Sasha Young, founder of Gammy’s Pantry in the Five Towns Community Center and the Herald’s 2020 Person of the Year, is resigning from her job at the center amid uncertainty about the Lawrence facility’s future.
The announcement of her departure was posted on her Facebook page last week.
“Unfortunately, my time at the Five Towns Community Center is coming to an end,” Young wrote. “I want to thank each of you that have worked tirelessly with me here at the center and my amazing volunteers (that have become family) that have served and continue to serve thousands of families in need 7 days a week in Gammy’s Pantry and the center.”
5TCC board president Gwynn Campbell informed Young that the pantry must end its work by the end of this month, Young said.
“I was informed by our board president that all efforts must cease and everything must be emptied by Feb. 28,” she said.
The community center has operated at 270 Lawrence Ave. since 1974, and has played an instrumental role in the lives of Inwood and Lawrence residents for 107 years. The uncertainty it faces concerns its 50-year lease with Nassau County, which owns and leases the site to the center. The lease is set to expire in July, and the county has no plans to renew it.
The county issued a request for proposal 13 months ago, seeking an individual or entity to lease the Lawrence property and provide youth-oriented activities and services — services that center officials have previously told the Herald they have offered.
Young, who lives in Inwood, was optimistic that the pantry would continue to operate until the end of the lease. She was surprised by Campbell’s announcement.
“It was a shocking blow, as we had planned to meet this week to serve until the lease ends, as we know it is the winter and the need has never been more,” Young said.
“Our plan is to continue with a pantry,” Campbell said. “We need to just reorganize.”
Two proposals were submitted to the county last year: The Lawrence school district and the Marion & Aaron Gural JCC responded to the RFP, with the Gural JCC proposing to partner with the existing center.
County Executive Bruce Blakeman said last March that he would appoint a committee to review submitted proposals and make a recommendation about the center’s future.
As of press time, Chris Boyle, a spokesman for Blakeman, had not responded to numerous requests for comment on the status of the RFP.
The JCC’s executive director, Stacey Feldman, wrote in an email to the Herald that representatives of the Gural JCC and the center presented its proposal to the committee last July, which was followed by questions from the committee. Feldman declined to offer details on the questions.
“I have not heard from the county since,” she wrote. “We are anxiously waiting for more information.”
Young, inspired by her grandmother Betty Young, whom she called Gammy, created Gammy’s Pantry in 2019 in a small space in the center, offering food to those in need. She expanded it to include clothes that same year.
Young’s resignation is the second since the county issued the RFP. K. Brent Hill stepped down as executive director in July, after three and half years at the helm of the community center.
Hill and Young both helped rally center employees, volunteers and community members at a protest last year in response to the RFP, walking along Lawrence Avenue in January, urging the county to reconsider its decision not to renew the center’s lease.
GinaMarie Dimatos, program director of Head Start, which also operates at the center, said its work had continued unchanged, despite the unknown future that she and other staff members face. The center is also home to programs such as aid to the foreign-born, a youth community action center, a substance-abuse program and a summer camp.
In January 2023, Dimatos said, she saw firsthand how vital the community center is for the towns it serves, and she remains hopeful for positive news.
“It feels like a tragic loss,” Dimatos said. “It feels like so many members of the community look at this place as a home, as a place they have counted on their whole lives, and it’s being taken away from them.”
The story reflects a change from the print version: Gammy's Pantry will continue service an additional month, according to Young.
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