Holiday food rescue organization looks to extend project throughout year

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The Frugal Food Project, an effort by the group Citizens 4 Humanity to prepare and deliver meals to single mothers and their families for the holidays, has been extended—hopefully to be a year-round project—depending on donations.

Sheila Minkel, deputy volunteer for Citizens 4 Humanity, said that with the announcement of the food rescue program in November, there has been “an outpour” of response from the community and that the group will continue to prepare and deliver food for as long as donations will allow. The holiday project was so successful the group was able to feed more than three dozen families on the East End. She said many people also donated toys for children and Saks Fifth Avenue donated cosmetics to give to the women.

“Our phones have been ringing off the hook with families who know more families of all types who are in crisis and distressed situations and with little food to eat,” Ms. Minkel said. “We have the facilities and volunteers to aid in the cause, but need more support.”

The project was started by private chef Marco Barrila at Thanksgiving 2008 with 15 to 20 families to feed, he said. This year he extended the project to the Christmas season, and with the help of volunteers, built a list of 162 families from Westhampton to Montauk.

Single-mother households make up 8 percent of the population on the East End, and 10 percent of them are below the poverty line, according to the 2008 American Community Survey. Mr. Barrila said that many of those families rely on overtaxed food pantries and that in addition to the stress of preparing a holiday meal, he was also concerned that children of single parents were not getting full meals and the proper nutrition.

“Normally, they would go to the food pantry and get canned food, boxed mashed potatoes, milk and eggs,” he said. “They don’t get a lot of real food. I just thought with these meals we can make so many kids happy and so many moms happy.”

When Mr. Barrila came up with the idea for the Frugal Food Project, he rallied a group of people he thought would be interested in helping, including other chefs, who donated the use of their establishments’ kitchens as well as their expertise, and volunteers to help build a list of eligible mothers and secure donations from local food stores, farms and individuals.

The name of the project comes from Mr. Barrila’s experience working with the wealthy in the Hamptons.

“The waste in some of these mansions is scary,” he said. He hoped that with the fund-raising campaign, people would be more cognizant of how much food they buy that gets wasted.

“That’s what made me think, ‘How much of this could we collect for people?’” he said. “If you simply save something you essentially throw out in the garbage, you’ll help somebody else by just being more conscious.”

Chef Barrila estimates that a family throws out 10 to 13 percent of what it buys, and he asks that that much of the money set aside for food shopping be donated to the project.

He said it costs about $20 to feed a single mother with one to three children, and about $50 if there are three to four children. Ms. Minkel said the group prepares full chicken or turkey dinners with all the traditional trimmings.

A Hampton Bays mother of three, who did not want her name used, said she was contacted by the organization at the suggestion of a friend and received a meal for Christmas. She said she thinks the program is a “wonderful thing” because a single mother’s time is often overtaxed, and one meal provided is one meal she won’t have to worry about.

“It’s a very difficult and very stressful experience to be the one that has to do everything and never have anybody else to fall back on,” she said.

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