Mets team up with Island Harvest to fight hunger

Pitcher Tim Byrdak of the New York Mets,

Pitcher Tim Byrdak of the New York Mets, middle, helps load boxes of food into truck at the Island Harvest Hauppauge Food Distribution Center this morning. The 23,509-square foot facility at 40 Marcus Blvd. was officially opened today as trucks were loaded to bring food to some of the feeding programs served by Island Harvest. (June 19, 2012) (Credit: Photo by Jim Staubitser)

Fighting hunger on Long Island is no can of corn, as ballplayers say. But the Island's largest food-relief agency -- helped by the Mets -- made it look easy Tuesday at the opening of a new distribution center.

Island Harvest formally opened its 23,000-square-foot Hauppauge distribution center at a midday ribbon-cutting ceremony. The new warehouse -- now the organization's largest -- will make Island Harvest's relief services more effective and efficient, President and chief executive Randi Shubin Dresner said. The agency distributes about 8 million pounds of food a year.

"It [this center] is helping us bring more food, more donations and more volunteers," Dresner said, adding more variety will be offered as a result.

The hunger relief agency collects businesses' surplus food and distributes it to more than 570 local food pantries, soup kitchens and other organizations. About 300,000 Long Islanders -- one-third of them children -- depend on daily food relief, Dresner said.

She and other Island Harvest board members were joined at Tuesday's opening by Mets pitchers Tim Byrdak and Jeremy Hefner and left fielder Mike Baxter. The players' pregame work sorting food and packing delivery trucks was part of the Mets' season-long hunger relief initiative, "Feeding the Big Apple."

Lefthanded relief pitcher Byrdak, of Westbury, said helping a local organization makes such outreach doubly rewarding.

"Coming out and doing stuff in the community like this is what we're here to do," he said.

The Mets have partnered with Island Harvest for a decade, said Jill Knee, the team's director of community outreach. A food truck from Island Harvest or New York-based City Harvest accepts food donations outside each Friday homegame, she said.

The Hauppauge distribution center cost Island Harvest less than $12,000, Dressner said. But local trade unions and businesses stepped up to the plate with more than $350,000 of donated labor and services.

"They [Island Harvest] have always given whatever they can," said Karen Boorshtein, president of the Family Service League, a Huntington social-service organization. "This makes it more accessible."

After Tuesday's's grand opening, the Mets played catch in the warehouse with a donated can of corn. Baxter, a Whitestone, Queens, native, said organizations such as Island Harvest are the start of the solution to hunger.

"This is one of the best parts about playing in New York," said Baxter, 27. "It means a lot to me personally to go out and see the good that's being done in the neighborhood."

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