The Mimi Mernin Food Pantry, at the Village Church of Bayville, has served the North Shore community for nearly 20 years, and has been especially active during the coronavirus pandemic. Its essential service has recently been recognized by Rising Tide Natural Market in Glen Cove, which named the pantry its February 2021 Charity of the Month.
Jerry Farrell, the owner of Rising Tide, said the pantry was chosen because the fight against hunger is important to him and his staff. “The fact that there are people who are working to pull together and feed over 50 families on a regular basis stuck out to us,” Farrell said.
He added that Rising Tide collaborates with its customers to raise money for the charities of the month. For example, customers are charged 10 cents for every bag they need, which goes directly to the chosen charity. When they bring their own bags, Rising Tide chips in 10 cents per bag for the charity. The money helps the charity keep serving those in need, Farrell said.
Ann Albro, the Village Church’s outreach coordinator and trustee, said she and the other pantry volunteers were honored by Rising Tide’s recognition. Acknowledgments like this, she said, has helped the pantry succeed over the years.
The pantry’s history
Albro said that the need for a food pantry became apparent shortly after her aunt Mimi Mernin started working at the church’s thrift shop 25 years ago. As the shop drew more visitors over the years, Albro said, it became clear that their customers were also in need of a pantry. Eventually, Village Church volunteers set up a pantry in the corner of the thrift shop.
Mernin, who died three years ago, had always wanted a proper pantry, Albro said. To honor her legacy and her love of service, Albro and other church volunteers decided to expand the pantry under Mernin's name.
The Rev. Lydia Han, the church’s pastor, said that what started out within the church grew to include other people in the community who were willing to help. “It’s like the church became a place where instead of just doing our own ministry, we started having everybody join together,” Han said.
Early in the coronavirus pandemic, the pantry teamed up with Amy Watson and Cyndy Ergan, teachers in the Locust Valley School District, and Tim and Kim Charon of Bayville Cares, a local outreach organization. At the time, Watson and Ergan were distributing food at Centre Island Beach. Eventually, Albro said, they brought their supply to the pantry.
In August, it began receiving donations from the Island Harvest Food bank. While this has helped feed the community, Albro noted that private donations are also essential to the pantry. Although food comes on a weekly basis from Island Harvest, the pantry never knows what it is going to get.
Since the end of last summer, the pantry has grown into something bigger than the church ever imagined. At the beginning of August, it was supplying some 60 families — about 275 people — with food.
Heide Leuthner Decker, a volunteer at the pantry and a longtime friend of Albro, said she was amazed at how much the facility has grown. She, Albro and Tim Charon do food pickups at least once or twice a week.
“When Ann got Island Harvest to recognize us as a pantry, that’s when we grew exponentially,” Leuthner Decker said. “That’s when I really stepped up and started helping out on a regular basis.”
Serving the community
Twice monthly, on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon, volunteers distribute goods at a contactless drive-through behind the church. On Fridays, bags of food are assembled to be distributed the next morning. On Saturday morning, the bags are placed on tables outside. When vehicles pull up, they pop their trunks and volunteers put food inside them.
While most families receive the same items — meat, dairy, produce and non-perishables — more specific items are also available, depending on the circumstances.
“Let’s say we see two babies in the car,” Albro said. “We’ll ask, ‘Would you like some baby formula and diapers?’ If we see four kids in the back seat who are school age, we’ll say, ‘Hey, we have a bunch of great snacks you could use for the kids.’ So, we try to cater it to the people we see.”
Watson and Ergen speak fluent Spanish, which Albro said has been helpful in communicating with some families.
Albro and Leuthner Decker said they were proud to volunteer at a pantry where people don’t have to prove their need for food.
“We don’t turn anyone away, and there’s no forms or applications or any of that nonsense,” Albro said. “If you drive up and you say you need food, we will put food in your car.”
“It makes me feel wonderful that we are providing without judgment,” Leuthner Decker said. “A lot of people who used to be on the giving end of community outreach are now on the receiving end.”