For one family in Merrick, what started as a desire to give back to those in need during the coronavirus pandemic has become a commitment to giving back consistently.
Josh Brown and his daughter, Tara, 16, are in their third year of running a fundraiser for Long Island Cares, a leading local food bank that has been combating food insecurity since 1980.
Tara, a junior at John F. Kennedy High School in Bellmore, was a regular volunteer at the Bellmore-Merrick Community Cupboard, a pantry that provides food to local families in need, when she was a student at Merrick Avenue Middle School. She was a member of the school’s Honor Society, and completed many community service hours at the cupboard.
“I went there for a lot of my hours, and I enjoyed working there, and then when Covid hit, everything stopped,” Tara said. “I like being out in my community, because it feels good to do good.”
In the fall of 2020, Tara told her dad that she wanted to do something to help those affected by the pandemic, and he told her that he did, too. They started simple, adopting 10 families, filling 10 bags of food, donating them to Long Island Cares.
But there was more to it than that.
Josh, an author with a background in investing and wealth management, published his third book that November. A wealth adviser for the investment advisory firm Ritholtz Wealth Management and a daily on-air contributor to CNBC, he has amassed a large following of people who read and enjoy his books, which focus on financial strategies.
“Normally when you write a book, you do a book tour, and you know, in November of 2020, that wasn’t going to be possible, so we did a virtual book signing,” Josh recounted. “I basically asked all of my fans, if they wanted me to sign their book, to send it to me with a donation of $20 to go to Long Island Cares.”
Books were sent in from across the country and around the world, he said, and he shipped them back at his own expense. “That was kind of my way of contributing, and raising awareness for food insecurity, and it’s amazing how big of a reaction that got,” he said. “So that’s where we ended up raising $20,000 in 2020.”
Karen Sullivan, community development coordinator at Long Island Cares, said that since the start of the pandemic, food insecurity has become a growing issue on the Island. Seventy-three percent more people are food insecure than before the health crisis began, she said. Some 225,000 people are in need of food, 79,000 of whom are children.
Sullivan said that Brown is very “philanthropic,” and added that it has been a pleasure to work with him and his family. “He’s always positive,” she said. “He’s a very good speaker, and people listen. Just says it, and makes it simple for people, and they show up. They want to give.”
On the heels of their 2020 success, the Browns kept their fundraiser local last year. They held a drive and food-packaging event at their home, and families, friends and volunteers arrived with the donations for the food bags, which were packed in the driveway.
“We did a combination approach, and ended up making 150 meals,” Josh said. “And we raised over $20,000 last year in cash again for LI Cares.”
This year, the giving continues. Father and daughter have organized another food drive ahead of Thanksgiving, scheduled to take place in Kennedy High’s parking lot on Nov. 6, from 10 a.m. to noon. They are asking those interested in donating to bring a pre-made bag of food, includes things like four cans of vegetables, a box of stuffing and a can of cranberry sauce. Participants can earn up to three hours of community service, and those who donate 10 bags or more will be entered in a raffle to win two tickets to an Islanders Game in the Dime Club at UBS Arena.
The school is at 3000 Bellmore Avenue, Bellmore.
For more on the drive, go to TinyURL.com/BrownFoodDrive. Monetary donations will also be accepted on the site, and the goal is, once again, $20,000.
Tara and Josh emphasized that food insecurity is a daily struggle for many people across Long Island. “I think just the statistics on food insecurity in Nassau County, and how many people are struggling to put food on the table on any regular day, are so overwhelming,” Josh said. “It’s impossible to be aware of them and not want to respond.”
Josh said Tara was the “driving force” for them to work with Long Island Cares.
“I just missed working with Community Cupboard — I hated being alone, and that I couldn’t do any of my clubs or community service,” Tara recalled. “And last year was when I really noticed — when my dad and I banded together, everyone was interested.”
The locality of Long Island Cares was a reason they decided to work with the organization, Josh added. “I’m a lifelong Merrick resident, my kids go to the same high school that my wife and I went to,” he said. “We’ve been part of the community all our lives. This is more than, you know, checking the box. For us, this is something that we feel like we’re giving back to the place that raised us.”