East End food pantries and other social services organizations are seeing a surge of people in need as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, their directors said this week.
“We fed 404 people last Wednesday, that’s up 105 people from the week before,” said Holly Reichart-Wheaton, chairwoman of the Springs Food Pantry. “More than 75 people arrived in the first hour.”
The number of clients was so great, she said, it created an unexpected traffic jam outside the Springs Presbyterian Church, where the food is distributed. She asked East Hampton Town’s Human Services Department for help managing the traffic flow.
“We’re the poorest community, and I think we’re going to be hit the hardest,” said Ms. Reichart-Wheaton. Making sure grocery orders arrive on time has been tough, she said, but with help from local farms like Amber Waves and Share the Harvest, and community donations, the Springs pantry has enough food in stock for the next few weeks.
The pantry, which is open every Wednesday from 3:30 to 6 p.m., has adjusted its distribution process to protect against spreading the coronavirus. Those who are already registered and have a card are asked to remain in their cars outside the church. They will be given a number, and one person at a time will enter the front door, receive their items, and then exit through the back door.
New clients and those without a pantry card have been asked to arrive at 5 p.m. Normally, the pantry would ask up front for proof of residence, but it is relaxing the rule and will verify residence later.
The pantry had previously allowed people to make their own selections, but it is now distributing prepackaged groceries, enough for two to three days, in allotments based on family size.
The East Hampton Pantry, which provides food for the needy in every hamlet except Springs, is also distributing prepackaged items and postponing its proof-of-residency requirement. “We just want to make sure people get fed,” said Vicki Littman, the chairwoman. The pantry is open every Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
The packages contain two weeks’ worth of groceries that will last two to hree days per week. Rather than enter the 159 Pantigo Road building, clients are asked to wait in their cars; the packages are taken to them.
The same distribution rules apply at the Montauk Food Pantry, which operates every other Tuesday from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on the lower level of St. Therese of Lisieux Church’s parish center.
“We need donations desperately,” said Ms. Littman of the East Hampton Food Pantry. She had prepared a projection for costs this year, she said, but had not factored in the need that would arise from the coronavirus crisis. “You don’t plan for a pandemic,” she said. At this point in the year, she said, she usually takes a deep breath because the pantry has helped families make it through another winter. “But now our numbers are going up,” she said. “This is affecting every person in our community.”
Sound Aircraft Services, the company that operates East Hampton Airport, has started a pledge drive on
GoFundMe.com to raise $40,000 for the pantry. At press time, $1,650 had been raised.
The East Hampton senior citizens center, which has a nutrition program, is closed due to the coronavirus, and that has caused an increase in clients for Meals on Wheels East Hampton, said Tony Giannini, the president.
Fortunately, the organization has also had an influx of new volunteers, “so we’re in good shape.” Staffers have been trained in following proper protocol: social distancing, using hand sanitizer, and gloves — which is important, he said, because in addition to delivering food, part of the organization’s mission is to do in-person wellness checks. To help Meals on Wheels have the equipment to keep doing its job safely, Mr. Giannini said, donations of surgical masks and hand sanitizer would be welcomed.
East Hampton Town’s Human Services Department has started providing free frozen meals to those over 60.
A package of five meals can either be delivered or picked up curbside at the senior center at 128 Springs-Fireplace Road, but orders must first be placed by calling the department, said Diane Patrizio, the director. Those who call before noon can receive their meals the same day, otherwise they will arrive the next day. The department is also offering to shop for groceries and to pick up prescriptions.
On Monday, Southampton Town launched a free delivery service for those over 60. Participating stores accept prepaid phone orders for groceries, pharmacy needs, and other essentials. Registration is by visiting the town’s website or calling 631-702-1777.
The Sag Harbor Community Food Pantry, which distributes food at the Old Whalers Church every Tuesday from 10 a.m. to noon, is offering prepackaged groceries outside the building. Pickup times are assigned alphabetically according to surname: A to B at 10 a.m., C to H at 10:30, J to O at 11, P to R at 11:15, and S to Y at 11:30. New clients will be served at 11:45.
“We’re particularly short of cereal,” said Evelyn Ramunno, the executive director. “People are being very generous, but we’re still trying hard to keep the food available for next week.” For those who want to make food donations, there are two blue drop-off boxes on the church’s side porch.
The Save Sag Harbor nonprofit is providing volunteers to shop for the elderly, the quarantined, and others who are unable to buy groceries or pick up prescriptions. Requests can be made by emailing [email protected].