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Food Insecurity and Waste: Law and Real Estate Firms Into the Breach

Thu, 08/17/2023 - 11:32

New Pantry Pickup combats food waste and insecurity

Hamptons Pantry Pickup allows departing renters an easy way to donate unused food and children's items to those in need.
Thomas Crouch

East Hampton Town is a place of both abundance and scarcity, an extreme example of the widening gap between rich and poor. But a new initiative aims to connect the two, in a sense, while simultaneously reducing waste and providing for those in need.

Hamptons Pantry Pickup, a partnership involving the Crouch McWilliams Law Group, the Compass real estate brokerage, the Springs Food Pantry, and the Eleanor Whitmore Early Childhood Center, is meant to combat both food waste and food insecurity.

It’s also an easy way for summer visitors who are leaving their rental properties to donate unused food and items for children. Unopened food and gently used children’s items, such as clothing, formula, and diapers, can be picked up at no charge for donation to the food pantry and the Early Childhood Center.

Thomas Crouch, an attorney and partner in the firm with Jameson McWilliams, said his wife, Libby Kane, was walking their dog on Labor Day weekend last year when she noticed a neighbor leaving a box of food at the roadside as they were leaving town.

“She picked it up and took it to the Springs Food Pantry,” he said. “We realized at the end of last summer that seasonal residents were cleaning out their kitchens and throwing perfectly good food in the trash, even though many would rather have it go to someone who needs it. But finding the local food pantries and making time to go is just more work when you’re packing up a house. So we’re taking on that work for them.”

The Crouch McWilliams firm represents buyers and sellers of residential and commercial real estate, so its principals are in regular contact with brokers. Its principals contacted Compass, and “they were really enthusiastic about it,” Mr. Crouch said. “We went from there.”

Compass brokers distributed 600 fliers and 600 tote bags to tenants at the beginning of the summer season, both designed in collaboration with the food pantry. Those wishing to participate can sign up by scanning a QR code featured on the flier. Compass “graciously volunteered to have their brokers go around on Labor Day weekend to pick this up,” he said.

Items can also be dropped off before Labor Day at the Crouch McWilliams office on Pantigo Road or local Compass offices.

Not only did Mr. Crouch, Ms. McWilliams, and Ms. Kane “have a great idea,” Pamela Bicket of the food pantry said in an email, but “they also did all the work! It’s one thing to come up with good ideas; it’s the next step, the execution, that is so essential.”

The need is there: The Springs Food Pantry ended 2022 having seen 10,560 family visits totaling 41,890 people. During the summer months, it serves around 240 families per week, or 970 people, Holly Wheaton, its chairwoman, said in an email. In the winter, those numbers increase to more than 300 families and more than 1,100 people.

“What differentiates Springs from other East End families is the number of large families we are serving,” she said. “Most of the residents of Springs are the tradespeople — the plumbers, electricians, painters, construction workers, landscapers, who typically work paycheck to paycheck. In order to keep up with housing costs/inflation and everyday expenses, they find themselves moving in with one another.”

“Our role is small,” Ms. Bicket said. “We will receive and sort through the products to make sure that nothing has been opened or damaged. And then we get to distribute it to our Springs families.”

Ms. McWilliams “is a mom, a parent at the Eleanor Whitmore Center,” said Joan Overlock, its director of development. This year, the center started the Whitmore Kids Closet, a free clothing exchange. “We started it for our own families, not knowing how big it would become, or not become,” Ms. Overlock said. But “it grew tremendously, almost immediately. There was such a great demand for little kids’ clothing.” There were so many donations, in fact, that “we had to open it up to the community.”  

The Whitmore Kids Closet will further benefit from participation with Hamptons Pantry Pickup. “It works on so many levels,” Ms. Overlock said, “because it’s a great way to eliminate waste. That’s the fabulous thing they’re tapping into. I can’t imagine how many things get left behind that people could use, that have a second life. Everybody benefits: Closets are cleaned out, money is saved.”

Small children “grow so quickly,” she said, so young families regularly need more clothing.

“Jameson has just devoted so much time to organizing and sorting, and all the parents are remarkable.” The center accepts more than clothing, Ms. Overlock repeated. “Diapers, baby equipment, cribs, you name it,” she said. “Anything that helps young families with children.”

Mr. Crouch said he hopes Hamptons Pantry Pickup will become an annual initiative. “I’m genuinely curious what the level of participation is going to be,” he said. “We will regroup after Labor Day and see what worked and what didn’t.”

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