Hardy Plumbing
April 19, 2006

Local Resources Help Alleviate Hunger In The Hamptons



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Independent / Carey London Carol Ann Spencer and Evelyn Ramunno bag string beans as a healthy addition to give to the hungry at the Sag Harbor Community Food Pantry's headquarters. (click for larger version)
Second home to the famous and well-heeled, the South Fork's reputation for being a playground for fashionable society conceals a persistent layer of poverty. Hunger in the Hamptons is evident from the many food pantries that pepper the terrain, and common sense says that without customers, these services would be out of business.

Three weeks ago, The Independent highlighted resources available to the hungry in East Hampton. Southampton will be the focus for this week's edition.

Food pantries service an almost invisible demographic that tends to be made up more of the known than the unknown — the next-door neighbor, the co-worker, and even the family relative, according to Lillian Woudsma, director of the Sag Harbor Community Food Pantry.

"Some of them look just like you and me. Some of them speak beautifully. Some are well-educated. Some are alcoholics. Some are strung out on drugs, and some of them are elderly," she said.

Woudsma took over as director of the pantry a little over a year ago.

While most food pantries donate dry or canned goods, Sag Harbor's pantry also gives out fresh fruits and vegetables, meats, milk, eggs, cheese, butter, and some of Woudsma's home baked goods.

"I can't, in good conscience, serve food even for free to these people if I wouldn't eat it myself or if I wouldn't give it to my own family," said Woudsma.

Located on the ground floor of the Sag Harbor Whaler's Church, the pantry is supplementary, giving out enough food to last only three days per week. Because of the cost of its high quality items, the pantry tries to restrict its offering to Sag Harbor residents. "We don't refuse anyone," said Woudsma. "We will give [non-residents] food and then refer them to other pantries that are in their areas."

In addition to the usual staples, for Easter and Passover the pantry also handed out to each person a pot of tulips, frozen turkey roasts and hams, Matzoh, and colorful Easter baskets filled with candy that were made up for the children.

Of all the obstacles Woudsma faces in running the pantry, funding is at the top of the list. Collection boxes have been placed in stores throughout the village and fund-raising events supplement most of the remaining costs. They also receive grants from the Family Service League. When all else fails, "I beg," she said.

The money collected feeds, on the average, 40-45 people per week during the winter. Last month, they reportedly served 550 individuals, or 43 families. When the weather warms and seasonal work returns, the pantry's business drops to between 20-25 individuals weekly.

Mary Ann Tupper, director of the Human Resources of the Hamptons, reports a similar fluctuation of visitors to her pantry.

"We have the largest outreach program on the eastern end," Tupper said. "We have approximately 600 families on our food pantry rolls, from east of the Shinnecock Canal to the Bridgehampton/Sag Harbor Turnpike."

Based in the old school building at Sacred Hearts of Jesus & Mary Church in Southampton, the pantry has mixed clientele, made up of about 45% Caucasian, 35% Hispanic/Latino and 25% African American.

"When I say we're serving your neighbors, I definitely mean that [we're] serving your neighbors," said Tupper. "The perception that we're serving people who either don't want to work or are here illegally . . . well that's not true. It is a tremendous amount of single mothers who are struggling and that's really sad."

And this winter saw an increase in an unexpected group.

"The demographics are definitely changing from my program, because I am seeing a number of college graduates with full time jobs coming in for assistance. They cannot make it," she said, attributing the change to the high cost of heating oil, gas, and rent.

The pantry gives out staple foods, including vegetables, tuna, fresh meat, canned fruits and juices, pancake flour and syrup, peanut butter and jelly, rice, pasta, sugar, and cookies.

"It's very rewarding. When you reach out and you can help somebody stay in their home or stop their lights from being turned off or put presents under a tree at Christmas or for Chanukah, you're making a profound impact," said Tupper.

Food pick-up at the Sag Harbor Food Pantry is on Tuesdays, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Call 725-0894 or 324-2151 for more information.

The Human Resources of the Hamptons distributes food on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. For more information, call 283-6415.

Other food pantries to check out are: the Bridgehampton Food Pantry at St. Ann's Episcopal Church, which is open on Wednesdays, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Call 537-1527 for more information. St. Rosalie's Outreach at St. Rosalie's Church in Hampton Bays is open Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, from 9:30 -11:30 a.m. Call 728-9249.

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