Food pantries offer hope to the needy


‘Tis the season of giving, and local food pantries are diligently working to help feed the needy, despite a decrease in donations compared to previous years.

At St. Frances de Chantal in Wantagh, volunteers at its Parish Social Ministry are dedicating their time to help provide food to the hungry. The ministry’s goal is to provide support to those who face challenges or hardships. They receive donations from people dropping off a can of food or other necessities and are there to offer help to those who need assistance.

Although the shelves in the ministry’s food pantry are filling up, they are not as stocked as in previous years, according to Ele Melendez, ministry director.

“We’re okay,” Melendez said about the food pantry, “but it’s been fuller. I’m surprised. These shelves are usually leaping over.”

Melendez said the pantry is usually overflowing during this time of year, and her freezers would be filled with turkeys the week before Thanksgiving. Instead, she said they only had three turkeys, which made her a little nervous.

Melendez added that food prices in supermarkets have been high, making it more difficult for those already struggling to feed themselves and their families. The increase in costs also makes it more difficult for others to spend a little extra on items to donate.

“You go to the supermarket and see the prices,” Melendez said, “and I can’t believe it. You can’t walk out of the supermarket without spending a fortune.”

Susan Heilig, secretary at the Church of St. Jude in Seaford, said the church hosts food drives during the holiday months, and she has also noticed a decrease in donations compared to previous years. The high price of food could be a contributing factor, she said.

“People’s paychecks are definitely not stretching,” Heilig said. “I heard a woman the other day say she spent $500 on groceries for her family of four.”

Despite the struggles, Heilig said plenty of people are still willing to donate to help their community.

“People are still giving,” she said. “I see it here. You just have to ask a lot more frequently.”

At St. Frances, volunteers are working diligently to provide for the less fortunate. They have packed boxes, providing breakfast, lunch and dinner with a turkey for struggling families on Thanksgiving. The boxes are decorated and wrapped, and Melendez said they plan to send out around 150 boxes, with each capable of feeding four to five members in a family.

On Thanksgiving Day, Melendez said the St. Frances parish hosts a dinner, where those who struggle to afford food are welcomed for a full, catered meal. Melendez added that around 100 people show up for the Thanksgiving dinner, and are also treated to entertainment, such as a magic show and musical performances.

Meals-on-Wheels also works with the Parish Social Ministry at St. Frances, delivering food to the parish twice a week. Volunteers then take the food to seniors who are homebound. For many elderly, volunteers delivering food to them is the only human interaction they experience, according to Melendez.

Across the street from the parish is the social ministry’s thrift shop, which offers low-priced clothing, household items and other domestic needs for people struggling to provide for themselves or their families. The shop, which is run by volunteers, is open Monday to Friday, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Proceeds go to help the ministry, Melendez said, adding that if people can’t afford to buy items from the store, she’ll give them vouchers to shop.

In addition to helping struggling families in Wantagh, the ministry at St. Frances also assists needy families in Wyandanch, Freeport and Uniondale, as well as providing assistance to youth homes throughout Long Island.

The ministry is always looking for donations, especially paper goods, such as toilet paper, as well as laundry detergent and women’s hygiene products.

For Melendez, it is important to donate whenever possible, because you never know who may be struggling.

“You don’t know what your next-door neighbor is going through,” Melendez said. “They could have just lost their job, but they still have the fancy car, they still have the nice clothes, but they can’t afford to put the food on the table. You don’t know what’s going on.”