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Food pantries to use $1.6M in state aid to buy meals from LI restaurants

Frank Borrelli Jr. said his family's Italian restaurant

Frank Borrelli Jr. said his family's Italian restaurant in East Meadow will apply to the state's Restaurant Resiliency Program to work with food banks. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

Two food banks on Long Island will share $1.6 million to feed the poor and help local restaurants survive the pandemic, officials said.

Long Island Cares and Island Harvest will purchase restaurant meals through a new state initiative — the Restaurant Resiliency Program, or RRP — for distribution to the needy. To participate, eateries must apply to the state Department of Agriculture and Markets at surveymonkey.com/r/DX589FC.

"This is going to give us more revenue to continue paying staff, and we're helping people, helping our neighbors," Frank Borrelli Jr., owner of Borrelli's Italian Restaurant in East Meadow, said this week. "I'm working on my application."

To be eligible for the RRP, restaurants must have a valid operating license, have passed all health inspections and be able to prepare nutritious meals that meet state guidelines. They don’t have to show a COVID-related revenue loss, though the program's aim is to help eateries recover from pandemic restrictions, in addition to feeding the hungry.

"Any restaurant in New York State is eligible for the program if it meets the criteria," Jola Szubielski, a spokeswoman for the agriculture department, told Newsday, adding catering halls may not participate.

Long Island Cares and Island Harvest will select from a list of state-approved restaurants and hope to begin buying meals later this month or in November.

Statewide, 10 food banks have been awarded a total of $25 million to feed the homeless and low-income families through the program. Forty-four percent of the funding, or $11 million, went to two food banks in New York City.

Up to 100,000 LI meals

Long Island Cares and Island Harvest each expect to buy between 40,000 and 50,000 meals for distribution to the needy by March 31, when the RRP is set to end.

Paule Pachter, CEO of Long Island Cares, said he’s looking to work with restaurants that are within three miles of the Hauppauge-based agency's satellite offices in Bethpage, Freeport, Hampton Bays, Huntington Station and Lindenhurst. Those offices will hand out the meals.

He said he reached out to Borrelli's Italian Restaurant and others to encourage them to submit RRP applications.

"The meals need to be nutritious and healthy: chicken with mashed potatoes and string beans or salmon with vegetables and a pasta," Pachter said. "We’re not talking about exotic-type foods or ones with a lot of fat, salt and sugar."

Meal plans

Eateries must submit meal plans as part of their application.

"I need to purchase 9,200 meals every month. … I want to be able to change up the menus with the restaurants based on the feedback that we receive from our customers," Pachter said, adding he expects to pay about $15 for each meal.

At Island Harvest in Melville, CEO Randi Shubin Dresner said the RRP is a natural extension of the agency's 29-year campaign to distribute surplus food from restaurants, delis and other food establishments to the hungry in Nassau and Suffolk counties.

"We are eager to begin our part of [the RRP] as soon as possible to provide emergency food support to Long Islanders facing food insecurity," she said.

Restaurants will deliver the meals to soup kitchens and other food programs affiliated with Island Harvest for distribution to the needy, Dresner said this week.

The RRP, launched last week by Gov. Kathy Hochul, builds on volunteer efforts in Huntington village and other local communities, where residents collected monetary donations to purchase restaurant meals for hospital employees and other essential workers last year.

In addition, food banks already receive grants from the state’s Nourish New York program to purchase supplies from local farmers and fishermen.

Eateries continue to shut down nearly two years after the coronavirus struck and some of the grant and loan programs that they qualify for have ended, most notably the federal Restaurant Revitalization Fund and Paycheck Protection Program.

Melissa Fleischut, CEO of the state Restaurant Association, said the RRP "is a creative way to … align the needs of food insecure New Yorkers and the amazing individuals in the still-struggling New York restaurant industry [to] move forward together."

Borrelli agreed, saying it's been difficult to sustain his family's restaurant, which employs 25 people on Hempstead Turnpike.

"In the early months [of the pandemic], I worried that we would have to close," he said, adding that five months of grants from the independent Barstool Fund "helped us to keep the doors open." The fund, started in December, has raised $42 million so far to aid restaurants and other hard-hit industries, many of them on Long Island.

Questions about the RRP may be sent to RestaurantResiliency.Information@agriculture.ny.gov or by calling 518-457-7076.

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