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Setauket pop-up pantry site ready to hand out food in time of need

Jessica Rosati, chief programs officer for Long Island

Jessica Rosati, chief programs officer for Long Island Cares, with a sampling of food items ready to be donated to people in need, every Saturday in Setauket.  Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

Long Island Cares has seen record-breaking demand at its food pantries amid the coronavirus crisis except at one — a pop-up site located on Nicolls Road in Setauket.

Organizers have been trying to figure out why, and to get out the word that free food is available to people who have suffered setbacks during the pandemic, like losing their jobs.

They think the location may be the culprit. The temporary food pantry is based at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Stony Brook along a road that runs mainly through a residential area, with few commercial businesses nearby.

“Unless you are on Nicolls Road, you really aren’t going there,” said Jessica Rosati, chief programs officer at LI Cares, a nonprofit based in Hauppauge that has provided people in need with food for 40 years.

The pop-up site, at 380 Nicolls Rd., is open every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., through the end of June. Since it opened in early May, it has mainly seen a trickle of people.

Activity picked up last Saturday, when 49 people or families came in, though organizers say they can handle many more.

The site was set up after some residents said they wanted to give back to their community by donating funds, Rosati said.

“The word is starting to spread but it was a little slow going because it is kind of off the beaten path,” she said.

The pop-up site could continue past June if demand increases and there seems to be a need, she said.

LI Cares, which was founded by the late singer Harry Chapin in 1980, provides food to a total of 315 permanent sites on Long Island. It is the main emergency food provider in the region.

Rosati estimated that demand for food has jumped by at least 60% due to the pandemic and massive job losses. The group expects to set a record for the year in food distribution.

“The need is tremendous right now on the Island,” she said. “The longer people are out of work the more reliant they are going to be on the food pantry network.”

People who go to the Setauket site receive a nutritionally sound “food box” that includes nonperishable items such as juice, milk, fruits, vegetables and other foods rich in whole grains and protein. The box can feed a family of up to six people for three days, and is enough for nine meals.

There is even food for pets available.

Rosati is hopeful the Setauket project will take off "slowly but surely."

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