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Expansion will help Riverhead nonprofit in more ways than one

Fidel Garcia, center, supervisor of community services at

Fidel Garcia, center, supervisor of community services at RISE Life Services in Riverhead, pantry workers Robert Little, from left, Robert Carroll and Tiffany McKee Baker, and JoAnn Vitale, director of operations for day and community services unload donations from Island Harvest on Friday, Oct. 8, 2021. Credit: Randee Daddona

The expansion of a Riverhead nonprofit’s headquarters will provide new space that officials expect will both help bolster the organization’s food pantry services and provide therapeutic aid for people who have developmental disabilities.

RISE Life Services announced recently that Riverhead officials have approved the construction of a new space along 3 acres of land at its East Main Street headquarters that will feature a 4,000-square-foot structure, allowing the nonprofit to expand some of its programs.

Charles Evdos, executive director of the nonprofit, told Newsday on Oct. 7 that the expansion will house the Main Street Connection Day program, which features a sensory garden. The garden allows the nonprofit to grow food used at group homes that RISE operates. In addition, while there are about 30 people working in the garden — most of whom have developmental disabilities — the expansion will allow the nonprofit to add at least 50 more people to help grow additional food Evdos said.

"It’s got streams, it’s got flowers, we have a greenhouse that is on-site, and the consumers that go through that program will help grow plants and vegetables and get into horticulture," Evdos said. "It will be a therapeutic program for those individuals. Hopefully we’ll be able to grow enough food to help out the East End and also contribute to other areas in Suffolk County."

The pantries RISE operates are in Riverhead and Hampton Bays. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020, Evdos and other RISE officials say they have seen demands on pantry operations increase substantially, by about 300%. Combined, both pantries — which rely on public donations to sustain operations — are serving about 2,000 people monthly, with more than 1,500 of those coming from Riverhead, according to Evdos.

JoAnn Vitale, director of day and community services for RISE, runs both pantries. She told Newsday that in addition to getting more food for the pantries, the expansion will allow the nonprofit to provide healthier food options such as tomatoes and cucumbers, which they don’t normally get donated to them.

Vitale added that the garden will also provide more opportunities for individuals with developmental disabilities to interact with people, providing them with learning and therapeutic experiences.

"These individuals are learning a lot from helping people," Vitale said. "Usually, people with disabilities are on the receiving end of services. It’s a great opportunity for them to be on the giving end. The individuals really like doing it and they look forward to doing it."

Riverhead Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said in a statement that the nonprofit’s work in providing key services made the expansion a welcome addition in the town.

"The need for all of these services is dire, and the work RISE does both in our community and far beyond changes lives every day," said Aguiar. "We are proud to have RISE in Riverhead and look forward to the day the doors open."

A LARGER FOOTPRINT

  • RISE Life Services is a Riverhead-based nonprofit that focuses on providing aid to developmentally disabled individuals.
  • Discussions for an expansion of RISE’s headquarters in Riverhead has been discussed for about two years, according to Charles Evdos, the nonprofit’s executive director.
  • Construction of the RISE expansion will start in November and is expected to be concluded within three to four months, according to RISE officials.

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