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

Nonprofits working to assist homebound people in need of food are asking the County of Suffolk to establish a food crisis hotline dedicated to connecting people in need with a source of food.

“We don’t see consistency. We don’t have a plan in place. We need to have one number they can call to make sure they’re connected to a food supply,” said Minerva Perez, Organización Latino-Americana of Eastern Long Island.

The county’s 311 hotline “doesn’t work” for people trying to locate food in an emergency, Perez said. “It’s a catch-all for everything. It’s not a plan for a food crisis,” she said.

Callers might get referred to a food pantry, and that pantry might refer them to another food pantry, Perez said. Food pantries operate on various days and for various hours and it’s not easy to find out when they’re available. When people need food in an emergency, the patchwork of organizations without central coordination doesn’t work, she said.

“We need accountability,” Perez said.

LIVE UPDATES: Coronavirus coverage, maps and cases by town.

The Long Island Progressive Coalition today coordinated a video press conference with Perez and representatives of Positively United for Change and the Mental Health Pandemic.

Allilsa Fernandez of the Mental Health Pandemic stressed the importance of food delivery. The elderly and disabled people can’t stand in lines for five hours, Fernandez said.

Monique Fitzgerald, an organizer with Positively United for Change, agreed. After waiting in long lines, she said, people are told to go home when supplies run out.

“Suffolk County needs to step up and we’re asking Suffolk County to do that,” she said.

The groups have launched a petition at, asking County Executive Steve Bellone to set up a dedicated food crisis hotline for Suffolk. The petition had nearly 3,000 signatures as of this afternoon.

The groups spoke today with a member of Bellone’s staff and are awaiting his response, Perez said.

But during his daily news briefing this afternoon, in response to questions about his reaction to the request, Bellone said he believes the 311 call center is working.

“This us something we have been focused on from the very beginning,” Bellone said. “Food security was an issue before the crisis. “Anyone who has contact 311 has been able to access the resources they need for food security.“

Bellone said county officials “know this is going to last for an extended period. There will be these food security issues,” he said. “We want to make sure every person who has food security issues can call 311 and access food.”

The survival of local journalism depends on your support.
We are a small family-owned operation. You rely on us to stay informed, and we depend on you to make our work possible. Just a few dollars can help us continue to bring this important service to our community.
Support RiverheadLOCAL today.

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.