Speaking in a thick French accent, 82-year-old East Hampton resident Kristin Lazar recalled the frequent hunger pangs of her childhood in German-occupied France, when she and her sister had to subsist on only one carrot for dinner. Now in her old age, Ms. Lazar is food insecure once again, along with thousands of local residents the East Hampton Food Pantry feeds each year.
This is Ms. Lazar’s 11th year visiting the pantry every Tuesday, and she is just one in an invisible microcosm of hungry people who live in the Hamptons all year long.
The food pantry, which serves more than 31,000 meals each year, will take part next week in a one-day nationwide crowd-sourcing effort called Give Local America to raise funds for community organizations across the country. The online event will begin at midnight on May 5 and run until 11:59 p.m. Last year, the effort raised more than $53 million for charitable organizations nationwide, most of which went to health and human services causes, including food pantries.
The East Hampton Food Pantry, located at the low-income senior housing complex Windmill II at 219 Accabonac Road, relies mainly on monetary donations and is unique in that it supplies residents from Wainscott to Montauk with bags of fresh food, including fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy, eggs, breads, and pasta. Yet, the fresh food is costly. The pantry, which has a satellite facility in Amagansett and about 30 volunteers, spends several thousand dollars each week to buy the food that makes up the weekly bags the residents receive.
“We understand most pantries give cans, so we try to take it a little bit further and provide fresh food,” said Gabrielle Scarpaci, executive director of the pantry.
The food pantry also accommodates the seniors at neighboring Windmill I and at its satellite site in St. Michael’s housing complex, which is located at 488 Montauk Highway in Amagansett.
“A lot of them [seniors] have dietary restrictions with salt and sugar, so it’s really important for us to provide them with fresh produce every week,” Ms. Scarpaci said. Therefore, the pantry prefers monetary donations to food donations because it is more cost-effective.
The East Hampton Food Pantry served 5,206 meals to seniors last year, in addition to 9,191 meals served to children and 16,078 meals served to adults. There were a total of 11,631 meals served to households last year. And in 2015, so far, the numbers have almost doubled, from 665 households in February to 1,260 households in March.
“A lot of people think everyone is rich in the Hamptons, but there is tremendous need,” Ms. Scarpaci said. This is especially true after the warmer months have passed.
March and April also bring a lot of traffic to the pantry because the money residents earned working during the summer does not last them through the long winter months.
“In winter, it’s pretty bad in East Hampton because nobody needs bushes cut or lawns trimmed,” said volunteer Martina Scarpaci, the executive director’s mother, who has been volunteering at the pantry for five years now. “I like helping so many people because, my goodness, they are all hungry,” she added.
Winter is particularly troublesome for seniors who are housed at Windmill I because they have no way of getting to the pantry. This was the only complaint of Ms. Lazar, who said they should bring back the golf cart that used to take seniors to and from the pantry.
“I have a woman that saved my life this winter. The weather was so bad and she would walk on the ice. She is 64 and she helps a lot of people when the people are in need,” Ms. Lazar said.
Seniors make up about one-sixth of those served by the East Hampton Food Pantry, and their cumulative life experiences have not necessarily spared them from hunger, even if they worked full-time jobs in the past. Ms. Lazar survived World War II in Europe as a child and later worked as a philatelist (collector and, in her case, purveyor, of valuable stamps).
“Six years of no food, no heat, so maybe that is how I’ve managed to survive very well because I learned the hard way how to survive,” she said of her experience during the war. “Actually, if you know how to save money, and you live on your Social Security paycheck, and if you go regularly every Tuesday to the pantry, you can survive very well. You can do it.”
In order to meet the needs of the local community, the food pantry must fundraise all year long just to get by, Ms. Scarpaci said. The Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, local churches and other organizations have significantly helped the pantry raise money by holding food drives and events like the annual Polar Bear Plunge, the proceeds of which are donated to the pantry. These events help to maintain the pantry’s tradition of serving the fresh food that so many residents rely on. “It’s very good, and you can go home in the winter with a nice bowl of fresh made soup,” Ms. Lazar said.
On Monday May 5 at midnight, residents can go to givelocalamerica.org, choose their own community, and then donate to the organization of their choice.
This will be the second year that the East Hampton Food Pantry is participating in the event and they have been raising awareness for Give Local America through social media.
According to Therese Bellissimo Benedict, who has been helping the pantry with getting signed on for the event, the effort raised close to $1,200 last year for the food pantry only because they were late in getting set up for it.
“We raised some money, but not nearly what we hope to do this year,” she said.
“We hope that each year we can grow from the event,” Ms. Scarpaci said.