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E. Farmingdale soup kitchen tries to rebuild after fire

The Rev. Diane Dunne, director of the Hope

The Rev. Diane Dunne, director of the Hope for the Future Ministries, stands in front of her food pantry, which was heavily damaged Sunday in a fire that police said appeared to be arson. Credit: Charles Eckert

Sitting in a gray van outside her torched East Farmingdale soup kitchen, the Rev. Diane Dunne let out a whoop. "We're rolling!" she exclaimed as she hung up her cell phone Monday.

Since the Hope for the Future Ministries soup kitchen was burned early Sunday in what police said appeared to be arson, Dunne has been receiving dozens of calls and visitors offering food, office space, and their labor to clean up the debris-filled, burned-out space and return the pantry to normal.

"We need to rebuild," Dunne said. "A lot of people are going to be hurting."

Not the least of which are those who rely on Dunne's organization for Thanksgiving dinner and Christmas gifts. Turkeys and toys that the group had amassed were burned in the fire.

Dunne unlocked the boarded-up front door to let visitors see a glimpse of the devastation. Inside, the smell of soot was intense. The only sound was the constant dripping of water from the now-exposed beams in the ceiling. Shelves of spices stood over pieces of the burned ceiling in the darkened kitchen. A clock on the wall was stopped at 3:03.

Police so far have not announced any suspects in the attack, although Dunne said she thought it might have stemmed from an unspecified incident at her ministry several years ago.

The kitchen has been cooking hot meals for the needy for 18 years out of the East Farmingdale location. The facility relies on more than 200 volunteers to prepare meals, maintain its warehouse and deliver food. More than 1,000 meals are served each week out of a van in Farmingdale, Hempstead and the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Also, more than 2,000 bags of food are handed out at the facility's food pantry each week.

Monday, as Dunne and other volunteers fielded phone calls from the parking lot and waited for insurance adjusters to begin assessing the damage, a stream of well-wishers visited, looked at the building and offered their help.

Jonathan Meo, 26, of Lynbrook, came by on his lunch break from a nearby printing company.

"I had to come and check it out," said Meo, who offered to help clean up. "Get this place open for Christmas."

A business owner offered to build new shelving. Two libraries volunteered to collect food. Stop & Shop, which already had a turkey drive planned for Tuesday, is donating emergency gift cards to Dunne, and Hauppauge food bank Long Island Cares is donating a mobile food pantry to the group.

Roman Krawczyk, partner in Cablelot Systems, a Farmingdale computer company, said every year his company donates turkeys to Hope for the Future. This week, he said, they were going to send 250 birds - plans now scuttled by the fire.

Krawczyk, who is offering an office in his building for the group, said he couldn't understand why anyone would torch a soup kitchen. "Who are you hurting?" he asked. "You're hurting the people who need food."

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