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Rebirth of Freeport food pantry set for Easter Monday

The day after Easter, the Freeport food pantry -- one of the largest on Long Island -- will open under an unusual partnership between the Long Island Council of Churches and  AHRC Nassau, an organization that assists handicapped people. The Rev. Dyanna Pina, who is executive director of the LI Council of Churches, calls it "a resurrection story," referring to the state of disrepair of the old pantry location.  (Credit: Newsday / Chris Ware)

The Rev. Dyanne Pina was horrified by conditions at the Freeport food pantry run by the Long Island Council of Churches the first time she walked in last June: there were holes in the roof, mold, exposed electrical wires and backed-up toilets.

Tarps hung from the ceiling to try to catch the rain, and buckets were placed on the floors to hold what the tarps didn’t capture.

“I was appalled. I was disturbed. It was surreal,” said Pina, who had become the council’s executive director that same month.

Pina quickly ordered the pantry closed, though she had no idea where, when or if the lifeline for poor people in need of food and other services could resume operations. The pantry has served about 7,500 people a year, operating from the Nassau County-owned building on North Main Street since 2005.

Now, as Pina and others mark Easter Sunday, the food pantry — one of the largest on Long Island — is set to officially reopen Monday in a new location as part of an unusual partnership with AHRC Nassau, a not-for-profit organization that assists people with special needs and developmental disabilities.

“We’re very proud to partner with the Long Island Council of Churches on this initiative,” said Stanfort Perry, executive director of AHRC Nassau, based in Brookville. “It just seemed the best thing to do and the right thing to do.”

Pina is elated.

“It is a resurrection story,” she said. “The Freeport pantry has gone through the desert, the storm, the rain — literally. And we come to this wonderful juncture where we are able to move into our new facility. I am so overjoyed the way God has blessed us.”

For eight months, the pantry operated temporarily in the basement of Freeport United Methodist Church while a permanent location was sought.

When AHRC Nassau heard about the situation, leaders of the group jumped in and offered use of part of their facility at 230 Hanse Ave. in Freeport.

The AHRC donated its services and manpower to renovate that warehouse-like section, and the pantry’s volunteers and workers started moving food, furniture and supplies to the new location on April 1.

Under the arrangement, the council is paying AHRC $810 a month in rent, the same amount it paid to Nassau County.

Pina said she can scarcely believe the council’s good fortune. She had lost sleep over conditions at the old pantry and over where it could be relocated, she said.

“I do believe it was a heavenly divine act,” she said. “As we journeyed this past year, as we went through the trials, the tribulations, the fear, anxiety, not knowing where this pantry was going to be, there was always hope . . . that this pantry was going to rise from the ashes and come to a place where it would well serve the neighbors of our community.”

The contrast between the new and old could hardly be more stark. While the original location had floor tiles coming free from the cement floor, and ceiling tiles starting to collapse from the weight of the rain, the new place is airy, bright, clean and welcoming, Pina said.

When clients come into the new pantry, “my heart warms, thinking that they will — with all the burdens that they bring with them — come into a place that they can put a smile on their face,” she said.

“It’s beautiful, it’s bright, no leakage,” she said, laughing. “No rust, no mildew.”

The old place was so bad, she said, the council decided to leave almost everything in it rather than move it to the new location. The council had complained to the county in the past about the conditions, Pina said, and some problems, such as heating, were fixed eventually — but many were not.

Perry said he envisions the partnership going beyond shared space.

AHRC clients will be able to volunteer at the pantry, stocking shelves and performing other duties that will prepare them for jobs in the regular workforce, he said.

“Every supermarket needs people to stock shelves,” Perry said. “Six months from now, they can take that resume and go to the local [supermarket] and use that skill that they’ve learned by helping out at the food pantry.”

The council still has some needs as it gets the new pantry going: commercial freezers and refrigerators and a top-of-the-line computer to handle the heavy workload, Pina said.

For now, she is excited that the pantry is back up and running.

“It’s a good day of hope,” Pina said. “It’s a good day of resurrection.”

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