Local food banks have a simple message this holiday season: The giving spirit doesn’t have to be discarded with the wrapping paper. And a holiday meal can fend off hunger for only so long.
This season, six South Fork food pantries reported an uptick in donations, but four of them also reported a large increase in the amount of food they are being asked to give out in winter.
In the past, holiday donations would give food pantries a stockpile to use the rest of the year. In recent years, however, seasonal donations have been going out as fast as they come in, and the donations die out months before the cold thaws.
Take, for example, the East Hampton Food Pantry. According to Executive Director Gabrielle Scarpaci, the pantry used to have one big fundraising event come this time of year, but recently has had to raise money throughout the year. Noting that her pantry’s problems are typical for this area, Ms. Scarpaci said it serves about 200 families in the summer and about 350 to 360 families from October to March.
“Money comes in during the holidays, but it is a constant struggle,” Ms. Scarpaci said. “We need to find a way to keep up the quality and quantity of the holiday donations.”
Another example is the Sag Harbor Food Pantry, which, according to Co-Director Barbara Wolfram, this year saw a spike in the number of families it serves from about 800 in October to 1,294 in November.
“But it happens every year in the winter,” she said. “In addition to all the regulars, we are seeing more and more elderly residents who have lived their whole lives here, needing help, because the price of living has gone up so much and bills pile up in the winter. They need to choose between eating or paying bills.”
The same goes for the Living Water Full Gospel Church pantry in Wainscott, which sees a 25-percent increase in the winter because at least “people can find jobs here and there in the summer,” according to Director Dorothy Cronly.
At Human Resources of the Hamptons in Southampton, newly appointed Director Kerry Lewendoski said the increase in demand is usually dependent on the weather. “The delay in getting out and being able to do the landscaping jobs keeps people dependent in the winter,” she said. So far this year, she said, winter demand on the food pantry has not been as heavy as in years past.
Ms. Lewendoski said the money raised by the Polar Bear Plunge in Southampton Village usually tides the food pantry over for the winter, but that during the rest of the year the donations come in dribs and drabs.
“Right now, people are celebrating what they have and realizing what other people don’t, but come April, there is nothing to make them realize the disparity,” she said.
And while two outliers—the Immaculate Conception Church food pantry in Quiogue and the Bridgehampton Food Pantry at St. Ann’s Episcopal Church—say they have a steady stream of recipients throughout the year, making this time of year easier to weather, both still reported a drop-off in donations after the holidays.
“There are twice the number of people here in the summer, but twice the mouths to feed in the winter,” Ms. Wolfram said. “Unfortunately, it is still cold and hard to find work in January and February, when people tend to be all donated out.”