,000 this year from Southampton Town’s Department of Human Services. Food is distributed once a month from Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary Catholic Church, 168 Hill Street, in Southampton.
Betty Reichart has organized the food pantry in Springs for the past eight years. “There’s been quite an increase. I’m planning on packing 95 bags tomorrow.” The Springs pantry is open every Wednesday at the Springs Presbyterian Church from 4 to 6 p.m. The pantry began operating from the church in 1992.
Mr. Reichart said her pantry relies solely on donations from the community and organizations including the Kiwanis, Lions, and Rotary Clubs. She has at least 15 volunteers. “We also get fresh produce. The pantry leases land from the EECO Farm on Long Lane in East Hampton. We will be getting squash, but it’s about over. It’s absolutely wonderful in summer. We had always relied on canned stuff.”
This year it seems that polar bear plunges into the cold Atlantic are the most popular way to raise food pantry money. On Saturday, Ms. Tupper will be among the polar bears who brave the waters at Cooper’s Beach. “Plungers should be there by 9:30 a.m. The plunge is at 10,” Ms. Tupper said. The suggested sponsorship donation is $25.
On Jan. 1, and encouraged by the Hurricane Swim Team and the local ocean rescue squad, East Hampton polar bears will meet at Main Beach at noon to register. The plunge will take place at 1 p.m. A $25 sponsorship donation is suggested.