A Long Island nonprofit is asking people to have a heart after Valentine's Day by donating unloved chocolates to local food pantries instead of dumping them.
It's an idea being promoted by the Long Island Council of Churches because nonprofits' food pantries are often bare in winter, especially in these tough economic times. In the past few years, many Long Islanders have lost jobs and income, while others ask for free food as they scrimp to pay mortgages.
"Most of us have food in our homes we will never eat, food our neighbors need," said the Rev. Tom Goodhue, the council's executive director. "This is a great time to give away anything that you are not going to use. We will even take fruitcake."
Goodhue said he got the idea after a Riverhead health care provider dropped off several baskets full of Valentine's Day sweets at the council's local pantry last year.
"They just realized they got far more than they needed," he said, "and it got us thinking that this probably happens to other people. It would be sad if it just ended up in the garbage.
"It might also then encourage people to think about what else do they have to donate. . . . When did they buy low-fat stuff they didn't like, low-salt stuff they didn't like, sugar-free things they're never going to eat?"
That last note grows out of Goodhue's own home experience. He and his wife bought several cans of no-salt tomato sauce and low-fat refried beans, but just didn't like them.
"A lot of times people trying to be healthy try something which is low salt, low fat, low sugar, whatever," he said. " . . . With the huge explosion in the number of seniors coming to us for help, those are precisely the items that people are looking for."
Last year, council officials said, their Freeport food center fed 331 more seniors than in 2010. The council also runs a center in Riverhead.
Diet and specialty food items are often not on pantry donors' minds, nonprofit officials have said, but many people are desperate for them.
The council has been using the calendar to get people to think about cleaning their cupboards. At Christmas, it was fruitcakes.
It'll be cookies next month, when the Girl Scouts' fundraising cookies flood offices and homes across the country.
"A lot of times people buy this stuff to be supportive of some good cause and then they end up with more of it than they want or need," Goodhue said. "We're trying to use this as an occasion to give this stuff away."