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Four LI hunger relief groups get $600,000 in grants

In a bit of welcome news for hunger relief on Long Island, the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Shelter Rock in Manhasset announced $600,000 in grants to four Long Island hunger organizations Monday.

The grants to Island Harvest, Long Island Cares, the Long Island Council of Churches, and the Interfaith Nutrition Network come at a time when food agencies are straining under the twin weights of increased demand and decreased donations.

"This is a very significant grant for us," said Randi Shubin Dresner, president and chief executive of Island Harvest in Mineola, which received $150,000. "We lost quite a bit of corporate giving. This fills a void."

The grants came even as the weekend blizzard canceled food drives, stymied delivery trucks, and snowed in buildings for some of Long Island's pantries.

"We've had a couple of pretty major cancellations this weekend," said Dresner. "We had food collections at supermarkets that we had to cancel."

A joint event by the Suffolk County chapter of the American Red Cross and Hauppauge food bank Long Island Cares that would have delivered food to 30 small pantries was canceled after several reported they couldn't open their doors due to the snow. And the snow prevented the Lighthouse Mission in Bellport, which sends mobile food pantries to distribute food in empty parking lots, from making its scheduled stops, Pastor Jim Ryan said.

The grants to four organizations grew from the church's decision to focus on hunger as part of its planned giving this year because of the economic crisis, Congregation president Lauren Furst said. It was a happy circumstance, she said, that the gift fell right before Christmas.

"It made everybody feel great to do it at this time of year," Furst said.

The Long Island Council of Churches, which received $100,000, plans to use some of the money to buy items that aren't usually found in regular food pantries, such as high-iron infant formula and diabetic food, executive director Rev. Tom Goodhue said.

And the Hempstead-based INN will use the $225,000 gift to increase the number of people it serves at its soup kitchens and shelters.

Hauppauge food bank Long Island Cares received $125,000. Executive director Paule Pachter said his organization plans to use part of that money to create a new Nassau Service Center in Freeport.

The center will include a food pantry, provide referrals and information, and will be staffed in part by volunteer social-work students, Pachter said.

Monday night, the Freeport Village Board voted to give about $32,000 to Long Island Cares to cover the first year's lease on the Nassau Service Center in a storefront on Sunrise Highway.

"The need in Freeport is such that he [Pachter] found many people from the Village of Freeport were traveling to Hauppauge for services," said Freeport Community Development Agency executive director Norman Wells.

With Laura Rivera

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