A fire that broke out at Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 347 in Glen Cove on Tuesday morning will ultimately affect some 600 needy families not only in the city, but in Bayville, Glen Head, Locust Valley, Oyster Bay and Sea Cliff as well.
No one was hurt in the blaze, but the headquarters of NOSH, a program that joined the North Shore Soup Kitchen in the spring, was destroyed. Twenty-three re-frigerators and freezers full of meat and produce and a few thousand pounds of dry goods — enough to feed those families for two months — were lost. As of press time, the cause of the blaze was undetermined.
According to Christine Rice, chairwoman of NOSH and the soup kitchen, 200 deliveries were supposed to go out on Tuesday, starting at 10:30 a.m. She was notified about the fire at 7:20 a.m.
“We are obviously devastated by the fire, but extremely glad that no one was there and no lives were lost at the time of the fire,” Rice said. “We are determined to come back stronger than ever, and are in the process of finding a new location so we can continue our mission to all of the families we have been serving. Any help from the community is more than welcome.”
NOSH, which began operating in March 2020, during the coronavirus lockdown, was created to help the food insecure on the North Shore. Many people lost their jobs due to the closure of non-essential businesses, and were ineligible for unemployment benefits because they are independent contractors and freelancers — nannies, house cleaners, artists and other “gig” workers. The number of hungry people skyrocketed.
Courtney Callahan, a longtime Locust Valley resident, contacted a group of women including Rice, who had been volunteering to help the vulnerable population on the North Shore. Callahan, the director of outreach at St. John’s of Lattingtown, an Episcopal church, said the volunteers had become friends.
“When the coronavirus hit, we knew we needed to do something,” Callahan said. “Covid-19 is big, and we knew we couldn’t fix it, but Mother Theresa said, ‘We can do small things with great love.’”
In NOSH’s beginnings, Callahan said, food was dispersed 12 hours a day from a church van. The emergency food delivery service didn’t have its own pantry, and food was stored at a variety of locations, including Locust Valley’s Grenville Baker Boys & Girls Club and at Sport & Classic Car Club in Sea Cliff. In April 2020, Dr. Maria Rianna, superintendent of the Glen Cove City School District, offered storage at Glen Cove High School.
The North Shore Soup Kitchen, where Callahan had been a board member, has fed people in need for 32 years, operating from First Baptist Church of Glen Cove until the pandemic hit. The two groups joined forces last July, and began offering food at the Church of St. Rocco last August.
The effort grew with the demand as the pandemic dragged on, and this spring NOSH moved to the VFW hall, where there was adequate space to store all the food that was needed.
Volunteers pack “NOSH bags” with emergency meal kits and distribute them from the parking lot to walk-ins or van drivers, who deliver them to homes.
Moving to a more permanent home at the VFW meant a great deal to NOSH members. “We’ve come so far,” said Callahan, who moved to Glen Cove three weeks ago. “We had no idea that NOSH would make it past a month.”
Each week, about 150 people volunteer for the organization. Paula Cushman, a NOSH board member from Locust Valley, got involved in June 2020. In an effort to provide her four children with community service experience, she brought them to NOSH. It was while she was delivering food with her eldest son that her perspective on her community changed.
“I was shocked that there was so much need in my own backyard, and I wanted to help,” Cushman recalled. “People need a lot of help, especially in the Spanish community.”
Originally from Argentina, she has been able to interact with the Hispanic community on NOSH’s behalf.
“The fire is devastating,” Cushman said. “We just moved here in April,” she added of Post 347, “and had so many hopes that it would be a long-term home for us. But my first thought was, ‘How are we going to feed our 600 families?’ We are in emergency mode right now to get back on our feet.”
Needing help should never be “shame-based,” Callahan said. “NOSH bags are food dignity,” she said. “Our goal is to get up and running as soon as possible, and we hope to make deliveries again by next week. We don’t want to let anyone down. I have no doubt the community will help us.”
The organization is in need of not only a new location, but also donations to feed the families that depend on it. To help, email firstname.lastname@example.org, call the NOSH hotline, at (516) 366-0277, or donate at GoFundMe. Checks can also be sent to North Shore Soup Kitchen, P.O. Box 168, Glen Cove. N.Y. 11542.
Jill Nossa contributed to this story.