In the wake of rising inflation and fluctuating employment, Long Island Cares, a nonprofit organization that provides emergency food and supplies, has seen a dramatic increase in the number of local residents seeking assistance over the past year.
Long Island Cares’ Freeport location, the first satellite facility opened by the organization in 2010, is struggling to keep up with the dramatic increase in demand for food assistance.
The Freeport location is the busiest of the organization’s pantries, having distributed 462,000 meals to the community in 2022, more than double the number distributed by the second-busiest location, Lindenhurst. This increased demand for food assistance in the Freeport area highlights the significant need for support among local residents, particularly as inflation continues to impact their ability to afford nutritious food for their families.
The Freeport pantry, at 21 E. Sunrise Highway, has seen a staggering increase in visitors and meals distributed in the past year, putting a strain on the organization’s resources and putting a spotlight on the growing problem of food insecurity on Long Island.
According to Chief Program Officer Dr. Jessica Rosati, who manages Freeport and the four satellite facilities, the increase in the number of residents visiting the pantries may be attributed to a variety of factors.
“The pantry has become a staple in the Freeport community over the past plus decade,” Rosati said. “But what we’ve seen over the course of the last year, has been astonishing, or rather alarming is more the word to use.”
The organization witnessed a 90 percent increase in the number of people needing help feeding their families over the past year compared to the previous year. Key factors are the rising inflation rate, fluctuating employment, and the ending of state waivers resulting in the inability of Long Island families to sustain their food needs causing them to rely on emergency food networks.
Rosati and her team believe the cause of the pantry surge in Freeport is the closure of one of the area food providers last year, leading to an influx of people coming to supplement that loss.
The Suffolk County Legislature recently released a study titled, “Still Struggling in Suburbia: The Unmet Challenges of Poverty in Suffolk County.” The study placed the poverty level on Long Island at an income of $55,000 or less, which is a high percentage of the population. Additionally, to qualify for SNAP benefits (formerly known as food stamps), one must make less than $30,000 which puts many people in the area at risk of not being able to put food on their tables.
“The pantry is very busy in Freeport,” Rosati said. “Our good day is 100 families, if not more than that, and we’re only open for eight hours.”
When someone comes to Long Island Cares’ Freeport location or any of the other pantries, the organization provides them with a minimum supply of food for three days, which accounts for nine meals per person. To determine the amount of food to give, the organization collects demographic information such as who the person is, where they live, and how many people are in their household.
Families are also welcomed to go through the pantry and have a supported shopping experience, which means they are able to pick and choose the products they desire. This fosters inclusion by ensuring individuals not only have access to food, but also believe they have the choice to select.
Long Island Cares, founded by Huntington native Harry Chapin, a Grammy Hall of Fame member, provides emergency food to people in need and is an advocate against hunger and poverty.
“Our founder established Long Island Cares with the notion that unless you address the root causes of hunger and poverty, people will remain impoverished,” Rosati said.
Rosati emphasizes that in addition to providing emergency food and supplies, the organization focuses on helping individuals lift themselves out of poverty through education and advocacy.
This includes providing information and resources on how to access government assistance programs, how to budget and manage finances, and how to improve overall well-being.
“These are the things that we are committed to and that we’ll continue to do until it’s no longer needed on Long Island,” Rosati said.