Food banks: Thanksgiving donations down

Nancy Galleain (left), of Commack, Kristine Lehn (center), Nancy Galleain (left), of Commack, Kristine Lehn (center), of Huntington, and Paule Pachter (right), of North Belmore, stand in the freezer at the Long Island Cares food donation center in Happaugue, surrounded by over 5,000 chickens to be given out for Thanksgiving. (Nov. 18, 2011) Photo Credit: Steve Pfost

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Hunger relief organizations working to feed needy families say tough times have reduced donations, and they're struggling to provide Thanksgiving meals for a growing number of hard-hit families.

Long Island Cares says a lack of donations has forced it to switch entrees: For the first time, the Hauppauge food bank will be handing out less expensive chickens instead of turkeys.

"We want to make sure families aren't hungry for the holiday," executive director Paule Pachter said. "Chickens are still a holiday meal."

The organization's 36 soup kitchens and food trucks report a 10 percent increase in the number of people served this year, but donations are down 20 percent, he said.

Without state and federal grants, Long Island Cares wouldn't be able to meet its goal of providing 10,000 Thanksgiving meals, Pachter said.

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Another hunger relief group, Island Harvest will be hard-pressed to meet its goal of distributing 40,000 turkeys to needy families, said president and chief executive Randi Shubin Dresner.

The organization collected 3,725 turkeys at the Bethpage Credit Union on Wednesday, including 1,000 dropped off in a large tractor trailer by NBTY, the Bohemia nutrition foods company.

John Bernich, with six frozen turkeys in the back of his SUV, was part of trickle of people making donations.

The 60-year-old Bethpage insurance agent said he feels fortunate to have survived the economic downturn. "Several of our clients have had their homes foreclosed," he said. "You have to do what you can."

Island Harvest's vice president of operations, Migdalia Otero, said only about 800 of the organization's 1,400 donors are giving as much as they have in the past because times are tight.

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Food manufacturers have cut back on production and have less surplus to donate, she said.

Cynthia Sucich, spokeswoman for Hempstead-based Interfaith Nutrition Network, which runs 19 soup kitchens across Long Island, said her organization handed out 3,000 turkeys last year. As of Tuesday, it had collected 2,000.

Lighthouse Mission in Bellport was expecting to serve about 1,800 families, handing out turkeys and chickens in the next week.

On Wednesday, the mission had collected only 180 turkeys and was expecting to get 300 chickens from Long Island Cares. More donations were urgently needed, said spokeswoman Joanna Fruhauf.

"We'd rather not hand out macaroni and cheese for Thanksgiving," she said.

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THANKSGIVING HELP

To donate, contact these local nonprofits:

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Island Harvest-- Long Island McDonalds locations are accepting nonperishable food items through the holiday season. Panera Bread locations are accepting frozen turkeys and hams. For information, call 516-294-8528.

Long Island Cares-- To organize a food drive or to find a drop-off site, call 631-582-FOOD or email fooddrive@licares.org.

Lighthouse Mission-- Drop off foods at 1543 Montauk Hwy., Bellport, weekdays, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, call 631-758-7584.

Interfaith Nutrition Network-- Nonperishable food items can be dropped off weekdays 9 to 11 a.m. and 2 to 4 p.m. at Mary Brennan Inn Soup Kitchen, 100 Madison Ave., Hempstead. For more information, call 516-486-8506.

Long Island Council of Churches-- For information, call 516-565-0290.

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