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Annual food drive hits pause

Malverne churchgoers' moving truck full of provisions gets delayed

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For the past nine years, Rob and Mary Hallam, members of the Community Presbyterian Church in Malverne, have held a food drive at their Lynbrook home for people in need. It usually takes place in February and March, and the collected food is donated to the Long Island Council of Churches’ food pantry, in Freeport, which serves more than 2,500 people a month from all over Nassau County.

This Saturday, the Hallams were planning to be joined by about 200 volunteers for what they call “moving day” — loading up a large truck donated by Nassau Door & Window for a drop-off at the food pantry. The coronavirus outbreak, however, forced them to delay their plans.

“We’re kind of at a standstill at the moment,” Rob Hallam said. “The only thing we do know for sure is that there’s going to be a greater demand on the food pantry. We’re hoping to have our moving day on April 25.”

The food drive, the 58-year-old Hallam explained, started in 2011 as something small that he did through the Community Presbyterian Church in Malverne. That first year, the Hallams collected about 980 food items. Over the years, as word spread about their efforts, hundreds of residents and several local businesses got involved. Last year, the food drive collected more than 20,000 donations of both food and money.

“It’s amazing to have seen it grow so much,” Hallam said. “There were so many people helping out last year that I got asked, ‘Just whose food drive is this?’ But this doesn’t belong to any one entity. This is the people’s food drive.”

Rob Maeurer, 43, of Elmont, met the Hallams three years ago at the Community Presbyterian Church. Last year, Maeurer created a GoFundMe page for the “People’s February Food Drive,” which raise about $530. The money was used to purchase additional food for donation. This year, the GoFundMe page has raised about $865.

“I figured that there would be people who wanted to give but may not be able to go out to the drop-off locations, so now they can donate money for us to purchase food with,” Maeurer said. “It’s great to see the SUV stuffed with food to deliver.”

Long Island Council of Churches food pantry Manager Yolanda Murray, 58, said that funding the pantry receives in the fall from the federal government typically runs out by the end of March, so it depends on donations to feed those in need. While the demand has grown since schools were closed earlier this month, Murray said that the donations have helped the pantry continue operating.

“People are here because they’re late in getting their food stamps, they used up all their money on their mortgage or someone in their family had a bad accident and they need to pay medical bills,” Murray said. “They depend on this place. This is an emergency food pantry.”

To limit large gatherings in the facility, she explained, the LICC allows only five people in a time. “We’re now seeing people from other places that go to a regular church pantry, but now they’re closed down, too,” Murray said. “People are really afraid, and it’s become a widespread fear. We’re sanitizing three times a day, so once they come to the door, they feel comfortable, because they smell how clean it is.”

Hallam said that while this year’s food drive was a success, he is concerned about people on limited incomes. “Most of the people that utilize the food pantry are working people,” he said. “But a lot of these people are going paycheck to paycheck. Any disruption in their paycheck, they’ve got to decide what to pay for.

“We’re all hoping for a quick end to this situation,” he added, “so that we can all get back to normalcy.”

Donations can be dropped off in Freeport at Jeremy’s Ale House, at 239 Woodcleft Ave., and Nassau Shades & Blinds in Lynbrook, at 211 Sunrise Highway. Donations can also be made to the GoFundMe page at https://bit.ly/2xeBnKh.