Food Not Bombs sets up in Wyandanch
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Starting early on a recent Saturday, a handful of people -- their cars packed with fresh produce, baked goods and bouquets of flowers -- drove to Wyandanch.
They started handing out their bounty from behind folding tables, transforming a sidewalk on Straight Path into the newest food distribution site for Long Island Food Not Bombs.
The nonprofit organization has expanded, now distributing food at one location in Brooklyn and five on Long Island: Wyandanch, Huntington, Farmingville, Hempstead and Coram. Its growth comes at a time when, volunteers say, more people need food, and Congress considers cuts to the food stamp program.
Food Not Bombs opened its first site in Hempstead in 2006 and has added a new location roughly each year. The group now has about 1,000 volunteers and has given out about 1 million pounds of food so far this year, said co-founder Jon Stepanian.
Stepanian, 28, of Huntington, said he hopes to add another site by next spring. The organization does business a little differently than other hunger-relief programs. With no office, central location or paid employees, it relies on volunteers to run the organization, performing tasks such as going out to grocery stores to get donations.
"We intercept food that would . . . spoil," said volunteer Brian O'Haire of West Babylon. The group also distributes food weekly to about 50 other locations, including churches and social services agencies.
On Aug. 18, the first day in Wyandanch, about 30 people picked up food, starting around noon in front of the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Health Center. The next week, the number grew to about 50. "We will be into the hundreds before you know it," said volunteer Rose Zacchi of Ronkonkoma, a mental health worker.
Babylon Town human services Commissioner Madeline Bayton said the Wyandanch food share gives residents another opportunity to give back to their neighbors in need.
"I think it is a great thing, a beautiful thing," Bayton said.
Stepanian said the group regularly receives requests to start new food sites. He said some of its criteria for assessing locations include average income, foreclosure rates and residents' access to "healthier foods," such as fresh produce and whole grain breads.
"We don't want to just give out food," he said. "We want to enhance the community."
He said, for example, that since the group started in Farmingville, relationships between patrons have improved. "Some of the biggest bullies became the best volunteers," he said of people once in the line for food.
As appeals have grown, so has the number of people the organization serves. He said about 30 people turned out each week when the group first started giving out food in Hempstead in 2006. Now, about 700 people come out weekly there.
"Most people who work on Long Island can't afford to live on Long Island," he said.
FOOD DISTRIBUTION SITES
Coram: Mondays at 5:30 p.m., Mill Road, south of Route 25
Huntington: Tuesdays at 7 p.m., East Sixth Street and Fairground Avenue
Farmingville: Thursdays at 7, Horseblock Road and Woodycrest Drive
Wyandanch: Saturdays at noon, Straight Path
Hempstead: Sundays at 2 p.m., West Columbia Street and Station Plaza