Susan Karbiner, a volunteer at Long Island Cares in Huntington...

Susan Karbiner, a volunteer at Long Island Cares in Huntington Station stocks the shelves at the food pantry on Tuesday, March 6, 2018. Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

The number of Long Islanders served by one of the region’s largest food banks increased by 19 percent last year despite the improving economy, according to the Hauppauge-based nonprofit.

Long Island Cares Inc. said 30,116 people sought emergency food and assistance at its centers in Huntington Station, Lindenhurst and Freeport in 2017, compared with 25,310 in 2016. And it served 22 percent more meals than in 2016.

Organizers attributed the increased demand to residents who were struggling with underemployment, high taxes and a lack of affordable housing. They also noted an increase in the number of children, seniors and recent immigrants.

“People on Long Island are dealing with higher expenses in terms of rent and taxes. So we’re seeing people who are perhaps underemployed, lost their job several years ago and are not fully recovered from effects of the recession,” Paule Pachter, CEO of Long Island Cares-The Harry Chapin Food Bank, said in an interview.

Pachter said that given the improving economy, he had expected the number of people seeking assistance to stabilize in 2017.

“We were kind of surprised we saw an increase of 20 percent,” he said.

The statistics from the three Long Island Cares centers are included in a report the group plans to release at a news conference Thursday.

Families on hourly wages have to work two or three jobs, and also have to rely on public benefits like food stamps as well as pantries.

Those seeking food aid last year included:

  • 14,770 adults, an increase of 8.4 percent compared with 13,621 in 2016.
  • 9,714 children, an increase of 6,772, or 43.3 percent, compared with 2016.
  • 7,054 seniors, an increase of 5,614, or 25.7 percent.

The number of veterans and their families visiting Long Island Cares during its weekly “Military Appreciation Tuesdays” — an opportunity for them to get food, personal care items, household products, pet food, and school supplies — also increased in 2017 by 30.6 percent.

In 2017, 910 veterans sought assistance at the three satellite centers, compared with 697 veterans receiving support in 2016.

Pachter said grocery stores, foundations and businesses stepped up their donations to meet the growing demand, despite concern that high profile relief efforts for hurricanes in Florida, Texas and Puerto Rico would have diverted resources.

Food drives produced 709,319 pounds of donated food, personal care products, pet supplies and household items to the food bank in 2017, a 42-percent increase over the prior year.

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