Among the hundreds lined up each day at the Mary Brennan soup kitchen in Hempstead Village are those who want to help even as they wait for their own hot meal.
A woman on line for food handed over her last $20 to help other struggling families as Jean Kelly, director of Interfaith Nutrition Network, which operates the soup kitchen, accepted a $1 million donation by the Town of Hempstead at a news conference last week. The woman came forward after Kelly spoke about an 11-year-old boy who had donated to the soup kitchen.
"The heroes are the ones who stand in line and carrying meals to someone not as lucky," Kelly said. "We would be here no matter what, but without these donations, we wouldn’t have the food and that’s what everyone is relying on us for."
Hempstead Town has donated a total of $5 million to local food banks during the COVID-19 pandemic using part of $133 million in federal CARES Act funding the town received to assist community organizations and cover coronavirus-related expenses. Nassau County has also contributed $1 million in federal funding to local food banks.
Food bank organizers say demand has more than doubled, and it’s unclear when that need may end. The federal funding they receive must be spent by the end of the year. Food banks in the Town of Hempstead are approaching 1 million meals served this year.
"This COVID pandemic has not treated every community equally," Hempstead Supervisor Don Clavin said. "What we’ve tried to do is use funding for what it was intended for, helping people and different groups and nonprofits."
The Mary Brennan soup kitchen typically serves 400 people daily and is up to 1,200 people per day since March. The INN expects to serve 200,000 meals by the end of the year.
Island Harvest has reached its maximum capacity of delivering to 750 homes and is no longer taking applications to its Harvest to Home program serving inbound seniors and veterans, Island Harvest president Randi Shubin Dresner said.
Island Harvest typically serves 300,000 people each year, but between March and June, it had already helped 200,000 families. It has also increased food purchasing by 500%.
"During this pandemic, so many people are struggling with their bills. If we can help them with food, maybe they can pay mounting bills and take stress off what they’re dealing with," Shubin Dresner said. "The truth is 15,000 meals would not be provided to residents in this community if it had not been for this grant. I don’t think we could help to this extent without the foresight of the supervisor and his colleagues on the town board."
Island Harvest delivered meals last week to Bernice "Bunny" Myones in Seaford. She said that she now relies on meals delivered to her home because she was getting panic attacks leaving her home during the pandemic to visit her family.
"This came at a time I could use it. I was in a very bad way and didn’t feel comfortable trying to go out and truly needed assistance," said Myones, 92. "I’m fairly dependent on this program. I don’t like to ask too many people for help. I feel more independent and [a] sense of comfort staying by myself."
Grants from Hempstead Town
Island Harvest: $2.1 million for home deliveries to homebound seniors and veterans
Long Island Cares: $2 million to open storefront and pop-up food distribution sites townwide
Interfaith Nutrition Network: $1 million to support soup kitchen