This week, The Independent is proud to honor a local hero and launch a monthly series designed to recognize East Enders who strive to make a difference. Are you one? Do you know one who should be celebrated? Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org
(click for larger version)
One could say Vicki Littman's life has always centered around food – growing it, selling it, giving it away. Early childhood memories are seasoned with the sight of her mother, Elaine Jones, "feeding the neighbors."
"She's always feeding everyone, making pots of food and sending it to anyone who needs it. She'd give the shirt off her back. I remember her going into her own cupboards when she heard someone needed food," Littman said.
When her own generosity was outlined, Littman said simply, "I guess the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. My mother is definitely my example of how to give."
Littman, who's served the community on the Amagansett PTA, the hamlet's Citizens Advisory Committee (she's currently president) and as a member of the local Independence Party committee (Jones started the group), spoke to The Independent this week from the East Hampton Food Pantry office in the Windmill Village Community Center.
With an array of community service efforts already under her belt, Littman's next level of giving started after she read a story in the newspaper reporting that some local children go to school hungry. She started a food drive at the school and through that effort, became acquainted with volunteers from the East Hampton Food Pantry. Within a short time assisting at the pantry morphed into a seat on its board. She's now in her second year as its chair.
In the summer of 2010, Littman was eager to continue to help, but swamped with seasonal duties at her business – she started her farm stand, Vicki's Veggies, when she was just 11 years old. That summer, aware that the numbers of needy at the food pantry continued to climb, she began the "apple" program.
Surprised And Saddened
Well-heeled summer customers were surprised and saddened to learn of the local need and bought paper apples with donation pledges. One anonymous donor handed her a check for $8000 and continued to proffer thousands every summer since. Bridgehampton National Bank adopted the apple program and, over the last five years, it's meant tens of thousands of dollars in donations to area food pantries.
Around the same time, Littman worked with then-councilman and neighbor Dominick Stanzione, to start a satellite food pantry in Amagansett. It's slated to open for the season this week.
Asked why, with a family to take care of and a business to run, she chooses to devote time to feeding the community's hungry, Littman said, "I really enjoy doing it. I love working with the volunteers . . . and when you see the clients come in, they're so hopeful and happy. Really, they're the heroes of our community.
"Last winter was so brutal, and they stayed hopeful. You see them week after week and get to know them – people who've gotten sick and fallen on hard times, seasonal workers who try to make their money last all year, seniors on fixed incomes." Littman admitted to feeling a measure of pressure and worry for the clients when the pantry's shelves get lean, "They're relying on you. I want to make sure we have what they need."
While she often shies away from recognition, pushing other volunteers to the front anytime there's a photo-op, Littman is going to drag herself into the limelight on Monday, November 16, when the Have a Heart Community Trust honors her as the HAH Philanthropist of the Year. She'll be the first honoree at the foundation's first annual harvest dinner to benefit East End food pantries.
The Have a Heart Community Trust has been dedicated to helping families and individuals on the East End for over 10 years. It provides direct relief to local individuals in time of crisis. Through partner organizations, like the East Hampton Food Pantry, grants are provided for emergency assistance.
It's An Honor
"They're my go – to, when we have clients who need fuel or can't pay their electric bill, needs other than food." In agreeing to the interview, Littman's goal was publicizing HAH and its first event.
"It's an honor to get the award," she said. "But, really. I have a community that supports me . . . volunteers, churches, schools, private donors. To me feeding our clients is a community effort. I'm grateful to everyone who has helped us. Without them, I couldn't do what I do."
"I'm so proud of my daughter, she does so much," said Jones. "Vicki refuses nobody." Beyond her work with the food pantry, Littman donates to the Amagansett Fire Department, Wounded Warriors, Maureen's Haven, "anyone who comes, really," she said. "If it's the community, we donate."
Littman's two daughters, Maria and Rose, are following in the mother's – and grandmother's – footsteps. They're often on hand, helping out at food drives and special events. Local schools require students to perform a certain number of community service hours in order to graduate, but, said Littman, "We don't even keep track. The girls do it because that's the life we lead."
Maria and Rose are inheriting Littman's commitment to combating hunger, the one she inherited from her mom. Jones is locally renowned as a fabulous cook, has that trait also been passed along? "No," said Littman. "I didn't get that."
The Have A Heart Community Trust harvest dinner will be held on Monday, November 16, from 6 to 10 PM at the Edgewater restaurant in Hampton Bays. Tickets are $125 for a three-course gourmet dinner and open bar. Call 631-287-1666.