By Kitty Merrill
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Not everybody in The Hamptons is rich, or even middle class. Lots are hungry.
When Gaby Scarpaci meets summer people in East Hampton and talks to them about the volume of clients served by area food pantries, the executive director of the East Hampton Food Pantry said "shock" is the typical response.
"They can't believe it," she said. "The Hamptons have this reputation that everyone is a millionaire, everyone is living the high life. But the majority of people are just working class and the incomes are very low." Like most locals Scarpaci herself works several jobs to make ends meet.
"The numbers are kind of overwhelming," she acknowledged, speaking of how many clients the East Hampton pantry feeds. Last year the EHFP served over 32,000 individuals, representing 11,596 families, over 3000 seniors and close to 11,000 children. This year as of the end of June, 5322 households have been served for a total of 14,804 individuals.
The numbers are down from a 2010 high of 43,519 individuals, but the need is still acute. Scarpaci believes some of the clients from South America have left the area due to lack of work and the crackdown on housing. "It's not because the economy is better," she said.
Every hamlet in East Hampton Town has a food pantry, though some only operate once a month. The East Hampton Pantry provides food on Tuesdays, and hosts a satellite pantry in Amagansett from October through April.
Although the pantry benefits from food donations from several sources -- the East End Community Organic Farm dedicated a plot and a section of its greenhouse to grow food specifically for the food pantry, and local restaurants regularly contribute – their annual food budget still tops $150,000. With that money volunteers manage to put together a bag of food valued at about $50 for each client or family. "It helps," Scarpaci said. "That's money they can use for the LIPA bill." Thanks to the farm and restaurants, the bags often contain fresh produce, a feature rarely found at food pantries.
As the summer season gears up, each year The Hamptons become the favored venue for innumerable charity galas and hot ticket extravaganzas, often benefitting out of town and national organizations. Admission prices for the events, which can boast celebrity hosts, can measure in the hundreds of dollars, raking in big bucks for the national charities.
By contrast, the East Hampton Food Pantry this summer will host a modest number of outdoor movie events, with just a $5 suggested donation per individual / $20 per family.
The series kicks off this week at Indian Wells Beach in Amagansett, with a showing of Spiderman tonight at dusk. Subsequent Wednesday showings feature Batman on August 14, Superman on August 21 and The Avengers on August 28. Moviegoers may also bring donations of canned goods.
Hosting fundraisers costs a lot of money, Scarpaci pointed out. So far, the pantry hasn't found a venue or celebrity willing to take up their fight against hunger and help underwrite a Hamptons-caliber gala.
For now, it's the movies, and it's likely, said Scarpaci, "We'll put in more money than we make." Still, she said, the events find value in educating the public, and especially summer visitors, about the food pantries. "So many people don't know we exist."
Located in the community center at 219-50 Accabonac Road, East Hampton, the food pantry also maintains a section devoted to donated clothing, housewares, furniture, and baby items. People may drop items off during regular business hours.