Every person who enters the Church of St. Rosalie Food Pantry in Hampton Bays carries a different burden.One day, in early May, a young woman walked through the front doors looking for enough food to get her through the week. As she made her way around shelves stocked with canned goods, breads and cereals, the woman caught the eye of a volunteer.
Something was wrong—though the volunteer could not put his finger on what it was.
After helping the woman select some food, he invited her to meet Catherine O’Leary Andrejack, director of outreach and the food pantry at the East Montauk Highway church. The woman sat down in Ms. Andrejack’s office—with soft, classical music playing in the background—and eventually shared her story: She was a victim of human trafficking, stripped of all of her independence, and forced to complete house chores before escaping her captor.
The woman was later sent to a safe house in Hampton Bays and, on that day, was looking for employment when she came across the food pantry and ventured inside.
After confirming that the woman was, in fact, the victim of a crime, Ms. Andrejack contacted the immigration department at Catholic Charities in Amityville, an organization that provides food, shelter and a variety of services, including legal counsel, for immigrants, the homeless, troubled youths and others. She also contacted the social services organization Have A Heart Community Trust, based in Southampton, to assist the woman with her transportation to and from court; Ms. Andrejack declined to say why the woman needed to go to court, citing the need to protect her identity.
“They are helping her take the steps to live a free life with dignity and respect like all human beings deserve,” Ms. Andrejack said of the organizations she enlisted to help the woman.
Unbeknown to Ms. Andrejack, Trisha Powers, vice president of Have A Heart, nominated her for her organization’s Philanthropist of the Year Award, though she stressed that it was not for one specific incident. Rather, Ms. Powers said, her group wanted to honor the Mattituck resident for the hundreds of people she has assisted over the past two-plus years she has been with the Hampton Bays church, work that includes providing more than 5,000 meals to the less fortunate in the community.
“There are so many things she’s done for us,” Ms. Powers said, explaining that Ms. Andrejack has helped her organization countless times over the years.
Ms. Andrejack was presented with an engraved crystal trophy, along with a $1,500 donation to her food pantry, during a celebration at Edgewater restaurant in Hampton Bays on Monday night. Noting that she does not like to be the center of attention, she stated that she was merely doing her job when her life suddenly and unexpectedly crossed paths with the victim in the spring.
In her tenure with the Hampton Bays church, Ms. Andrejack has dedicated much of her energy into making sure everyone who walks down the steps into her food pantry has a great experience.
“Obviously, if you are coming to a food pantry, our sentiment is that there is another need in the household,” Ms. Andrejack said. “It might not just be the food. But that’s how we build community. And, eventually, if there is a greater need, if there is trust and friendship, and then the next time they might say, ‘I want to speak to someone from outreach. I have a crisis in my family.’”
By building that sense of community, she continued, she also helps instill trust between those working at the center and the families coming in for food. The food pantry serves families from Hampton Bays, East Quogue and those in Flanders who live south of the Big Duck, though they don’t necessarily have to be members of the parish. Families are asked to bring in a piece of mail proving that they live in one of the three communities.
Still, those in need are never turned away from the pantry, Ms. Andrejack said. If someone isn’t from the immediate area, volunteers will provide them with some food before putting them in contact with a parish that operates in their area and offers similar services.
“Our donations are coming from this community, so we also want to be respectful of our [donors],” Ms. Andrejack said. “So, we want to make sure the goods and resources are available to the people in the community that they are donating [to].”
Pantry volunteers are busy preparing for the upcoming holiday season, where they help local families put Thanksgiving and Christmas meals on their tables. For Thanksgiving, the parish will be giving away frozen turkeys, as well as the required seasonings, to those in need. All will be presented in a laundry basket—a practical item that can then be put to use.
As it gets closer to Christmas, the pantry will be giving out gift cards so families can buy their own food; Ms. Andrejack explained that they like to give families the option of selecting their own menus for the holiday. “For Christmas we felt that not having to use your own budget for having your own special Christmas meal is very important,” she said.
The pantry will also be providing new coats, boots and hats to registered families, in addition to the usual donated clothing items.
Ms. Andrejack shared a story from a few years ago, when a mother visited the parish looking for a donated coat for her young daughter. Volunteers found a new one—the garment, in fact, still had a tag on it—and suggested that the woman’s daughter wear it home. The mother declined the generous offer, explaining that she would be gifting the coat to another person in need since it still had its original tag.
The volunteers in the church that day immediately looked at each other and, according to Ms. Andrejack, said: “This is what we are all about.”