“We worked really hard to make sure we have a diversified number of services,” she said, “so we can ensure we’re helping in all ways, and not just in one way.”
The organization’s paid staff has grown to 35, and over the past five years the number of volunteers has jumped from 2,500 to 6,000. Task forces have been created, matching people to jobs that make the most of their skills.
“There’s a certain type of personality that I look for,” explained Shubin Dresner, who speaks with every volunteer who signs on. “It helps to unify everybody. There’s some sort of a tie between everybody in this whole organization. Whether you’re working in the warehouse, driving a truck, working in an office or in the field, there’s some tie.”
Responding to Sandy
In the immediate aftermath of the storm, the Nassau County Office of Emergency Management asked Island Harvest for its help. “They literally said, ‘Food, support and hugs,’” Shubin Dresner recalled. “I thought, How odd is that that they would say [hugs]?”
To prepare, Island Harvest purchased food using its own funds — a rarity for the organization. According to Shubin Dresner, 80 percent of the food it collects is donated, and 20 percent is purchased with grants — primarily from corporations and private foundations — for specific projects that are planned ahead.
Volunteers made their first post-Sandy stops in Point Lookout, leaving food at the firehouse. “And in some cases, we did give hugs,” said Shubin Dresner, who recounted a story that she said “will live with me forever.” Spotting a woman sitting outside against a building, she approached her and offered food, but the woman did not answer. “She had this expression on,” said Shubin Dresner. “She was lost.”
Despite further questioning, the woman remained confused, and Shubin Dresner returned to the truck for a bag of food and a resource sheet listing emergency contact numbers. “But she didn’t want to take it — I had to convince her to take it,” she said. “And then, bingo, I remembered what OEM had said. I said, ‘How about a hug?’”