When the coronavirus pandemic hit last year, Freeporter George Garbutt, a remote pilot operator for the Federal Aviation Administration, found himself unemployed, like so many others. Despite the hardship, Garbutt, 42, found solace in taking care of his three daughters, helping them with their remote-learning from home.
Earlier this year, while scrolling through social media, Garbutt came across the Sharing Tables of the USA Facebook page, which showed dozens of New York and California families who set up tables outside their homes filled with food, clothes and toiletries for people in need.
Garbutt, an Air Force veteran, noticed that Freeport didn’t have a Sharing Table, so he set one up outside his home, at 164 E. Seaman Ave., on March 1. Since then, dozens of people have stopped by each week to pick up items or donate supplies for those in need.
“It was very surprising to see how many people it helps,” Garbutt said. “The table turned out to be a blessing. It brings happiness and joy to the community.”
The Sharing Tables informally began last November, when Mary Kate Tischler, of Seaford, set one up in her neighborhood. Tischler said she didn’t have a specific goal in mind when she set up the table; she just wanted to take advantage of the community’s proclivity to give by creating a place to do so without any pressure.
“It seemed like a very effective and easy way to help people locally,” Tischler said.
Since then, more than 50 Sharing Tables have cropped up across New York, many of them on Long Island, and as far away as California. Garbutt’s table was the 46th one officially acknowledged by the Sharing Tables of the USA group.
Garbutt is now focused on keeping the table operating 24/7. He wakes up early in the morning to help those stopping by, and checks on the table every hour or so to organize it and restock supplies. His wife and daughters often lend a hand.
Garbutt said the table is busy through the day, with as many as three to four cars parking nearby to pick up supplies. He noted that some people even come by after midnight. “Sometimes they don’t want to be seen,” he said. “It can be difficult for people.”
Because of the nature of the Sharing Table, donations come in as often as they are taken. Among the items available at the table, toiletries and cleaning supplies seem to be the most popular items that people need. Garbutt said that along with the food available, he keeps cheese, milk and eggs stored in a refrigerator.
The table also offers and accepts donations of children’s books and DVDs to keep people entertained during this difficult time.
Garbutt said he had two main motivations for starting the Sharing Table. The first was to help out his church’s food pantry, the Deeper Life Fellowship and Deliverance Center Food Distribution Center, at 178 S. Ocean Ave. Garbutt sees the table as an extension of the pantry.
The second reason stems from Garbutt’s own experience as a child who frequented shelters.
“I’ve been in that situation before,” Garbutt said. “I know what it’s like to be struggling and in need of help.”
For his work with the Freeport Sharing Table, Garbutt has received honors from his fellow Freeporters, Nassau County Legislator Debra Mulé and Town of Hempstead Senior Councilwoman Dorothy Goosby.
“The Garbutt family’s embrace of the spirit of giving is truly admirable during these challenging times,” Mulé said. “Thanks to their efforts, members of our Freeport community now have an opportunity to receive important supplies, as well as an opportunity to pay it forward for the next family when they are able. We are all grateful for their compassion and willingness to lend a helping hand.”
Garbutt is “a Freeport community hero,” Goosby noted.
To learn more about the Sharing Tables, or for information on how to start your own, go to https://www.facebook.com/TheSharingTablesUSA/.