For the third year in a row, a Riverhead law firm and Suffolk County National Bank have raised $10,000 for local food pantries struggling with increasing demand and an ever-growing number of local hungry families.
“The East End is a place that people around the country connote with a playground for the rich and famous,” said Chris Kelley, senior partner at Twomey, Latham, Shea et al., at a presentation of the donations today. “It’s hard to imagine that, with all the wealth out here, we still have people who are in poverty, who don’t get enough to eat for themselves and for their families.
“But we do.”
And the need in local communities is growing, according to coordinators of the five local food pantries who received the donations today.
The Human Resources of the Hamptons food pantry currently serves more than 500 families – and that number has increased by at least 100 families in the past twelve months, according to executive director Kerry Lewendoski.
“For some of my clients, if they can get three days worth of free groceries, that means they’ll have enough money to get oil delivered to their house that month,” Lewendoski said.
“It can save them $20 toward their car insurance bill,” said Community Action Southold Town food pantry manager Colleen Cummings. “It saves them money to go toward other their other needs.”
Coordinators also pointed out the high percentages of students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches throughout East End school districts. In the Greenport Union Free School District, for example, almost 90 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.
“You see kids starting to get anxious around the holidays,” said Kelley. “They worry that they won’t be able to get three meals a day during their Christmas vacations.”
The $10,000 donation was raised primarily through a fundraising event at Martha Clara Vineyards on Dec. 11. This was split into $2,000 checks and distributed today between the five food pantries: Community Action Southold Town (CAST), Springs Community Presbyterian Church in East Hampton, Open Arms Care Center in Riverhead, Human Resources of the Hamptons in Southampton and the Long Island Council of Churches in Riverhead.
$2,000 is just enough for about a week and a half’s worth of food, Lewendoski said.
But for hunger organizations that survive solely off of government grants and donations, “every little bit counts,” she said.
“It really is a challenge to manage keeping enough food on the shelves,” said Open Arms Care Center chairman Zona Stroy. “And when the staff that we have is busy seeing clients and managing the stock and the pantry, it really is very helpful when there are organizations that are consistent in their donations. It allows us to budget our money like a business.”
“[The demographics] are all over the board,” said Cummings. “There’s so many things people need that they just can’t afford. You hand them a bag of shampoo, conditioner, paper towels, toilet paper, diapers…”
“It’s like Christmas for them,” Lewendoski finished.
Suffolk County National Bank president Howard Bluver said at the presentation today that his bank would continue partnering with Twomey, Latham, Shea et al. each year to raise money for the food pantries.
“We’re going to up the ante next year,” Bluver said, to applause from the pantry coordinators. “What we raise this year, we’re going to raise more next year.”
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