November 13, 2013

Hungry For Help

James J Mackin. (click for larger version)
They may not make it through the winter. "We have no money left," Gabrielle Scarpaci, executive director of the East Hampton Food Pantry told The Independent this week. "We're really struggling."

The pantry is currently serving between 300 and 350 families per week, and, said Scarpaci, "Every week the numbers are going up." In addition to the main pantry, which operates out of Windmill Village on Accabonac Road, a satellite in the community room at the St. Michael's Senior Apartments in Amagansett also runs from October to April. Numbers there are growing, too, with seniors from the affordable housing complex beginning to use the pantry.

The business community has a history of supporting the pantry with both food and financial donations. Scarpaci listed eight gourmet shops and stores that donate fresh bread and baked goods alone. A portion of the East End Community Organic Farm is set aside for growing produce, which allows volunteers to provide fresh vegetables and herbs to pantry users all year round. On top of that, with help from the local Lions Club that underwrites the cost of butchering and packaging, the pantry distributes some 175 pounds of venison a week to clients.

Overall, said Scarpaci, "We try to give [clients] two to three days of food." Other sites on the East End that open just once a month; the East Hampton Food Pantry is open every Tuesday.

Unlike the big name national charities that use The Hamptons as a venue for gala fundraisers each summer, the food pantry hasn't had the resources to mount a huge event. Instead, it hosts a series of "drive-in movie" events on the beach. They don't always make enough money to cover costs.

The community has been supportive, but the support has not kept pace with the need. Consider the stats: in 2008, the pantry served some 4000 families. This year, with two of the harshest months still to go, the number has more than doubled, with 9431 families fed.

The substantial need is far from limited to East Hampton. A survey sponsored by Tyson Foods in 2011 revealed that a quarter of all Americans were worried they wouldn't be able to afford to buy food in the next year. According to the No Kid Hungry website, one in five children in the country live in households that struggle to put food on the table, and a staggering 62 percent of the nation's teachers report seeing kids in school who don't get enough to eat at home. This year so far, the East Hampton Food Pantry has served 8700 children.

Each year during the week before Thanksgiving, as most families are amassing food for their holiday feast, the National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Student Campaign Against Hunger team up to co-sponsor National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week.

In East Hampton, community members are asked to "Be a Neighbor, Feed a Neighbor" during the third annual Harvest Food Drive at the East Hampton Middle School on Newtown Lane on November 23 from 10 AM to 3 PM. Bring non-perishable food items, food-related gift cards, or your wallet to the school. There will be refreshments, crafts and raffles for the kids.

All donations will be distributed among the Amagansett, East Hampton, Springs, and Wainscott pantries. Donations can also be dropped off at the Springs Presbyterian Church on Old Stone Highway in Springs.


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