Rows of colorful bags lined the floor of St. Rosalie’s Community Food Pantry and Outreach in Hampton Bays late last week. Filled to the brim with boxes of stuffing, bags of potatoes and cans of fruit, the packages were ready to be distributed—along with turkeys—to needy families in the hamlet for Thanksgiving.“We’re very, very blessed to have such a giving community. It’s really humbling what you see,” said Catherine Andrejack, St. Rosalie’s food pantry director, as she took in the sight of all the donated food set out before her. “We’re very grateful, down to the pumpkin pie.”
Every holiday season, food pantries on the South Fork receive donations so that thousands of financially burdened families and individuals can enjoy Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners without reaching into their pockets. Food pantry directors say donations increase significantly around this time of the year, but they point out that once the Christmas trees are gone and festive lights are taken down, there’s a lull in donations that doesn’t pick up until the holiday season rolls around again.
“People start to look at what they have compared to what others have,” Kerri Lewendoski, the director of the food pantry program at Human Resources of the Hamptons, located in the basement of the Sacred Hearts School building on Hill Street in Southampton, said of the holiday season. “It’s kind of like when you tell your kids, ‘Oh, Santa’s watching.’ Just because we think of [the needy] this time of year, it’s not like they disappear the rest of the year.”
Food pantry directors attribute “the spirit of giving” to the surge of donations just before Thanksgiving. It’s the realization when grocery shopping and wrapping presents that not everyone in the Hamptons is fortunate enough to afford holiday dinners or gifts for their loved ones.
While not all directors could put a number on how much their donations increase, they said it’s enough so that they can feed all the people who apply for Thanksgiving and Christmas meals.
At St. Rosalie’s, Ms. Andrejack estimated that donations of food, money and gift cards to grocery stores increase by 30 percent around the holidays. Those donations have allowed that pantry, located in the basement of the Parish Center at the Church of St. Rosalie on Montauk Highway, to prepare 250 bags of food that were distributed to more than 100 families on Monday.
At the Sag Harbor Community Food Pantry, located in the basement of the Old Whalers’ Church on Union Street, director Evelyn Ramunno said donations there double around the holidays. This year, the pantry received food items from local churches, temples and stores, including more than 2,000 items from Sag Harbor Elementary School alone. Ms. Ramunno said those donations will provide a surplus of items the pantry can use after the holidays are over.
“Everybody’s in the giving mode right now, because they forget over the summer,” she said. “Everyone is more aware. They think more about it now.
“Our motto is ‘Neighbors Helping Neighbors.’ It kind of comes to the front over the holidays,” Ms. Ramunno continued.
According to Paule Pachter, chief executive officer of the hunger assistance organization Long Island Cares, approximately 316,000 people on Long Island utilize the services of food banks and pantries, with residents of the Hamptons consisting of about 15 percent of that population. “Year round, there are pockets of poverty in the Hamptons,” he said.
Pantry directors point out that even though food donations rise in the winter months, the demand for food does as well. Many workers here are seasonal and take up jobs in construction and landscaping in the summer when additional residents come out, but are left without employment in the fall and struggle to make ends meet until work picks up again in the spring. That’s why many pantry organizers stress that donating is important not only around the holidays but all year long.
“We always say that it’s just the most basic need, it’s a necessity. People need to eat,” said Gabrielle Scarpaci, executive director of the East Hampton Food Pantry on Accabonac Road, which serves the entire Town of East Hampton in addition to other community food pantries in Springs, Montauk and Wainscott. “The cost of living out here is so expensive. People can’t afford to live, especially if they have kids.”
Now that collecting for Thanksgiving is complete, food pantries are gearing up for the next feast—Christmas dinner. Much as they do for the Thanksgiving meal, directors said they’re seeking donations of turkeys, hams and chickens, along with vegetables, fruits, stuffing, cranberry sauce and pie fillings. Many are also accepting gift cards so families can shop for their own dinners. Residents are encouraged to call their local food pantries and churches for details on how to donate.
“The truth of the matter is, come holiday time … people on Long Island tend to give to their local pantry because they understand the need and they want people to enjoy the holidays,” Mr. Pachter said. “The people out in the Hamptons who need emergency food … need it all year round. Hunger really doesn’t take a holiday.”