Island Harvest Food Bank, the largest hunger relief organization on Long island, purchased an industrial property in Melville in March for $8.1 million. The building, which is 43,560 square feet on three acres of property, is twice the size of its former headquarters in Hauppauge.
“We envision increasing services that will help provide Long Islanders faced with poverty and food insecurity with the resources necessary to lift them from uncertainty to stability,” Randi Shubin Dresner, Island Harvest president and CEO, said in a statement. “By doubling the size of the warehouse and office space, Island Harvest Food Bank can efficiently store more product to deliver to Long Islanders facing food insecurity when needed and provide specialized and targeted services to people across Long Island.”
That’s good news for area food pantries. Since the Covid-19 pandemic many of these panties, once self-sufficient, have depended upon help from Island Harvest.
“Everyone got inundated and didn’t have enough food for the people that were coming out of the woodwork,” said Karen LaSorsa, Nassau County agency relations coordinator. She oversees, trains and monitors every pantry that works with Island Harvest. “Seniors were told not to leave the house and didn’t know how they would get food.”
When People Loving People opened its doors in Oyster Bay in 2019, it depended upon community donations, which were plentiful. But the amount of people they served increased dramatically during Covid. “We had 50 people, mostly seniors, that used our food pantry,” said Gina Kang, a co-founder. “Then Covid hit and local community donations went down but we had 200 people that needed us.”
People Loving People has been using donations from Island Harvest since the pandemic. Kang said they would not have been able to stay open had Island Harvest not helped.
Margot Hanford, the procurement director for NOSH — North Shore Soup Kitchen — said it is too soon to tell how the increased space at Island Harvest will help. NOSH was created to provide emergency meals for the hungry on the North Shore during the pandemic and its aftermath. It assists people in Bayville, Glen Cove, Glen Head, Locust Valley, Sea Cliff and Lattingtown. Members pick up food from Island Harvest at its Uniondale location once a week.
Island Harvest “is a wonderful agency,” Hanford said. “Karen [LaSorsa] is very receptive if we need more food and gets it for us. We still feed as many people if not more than during the height of Covid.”
In 2019, Island Harvest distributed more than 10 million pounds of food, personal care items and household products to more than 300,000 residents across Nassau and Suffolk counties before the coronavirus pandemic.
During Covid-19, Island Harvest nearly doubled its service and support, helping more than 550,000 Long Island families who found themselves food-insecure from job losses and other economic factors.
The non-profit has also helped the Mimi Mernin Food Pantry at the Village Church of Bayville. It too saw an uptick in food insecurity during the coronavirus and a dramatic decrease in its food donations.
“People from our church donated to our food pantry often before Covid,” said Ann Albo, the Village Church’s outreach coordinator and trustee. “When the coronavirus happened, we didn’t realize how many people in our area needed help. We weren’t getting donations like we used to. So, we filled out [Island Harvest’s] application. We pick up food from them twice a week.”
Shubin Dresner said in an interview that she is also looking forward to further expanding the non-profit’s outreach with the acquisition of the new building. Warehousing and distribution will use 23,000 square feet of the new building, with 20,000 square feet for administrative and program services.
“We have a very strong outreach program, and last year alone helped 3,000 people enroll in SNAP,” she said. “We can expand this now. We also have realized that if hunger is your problem, it is not your only issue. So, our team goes out into the community to uncover what else is.”
One of the targeted services that Island Harvest started is an education outreach program. Shubin Dresner said that the program was an effort that had been discussed for years.
“We talked a lot about how we need to do more than just give someone a can of food,” she said. “As the proverb goes: ‘Give a man a fish, and he will eat for a day. Teach a man how to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.’ This is a way to help our neighbors in need.”
A lifelong East Meadow resident, Shubin Dresner joined Island Harvest in May 2001. The organization itself was founded 30 years ago.
Island Harvest’s new building will enable the food bank to expand its social service-related programs, including nutrition education, benefits assistance and workforce development, which Shubin Dresner said she is particularly excited about.
“We will work with the unemployed, underemployed and people looking for new skills,” she said. “We can train them in our warehouse in a variety of skills from warehouse packing to computer skills. I have classrooms set up now.”
And the state-of-the-art refrigerator/freezer will increase the availability of perishable foods, such as fruit and vegetables, dairy products and meats, to the populations it serves.
LaSorsa cannot wait until the warehouse opens in the new building, which she hopes will be by the summer.
“I have such high expectations for the new building,” she said. “Once Covid is truly over, meaning the economy is back on its feet, we don’t know what we will go back to. Hopefully, people like the scouts, youth groups and churches will do their food drives once again. We lost a lot of our donations.”