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Teens hope Little Free Pantry in Westhampton Beach will have big impact on hunger there

Westhampton Beach schoolmates Fainne Sheehan, left, and Alie

Westhampton Beach schoolmates Fainne Sheehan, left, and Alie Fitt at the July 16 ribbon-cutting of the Little Free Pantry. Credit: John Roca

Two Westhampton Beach teens, inspired after hearing about free pantries on the East End, have opened a similar food bank in the village to help feed those in need amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Friends Fainne Sheehan, 15, and Alie Fitt, 16, said they began spearheading efforts last fall to bring a “Little Free Pantry” to Westhampton Beach. The food cabinet is on Woodland Avenue and Mill Road, next to the Westhampton Beach Historical Society. An official ribbon-cutting ceremony was held July 16.

The food cabinet is part of a grassroots movement dedicated to opening small pantries that are accessible 24/7 in communities nationwide.

While the teens were initially doubtful they could find a sponsor to help them create the pantry, as well as acquire the insurance and necessary permits, Sheehan and Fitt — who will be 11th-graders this fall at Westhampton Beach High School — felt their hometown needed the small food cabinet, especially now.

“We really feel that food is not a privilege,” Sheehan said. “It should be accessed by anyone, and anyone should be able to come and get this now. People are struggling with losing jobs and this is really a place where anyone can come anytime they need it.”

The Kiwanis Club of Greater Westhampton, a community service organization that helps children and families from East Moriches to East Quogue, will sponsor the pantry, which is open seven days a week and is stocked with nonperishable foods such as cereal, pasta, ramen noodles and more.

Anyone with contributions can donate food at any time, and the Kiwanis Club will provide supplies when necessary.

“Nobody is around, you don’t have to worry about being judged, you can just take what you need and that’s what’s great about it,” Fitt said.

Westhampton Beach Mayor Maria Moore commended the teens on their efforts. The village’s board of trustees approved its installation in June.

“In these times where people are struggling and out of work, this is a very nice feature to have and we’re glad that the girls brought it to our attention,” Moore said.

Michael Daly, 62, of Sag Harbor, said the teens contacted him for advice on how to launch the project. Daly, president of the board of trustees at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the South Fork in Bridgehampton, opened a “Little Free Pantry” near the church in November 2019.

Daly, who connected Sheehan and Fitt with the national “Little Free Pantry” website and gave them design ideas, said such free food sites are becoming important on the East End during the pandemic. Daly said use of the Bridgehampton pantry rose in the winter and quadrupled after the coronavirus outbreak.

“These pantries fill in some of the gaps that the pantries that are open certain days and hours can’t,”  Daly said. “We’ve heard about essential workers stopping by these pantries on their way home at night if they need a meal. If we can fill in those gaps where people who need something can get food, that’s a great service.”

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