“What he really did by opening up Long Island Cares...

“What he really did by opening up Long Island Cares is he inspired people to follow suit,” said the Hauppauge-based nonprofit's CEO, Paule Pachter. Credit: Howard Schnapp

The relatively short but consequential life of Harry Chapin, a Long Island legend through his music and help for the hungry, will again be remembered, with the return of a regionwide food drive next week. 

On Tuesday, the Hauppauge-based organization will hold its first “day of service” since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, on the 43rd anniversary of Chapin's death in a crash on the Long Island Expressway at age 38. This year's event will be an opportunity for community members to tour the Long Island Cares headquarters, donate nonperishable food and, for the first time, create videos detailing their own memories of the legendary singer-songwriter and how they've attempted to carry on his legacy of giving.

Food donations will also be accepted at Long Island Cares locations in Huntington Station, Valley Stream, Freeport, Lindenhurst, Bethpage, Hampton Bays and Hauppauge.

“A lot of people in a cynical time, without transparency, wonder where their money’s going, and I just really love the idea of giving people tours and seeing the process in terms of how the warehouses work and how the food is distributed,” said Josh Chapin, one of the late singer-songwriter's five children.

It's part of the food bank's ongoing tribute to Chapin's work as an early leader in efforts to feed the less fortunate by taking donations while also raising awareness about hunger on Long Island.

“It was Harry's work in the hunger space that inspired other people like Bono and Bruce Springsteen and more,” said Long Island Cares president and CEO Paule Pachter.

Pachter had the idea for a day of tribute when he joined the organization 16 years ago. The annual event began in 2015.

“What he really did by opening up Long Island Cares is he inspired people to follow suit,” Pachter said.

Before the pandemic, Pachter said they would typically see a solid turnout of between 70 and 100 people.

Chapin founded Long Island Cares in 1980. The organization, which now has The Harry Chapin Regional Food Bank tacked onto the end of its name, aims to “improve food security, sponsor programs that help families achieve self-sufficiency & educate,” according to its website.

Another son, Jason Chapin, said his father's humanitarian work became just as important as his music.

“When my father did something, he gave it 100%,” Chapin said.

Josh Chapin described feeling homesick when he talks about the work his father did for food insecurity — now that he lives in New York City, he misses the Long Island mentality that gained his father so much support.

“I don’t know what it is, but there is something special about the Suffolk County I grew up in, and the Long Island I grew up in,” he said.

What made Chapin special, according to Pachter, was the way he engaged with Long Islanders who recognized him on the street.

The day of service is wedged between other opportunities to honor Chapin.

At 6 p.m. Sunday at Eisenhower Park in East Meadow, Long Island Cares will put on a free Harry Chapin tribute show and food drive. At 7 p.m. July 21, another tribute concert is set for Heckscher Park in Huntington.

“All he wanted to do is help people and end hunger, and unfortunately we’re never going to end hunger," Pachter said, "but that doesn’t mean we don’t remember Harry.”

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