Marit Molin has been named the 2021 Suffolk County Woman...

Marit Molin has been named the 2021 Suffolk County Woman of Distinction. Credit: Barry Sloan

When the coronavirus pandemic began upending lives last March, Marit Molin set out to make life a little easier for hundreds of struggling residents on the East End, and a year later those efforts continue to sustain those who need a lifeline.

The licensed social worker and community advocate has since helped deliver more than 5,000 meals on the South Fork through her nonprofit organization, Hamptons Community Outreach. The group’s offerings to the underserved also include no-cost therapy, free tutoring for schoolchildren, a diaper drive and a social media campaign that spread like wildfire.

Those efforts are the reasons Molin, 43, of Water Mill, has been named the 2021 Suffolk County Woman of Distinction. She was chosen from a pool of nominees from all 18 Suffolk County legislative districts and was honored Tuesday during the virtual legislature meeting.

Accepting the award on Tuesday outside the Sag Harbor office of Legis. Bridget Fleming (D-Noyac), whose office nominated her, Molin said the honor should be shared with the donors and volunteers who made her work possible.

"People tell us about the beauty of the Hamptons, the beaches, the landscape, the farmlands," said Molin, who lives with her husband and two children. "What really makes this place so special is the people. Time and time again, I’ve seen the people of the East End step up and support their less-fortunate neighbors."

FEEDING THE NEED

Molin is the founder of Hamptons Art Camp, a Bridgehampton-based summer program where 40% of the students do not pay tuition due to financial need. With uncertainty last year surrounding COVID-19 regulations, Molin turned the camp’s annual fundraising efforts toward another community need — hunger.

She put out the call through GoFundMe and letter-writing campaigns. The Hamptons community answered in a big way, giving $250,000 in cash donations and $70,000 in food donations.

"I think the pandemic made everyone feel isolated and disconnected, and it was a way to lessen those feelings," Molin said.

The work began by using the money for groceries as well as cooked meals from local restaurants like La Hacienda in Southampton and Pepperoni’s Pizza in East Hampton. The effort had a twofold benefit. Restaurants that suddenly closed during the pandemic received a new income stream, while struggling families were provided hot meals.

The population served by the program is a mix, Molin said. It includes immigrants, but also local single mothers who may have lost their jobs during the pandemic.

Hamptons Community Outreach also delivers meals to migrant farmworkers living in Water Mill who are from the American South and make their way to the East End to pick vegetable crops.

"I think she’s the Elon Musk of social work," Hamptons Community Outreach board member Nick Gazzolo said of Molin’s outside-the-box thinking in a reference to the Tesla founder. "A real visionary."

Today the service operates by bringing grocery and medical supplies biweekly to 150 households.

OFFERING THERAPY

Therapy can be expensive. Even more so in a place with a high cost of living like the South Fork.

Couple that with COVID-19’s impact on mental health — financial woes, marital problems, isolation and more — and suddenly more people on the East End were seeking affordable therapy than ever before.

"The pandemic just made life so much harder for people," Molin said. "We see substance abuse. We see an increase in anxiety, especially among adolescents."

Through Hamptons Community Outreach, Molin and two other clinical social workers began offering no-cost therapy to those in need. The organization is applying for grant money to expand that service.

TENNIS, TUTORING+

The effort went beyond basic needs to include enrichment activities.

The organization offered free weekly tennis and art lessons for the underserved at the Bridgehampton Childcare Center from volunteer instructors, including a former U.S. Open competitor.

Joanne Comber-Jimenez, owner of Hamptons Pony, which offers riding lessons in Bridgehampton, will soon offer discounted riding lessons for underserved children, paid for by Molin’s group.

"I think it’s going to open a whole new world to these children," Comber-Jimenez said. "I’m just inspired by her every time I talk to her."

Money raised through the program also goes to tutoring, urgent medical care and birthday parties for children who otherwise would not be able to afford it.

Roxana Duron, of Southampton, helped connect Molin with those in need during the pandemic, including a friend who was dealing with vision loss. The organization funded his corrective eye surgery.

"I swear to God, she’s like an angel," Duron said. "In this world, it is very difficult to find people like her."

#ICARE❤️ CAMPAIGN

The ripple effect of Molin’s work reverberated through a social media campaign launched last summer.

The campaign asked people to share an act of kindness on social media using the hashtags #ICARE❤️ and #hamptonscommunityoutreach and to encourage others to do the same. It also raised money in part by selling clothes with the #ICARE❤️ logo on it.

The campaign drew attention from social media influencers like Bravo’s "The Real Housewives of Dallas" star Jennifer Davis and was shared by the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Kitchen, which also partnered with the organization to distribute food.

Kristin Davey, a children’s yoga instructor from Sag Harbor, spread the word through her own social media account and by wearing the gear. Her daughter, Gaylin, a senior at Pierson High School, helped spearhead a diaper drive at the school that collected nearly 5,000 diapers.

"I think she’s incredibly inspiring," Davey said of Molin. "I think she sets a wonderful example of what just one person really can do."