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Episcopal diocese's donation means Freeport food pantry can stay open

Mark Fernandez, of Oceanside, sorts food supplies on

Mark Fernandez, of Oceanside, sorts food supplies on Oct. 28, 2014, at the food pantry in Freeport. Credit: Johnny Milano

The largest food pantry in Nassau County will remain open because The Episcopal Diocese of Long Island has pledged to donate $40,000 annually for three years, making up for much of a county funding cut that threatened its existence, the center's leaders said Tuesday.

"We're ecstatic, delighted," said the Rev. Tom Goodhue, executive director of the Long Island Council of Churches, which runs the Freeport pantry. "This is an extraordinary amount of generosity."

County legislators last week slashed Nassau's annual contribution from $100,000 to $60,000, putting the pantry's existence in doubt. The county had contributed $129,000 annually since its founding 30 years ago, until a reduction three years ago to $100,000 a year.

Goodhue had said the drop in county funding probably would force the pantry to close. The center served a record 1,719 people in October, compared with 1,346 in October 2013, he said.

One volunteer said workers, some in tears over the possible closure, had been praying for a development that would allow the pantry to keep operating.

"Our prayer has been answered," said Frances Limehouse of Hempstead, who volunteers five days a week at the 450 N. Main St. center. "There's a lot of hungry people out there."

The Rev. Lawrence Provenzano, bishop of The Episcopal Diocese of Long Island, said, "Nassau County's lack of concern for the needs of the poor and most vulnerable in the county needs to be addressed directly. And though the diocese alone cannot pick up the slack for something that is clearly a regionwide and community responsibility, we cannot ignore this growing need and leave people behind."

The financial rescue came just in time for the holiday season. The center, which last year gave out more than 250 turkeys for Thanksgiving, is looking for donations of turkeys, hams, rice, corn, green beans, yams and potatoes, Goodhue said.

The county said last week it still would provide $100,000 a year to food pantry services but would modify who received the money -- with $50,000 going to the Freeport center and $25,000 each to two other nonprofits, Long Island Cares and Island Harvest. Those groups mainly provide food to pantries for distribution.

County officials then decided to increase the total donation to $110,000, with the Freeport pantry receiving $60,000 and contributions to the other two groups at $25,000 each.

John E. Imhof, commissioner of the Department of Social Services, has said the Freeport pantry's funding was being cut partly because the county wants to make pantries more accessible in other parts of Nassau.

Goodhue, however, said the county's plan would not meet that goal because the diverted funding is going to food banks -- groups, he added, whose work he admires.

The Long Island Council of Churches spends about $260,000 yearly to run the Freeport pantry and a smaller center in Hempstead that also provides assistance with transportation, rent and prescriptions. In addition to funding from the county and the Garden-City-based Episcopal diocese's donation, the council must raise $160,000 to keep all of its operations running. The money comes from churches, businesses and foundations.

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