In a land of plenty, the need for even basic staples is growing. Some food pantries around Long Island are asking -- even pleading -- for more donations, citing the increased demand as more middle-class residents seek their help. As the economy continues to wobble, as more people run out of ways to stretch a paycheck, it’s no longer just the permanently poor who need help, the pantries say.
Many food assistance operations get supplies from such places as Food Not Bombs, Island Harvest or Long Island Cares -- The Harry Chapin Food Bank. Island Harvest and Food Not Bombs specialize in collecting and redistributing food from restaurants and other sources. LI Cares uses corporate support to buy and redistribute food. They also take donations, as do food pantries.
Paule T. Pachter, executive director of Long Island Cares, has his finger on the pulse of what Long Island food-assistance programs need and why.
“What we’re seeing is about a 10.5 percent increase across our network of 600 organizations, pantries, soup kitchens,” Pachter said. “The fact is that the number of people hungry or considered food insecure as measured by the USDA, in the past year alone, has gone from 287,000 to 320,000. That’s a significant increase of 35,000 people” on Long Island.
Children's Nutrition Compromised
Among that population of hungry are many children.
“From 2010, it’s increased by about 8,500 children; 118,500 children who don’t know where next meal is coming from. Their nutrition is compromised,” Pachter said. LI Cares expects to distribute more than 6 million pounds of food this year.
With the median household income on Long Island recently estimated at $86,232, the area would at first glance seem to be far removed from hard times.
But, like others, Pachter sees problems. “The economy is wreaking havoc; people are hurting; they’re living paycheck to paycheck. There are a lot of people you’d never expect who are walking into a pantry now.”
As the holiday season nears, the number of events to collect food and raise hunger awareness grows, starting with multi-purpose National Food Day on Monday. Among the goals for the day are addressing conditions that have nearly 50 million Americans struggling with ways to assure they have enough food.
"The need is the same" year round, Pachter said. "The difference between Nov. 1 and Dec. 31 is that people are in a giving spirit. There’s something to be said about people who don’t have food on the holidays."
Many find it difficult to acknowledge they need help, embarrassed to have to ask for food even as many say circumstances beyond their control put them where they are.
A woman at the Hempstead food distribution on Sunday didn't want to be identified but said she was a grandmother taking care of four young children.
"It can be very hard," she said. "Sometimes it's between having enough money to pay a bill or to have food. But God is good. He led me to this place."
Meeting Other Needs
Though primarily about feeding people, the food banks and pantries find themselves offering provisions or services to meet other needs: School supplies, or in some cases, pet supplies.
With some recipients, particularly elderly people, sharing their food so their only companions won’t suffer, some sites have begun offering pet supplies.
“Bumblebee tuna isn’t a good idea for cats,” Pachter said wryly. So about two years ago, the organization added a pet pantry.
LI Cares also has created two pantries of its own, one at its Hauppauge warehouse and the other in Freeport where those in need can select items. Its two mobile units take food to those in need, connecting at libraries or other spaces for those who can’t go to an established pantry. It also has started a program that focuses on veterans and their families.