Residents may not realize it, but there are three low-income housing developments in the hamlet of Oyster Bay — which led Donna Galgano to choose her hometown as the next location for a food pantry. The Shelter Rock Food Pantry in Manhasset, which she helped found five years ago, has had much success, Galgano said, adding that she knew that a pantry in Oyster Bay would be popular too. Although the People’s Pantry, at the Oyster Bay Community Center, has opened only three times, it has already become a go-to place for those who need help.
When the pantry opened on Nov. 8, it welcomed 24 people. Last week that number doubled. Those seeking assistance, Galgano said, continue to be mostly senior citizens, though the facility is open to everyone.
The nonprofit that manages the pantry, People Loving People, isn’t affiliated with a church or any other organization, which Galgano said may be one reason why so many community members are interested in getting involved. And there are no requirements for receiving food. “It’s on the honor system here,” Galgano said. “If you say you need food, you need it. Some people aren’t legal and don’t want to go to food pantries, because some require showing paperwork [to prove citizenship]. Anyone can come here.”
Galgano started the pantry with her sister, Valerie Monroy, of Commack, and Gina Kang, of Port Washington, who are also involved at the Manhasset pantry. Galgano said they are pleased to be helping seniors, because many go hungry on the weekends. They can go to the Life Enrichment Center of Oyster Bay, a senior center, during the week for a hot lunch, but it’s closed on weekends. If seniors go to the People’s Pantry on Fridays, they can get whatever they may need to cook on the weekends. Galgano has worked with Nancy Farinaccio, the Life Enrichment Center’s program assistant, to get the word out that there is food available nearby at the community center.
“We have a little food pantry here, but we only have non-perishables,” Farinaccio said. “The new pantry being open on a Friday has been helpful for our members to get them through the weekend. When we told our members that utilize our pantry that there was another option, they were thrilled to hear about it.”
Nothing goes to waste at the People’s Pantry, Farinaccio added. If there is any leftover food, it is taken to the Life Enrichment Center and given to the seniors.
The new facility has become so popular that the people who ordinarily come to the Life Enrichment Center for a bag of donated food for Thanksgiving went to the pantry instead this year.
“The pantry is a real asset in our community,” Farinaccio said. “We have a nice partnership with it, which helps our members and the community.”
At the pantry, which is open on Fridays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., visitors choose from a variety of items, including frozen meats and poultry, produce, dry goods and canned and fresh vegetables. Galgano said that she has discovered that community members want to help. Some of the food is from local eateries like IT BGL, which donates bagels every Thursday night. Girl Scouts from Troop 104 have donated food, too, and the areas Boy Scout troops are formulating how they will help. Residents are also involved, either helping at the pantry or dropping off food — sometime homemade baked goods.
Galgano said the pantry has received support from Island Harvest, too. But she remains impressed by the generosity of the community, which she said has been amazing. Last Friday 60 pies and 25 turkeys were donated. And residents have spoken to her about their plans for the holiday season. “The residents have told me they want to do a holiday cook-off,” Galgano said. “They want to bring tins of home-baked cookies. They are dying to do it.”
Jamie Scott, of Bayville, a pantry volunteer, said he had found many ways to help those in need, and sometimes it isn’t just providing food. Last week, a woman he helped asked him for an additional favor.
The woman lives in a basement apartment, and is too short to change her light bulbs. “She had been living without light for two weeks,” Scott said, adding that he was happy to assist her. “It makes me feel good to be able to help.”
As more people take advantage of the pantry, lack of space and refrigeration will soon be an issue, Galgano said. The town is allowing the pantry to use the community center, but the pantry only has three small shelves and use of a small refrigerator. Vicki Walsh, a town councilwoman-elect, said she was trying to find a new location, but couldn’t share the details yet. She has also promoted the pantry on the PTA parents’ page on Facebook, and said people were getting involved as a result.
“I mentioned the pantry to two families that are moving into the community, and they both told me they can’t wait to shop for something to bring to the pantry,” Walsh said. “That’s the response I’m getting from strangers. This is that amazing.”
Galgano said she isn’t worried, because she believes the town will help her to find a new location. “I’m leaving it in God’s hands,” she said. “If it’s meant to be, it will find a way. I’m also writing grants.”
When a new location is found, Walsh said, she will speak to the Boy Scouts about doing the work that will be needed, like painting. It could be a service project, she said.
Scott said he felt a special kind of satisfaction helping at the pantry. “There really is no better feeling than to be able to serve people in this way,” he said. “Being involved in the pantry is a way for you to connect with Jesus, or whoever your higher power is. This is also a way to get to know people, so we can ask them how we can help.”
Because the pantry is located in a town building, it was to be closed this Friday, which is a holiday for the town. For further information, call (631) 948-6221.