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Why are food pantries empty while the food bank is full?

Some cupboards ran bare this week at St. Ignatius Loyola Parish's food pantry in Hicksville. While there was enough pasta, rice and canned food to last a few more days, the next visitors would have to hope for donations from a local bakery to fill their grocery bags.

"It depends on the good will of the Lord," said Joe Samodulski, director of human services at the St. Ignatius Human Services Center, which operates the pantry. "We've never been totally without a thing to give to people."

But 20 miles away at the Long Island Cares food bank, pallets of food sat in the warehouse awaiting distribution.

It was that conundrum - food pantries running low on food, while the Island's food bank had food in stock - that led Long Island Cares executive director Paule Pachter to begin looking at the problem of how to get food to the needy.

"I have the food," Pachter said. "I'm saying to the agencies, 'Why aren't you taking it?' "

Long Island Cares commissioned a survey from Cerini and Associates, a Bohemia certified public accounting firm that deals extensively with nonprofits, to find out what the barriers are to giving out more food to the poor.

Pachter said last year Long Island Cares - which also runs its own pantry - distributed 5.7 million pounds of food to roughly 550 pantries across Long Island. This year, he said, he had hoped to distribute an extra 500,000 pounds of food, but they're on track to deliver the same amount as last year, even as the demand from the needy has grown.

The results of the survey, which polls agencies on their volunteers, hours, and needs, will be released in December.

Food pantry directors say they're faced with challenges both in getting and distributing food. They would like to take more food from Long Island Cares but are hampered by their lack of storage space for the extra goods, and no drivers able to pick up the extra food from Long Island Cares' Hauppauge warehouse in between deliveries. They'd also like to give out more food to hungry people, but often there's not enough money to be able to stay open for more hours to serve more people.

Plus, said Dana Jahn, director of God's Provision in Patchogue, often food pantry clients can't carry or store more than a few days worth of groceries at a time, even if the pantries did give out more at once.

"A lot of people don't have cars, they don't have a way of moving the food," Jahn said. "My homeless guys who live in the woods really can't take more than a couple days worth of food."

Pachter said he plans on changing the way Long Island Cares operates and will make recommendations to its agencies based on the survey results.

"If what comes back to us is we need to make more deliveries, we're going to do it," he said. "If it comes back we don't have enough volunteers or agencies don't have enough space or agencies are receiving food from other sources, we'll look at that too."

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