After Mary Kate Tischler, of Seaford, saw an article in a magazine about ways to help community members during the coronavirus pandemic, she decided to buy canned goods, other non-perishable food items and toiletries, put them on a standard six-foot by three-and-a-half-foot folding table outside her home and offer them free for the taking.
Starting last Nov. 22, Tischler kept the table outside day and night for community members to take advantage of — or add to — and within days, word of her Sharing Table spread on social media, inspiring others across Long Island, in Queens and even in Poughkeepsie to start their own.
There are now some 16 Sharing Tables throughout the New York State, including two in Franklin Square.
The first one in the hamlet was set up by Jennifer Loughlin shortly after Thanksgiving, when she saw a post about Tischler’s table on a community Facebook page and thought, “‘Wow, great idea,’” she said. Loughlin recruited her two children to go door to door in their neighborhood, explaining to people that they were collecting goods for those in need. Then they laid the supplies out on a table on their Poppy Avenue driveway.
“That’s how we started off,” Loughlin recounted. “Then the generous people in our community started donating and dropping things off.”
Her table now features canned goods, toiletries, cleaning supplies, paper goods, toys and even some new books, all of which, Loughlin said, she knows people are taking because she is constantly having to replenish the supply.
“People appreciate it, and people need it,” she said. Just recently, she added, a woman who came up to the table to grab some supplies told her how grateful she was for her efforts. Another time, Loughlin found an anonymous letter under her door, thanking her “for the joy of receiving and giving.”
“So many people are struggling right now,” she said, “and any amount I can do to help is worth it.”
According to data from the New York State Department of Labor, Nassau County had a 5.5 percent unemployment rate in November, the last month data was available, up from 3.4 percent the year before. The rate in the Town of Hempstead in November was 5.9 percent.
But you don’t need to be unemployed to take from the Sharing Table, Loughlin said. She and her family never ask anyone why they are in need, and never judge anyone for taking what they need.
Instead, she said, she hopes to reassure those in the community who are in need that they aren’t alone, “and we all need help at one point in our lives.”
It also teaches her children to give back to the community, she said. At age 10, her son, Riley, has a better understanding of how the pandemic has affected people’s lives than her 4-year-old daughter, Hailey, she said, and Riley is always smiling when he mans the table every Saturday and Sunday until 5 p.m., knowing he is making a difference.
“It’s a great feeling,” Loughlin said, “especially helping those in need during these difficult times.”
The Loughlins aren’t the only Franklin Square family giving out supplies to those in need. Dawn Freifeld, who lives on Cathedral Avenue, also set up a Sharing Table with her family around the same time.
Dawn and her daughter, Alana, bought canned goods, toiletries and cleaning supplies for their table after Dawn saw Tischler’s online. Alana and her brother, Brendan, now help set up and organize the table every weekday from 1 to 6 p.m.
It has drawn the attention of several donors, and will be open until Dawn has to return to teaching in person in New York City.
“I love that my family and I can help others in the community,” she said, adding that having her children operate the table teaches them “to be the helpers in this world.”
J.D. Freda contributed to this story.