Nancy Trofemuk of Calverton, right, and Regina Astor, volunteers at Open Arms Care Center in Riverhead, prepare groceries for a family. Photo: Denise Civiletti

Local food pantries — always struggling to feed the hungry in the Riverhead community — are bracing for a surge in demand in this time of special need, when thousands of residents have abruptly found themselves unemployed as a result of restrictions adopted by the state in its effort to halt the spread of coronavirus.

At the same time, food pantry organizers say they expect pantry stock and donations to dwindle.

Inventory is already running low on the shelves at the Open Arms Care Center in Riverhead.

“We’re down on everything,” said Open Arms volunteer Nancy Trofemuk of Calverton.

The Riverhead food pantry typically serves 10 or 12 families each day it is open, she said. Since the coronavirus outbreak and the closing of businesses in the state on March 20, the pantry is seeing upwards of 15 families. Open Arms is also delivering food to 28 people each week, Trofemuk said.

Demand is also up at St. John the Evangelist Parish Outreach, located in the former parish school building.

Sr. Margaret Smyth, who runs the food pantry there, said last Thursday it provided food for about 150 people over a seven-day period — more than double the number served in a typical week, before the current crisis.

Volunteers at the pantries say the COVD-19 crisis and social distancing requirements have changed the way they serve people. No one comes inside — bags of groceries are brought outdoors and handed over to recipients there. The pantries and stock are cleaned and disinfected every day.

Sr. Margaret Smith in the St. John the Evangelist Parish Outreach food pantry last week. Photo: Denise Civiletti

The Bread and More Soup Kitchen at the First Congregational Church of Riverhead, which can no longer serve sit-down meals inside the church’s fellowship hall, has been distributing meals to those in need at the kitchen door of the downtown church.

Bread and More typically served 60 to 80 people three nights a week inside the church, said soup kitchen volunteer Judy Barth. After the indoor meals were discontinued, at first only about 10 people were picking up to-go meals, Barth said. As the availability of the service became known through word of mouth, the number of people served jumped up to 50, she said.

Bread and More also delivers meals to more than 20 homebound residents at John Wesley Village in Riverhead. Volunteers deliver dinners and lunches for the following day, Barth said.

Most local food pantries and soup kitchens receive donations of fresh and nonperishable food and pantry staples from Island Harvest and L.I. Cares.

“We are certainly seeing an increase in demand,” said Island Harvest spokesperson Don Miller.

In order to keep pace with the demand, the organization has had to purchase over $400,000 worth of food, Miller said.

“Typically we rely on donated food,” he said. “We have had to shift our model.”

Island Harvest supplies food pantries, soup kitchens and other emergency feeding programs in Nassau and Suffolk, Miller said.

“It’s a challenge to help feed the approximately 300,000 Long Islanders who struggle with hunger every day. The demand has
heightened with the coronavirus crisis — particularly with children out of school and losing access to meals at school,” Miller said.

Island Harvest and Long Island Cares both partner with the Riverhead Central School District to help feed children in need year-round, distributing meals through mobile food pantries and backpacks that usually help supplement meals for children on weekends.

During the school shut-down, the district is providing grab-and-go meals at its elementary schools and at five other locations in the community.

These local food pantries serve the Riverhead area. Call for hours of operation.

Church of the Harvest
572 Raynor Avenue
Riverhead NY 11901

Friendship Baptist Church
59 Anchor Street
Riverhead NY 11901

Galilee Homebound Delivery
87 Old Quogue Road
Riverhead NY

Goodwill AME Church
110 Flanders Road
Riverhead NY 11901

Helping Hands for the East End (Vets Place Pantry)
1380 Roanoke Avenue
Riverhead NY 11901

Joseph’s Storehouse
24 Shade Tree Lane
Riverhead NY 11901

Open Arms Care Center
1018 Northville Turnpike
Riverhead NY 11901

Our Redeemer Lutheran Church
269 Main Road
Aquebogue NY 11931

Peggy’s Pantry at St. John the Baptist
1488 North Country Road
Wading River NY 11792

Salvation Army
130 Osborn Avenue
Riverhead NY 11901

St. Isidore Church
622 Pulaksi St
Riverhead NY 11901

St. John the Evangelist Parish Outreach
546 St. John’s Place
Riverhead NY 11901

People in need of food assistance can locate pantries and details about days and hours of operation on the websites of L.I. Cares and Island Harvest websites.

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Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.