Volunteers at Long Island Cares headquarters in Hauppauge load bags...

Volunteers at Long Island Cares headquarters in Hauppauge load bags of food into the group's mobile pantry on Monday, Nov. 3, 2014. The food distribution is part of a pilot program that will bring food to families at schools in the Brentwood school district. From left, volunteers Carol Goldman of Huntington, Bill Davidsen of Farmingdale, Bruce Jenkins of Holbrook and Cong Shen of Stony Brook. Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

A month after serving 31,608 meals to more than 1,000 Brentwood school district students, Long Island Cares Inc. officials have their eyes set on using a new mobile food pantry to provide even more meals to help fight child hunger in other districts.

Paul Pachter, executive director of the Hauppauge-based nonprofit, said its focus for the past three years has been on providing healthy meals to the more than 70,000 children on the Island who suffer from food insecurity.

"We've been looking at communities such as Wyandanch and the Mastics and also Roosevelt school district as potential locations to provide the school pantry in the future if funding is available," Pachter said in an interview.

Among school districts that include Wyandanch; William Floyd, which covers Mastic Beach; and Roosevelt in the Town of Hempstead, there were 7,740 students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch in the 2012-13 school year, state education department statistics show.

Through a $50,000 grant from the Walmart Foundation, Long Island's first mobile food pantry for schools is now delivering healthy food options such as fresh vegetables and fruit, lean meats, low-sugar cereals, reduced-fat milk, yogurt and granola bars to students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch in Brentwood. About 79 percent of Brentwood's 17,000 students are under that program this year, district officials said.

The mobile food truck has stopped twice at each of Brentwood's seven schools since Oct. 1 and an estimated 63,360 more meals are expected to be distributed through June.

"We need to evaluate the success of the program with hopes of attracting some additional funding so that we certainly can continue it and expand it if possible where necessary," Pachter said.

Mary Jones, who spent eight years as principal at Wyandanch Memorial High School before becoming district superintendent this year, said students' need for food has grown over the years as she saw high school students taking after-school jobs to help support and feed younger siblings.

"Just last week, I had to hand $10 to a high school student so that he could eat," Jones said. "We have many children who are not getting enough at home, if they are getting anything at all."

More than 25,000 Long Island families with children under the age of 18 live under the poverty line, according to 2013 Census statistics. The poverty threshold -- at $23,834 for a family of four -- is a national figure that grossly underestimates the number of families in poverty on the Island due to the high cost of living here, Pachter said.

Families in the lower middle class, making about $40,000, are "running to the emergency food network. That's just the reality on Long Island," Pachter said.

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