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Food bank sees huge jump in those seeking help for the first time

Volunteers at a Long Island Cares center in

Volunteers at a Long Island Cares center in Freeport in July. Credit: Corey Sipkin

More than 110,000 people sought assistance from Long Island Cares-The Harry Chapin Food Bank for the first time between March and August, an indication of the adverse impact the coronavirus has had on the financial fortunes of many Long Islanders who have turned to food banks for emergency aid, an official said.

"We are seeing significant increases in the number of people who are turning to community pantries and the food banks for emergency food support," Paule T. Pachter, Long Island Cares chief executive, said Friday.

Pachter said the food bank saw 109,764 people "who have turned to Long Island Cares and our emergency food network for the very first time" between March and August. In addition, 1,008 seniors received home-delivered meals from the food bank, a new program.

Pachter said Long Island Cares provided 8,400 "ready-to-eat" meals to the homeless, another new program, in the same time frame.

Long Island Cares operates six satellite locations in Nassau and Suffolk counties, as well as 18 distribution sites financed through a grant by the Town of Hempstead.

Pachter said those "new people" coming to the food bank were specifically related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the result of people losing their jobs because of the vast economic shutdown to try to prevent the spread of the highly contagious disease.

Pachter said overall, Long Island Cares is providing food to 145,432 people "right now."

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The increase in demand for emergency food assistance has powered an increase of food purchases, as well as more donations to the food bank, Pachter said.

For example, virtual food donation drives resulted in 417,907 pounds of food being given to the food bank in the March-August time frame, Pachter said, a 60% increase over the 261,552 donated in the same time period a year ago. He added the food bank was "grateful" for the 370% increase in monetary donations, amounting to nearly $3.3 million, up from $692,578 from the same period a year ago.

Long Island Cares purchased 9.4 million pounds of food between March and August, up 38% from 6.8 million pounds in the same period last year, Pachter said. And the total number of meals provided — 7.4 million — have increased 39%. Overall, just over 9 million pounds of food were distributed between March and August, a 40% increase over the 6.4 million pounds distributed during the same period last year, he said.

Pachter also announced a change in how it will be distributing food to those seeking emergency assistance starting Monday, opening up its Bethpage packing facility on Wantagh Avenue to allow people to come in — mindful of social distancing — and select their food, rather than having food bank staff prepackage the food boxes.

Pachter said, "That program is going to allow people in need of emergency food to come into the pantry where they will be met by a Plexiglas wall. But beyond the wall they're going to see the food that we have available to distribute to them. And our staff will be packing personal food boxes for the public that comes to Long Island Cares Super Client Choice Pantry."

Pachter said previously, staff normally selected the food to place in the food boxes at the food bank's packing facilities in Hauppauge and Bethpage. "We decided if we employed good social distancing practices that we could at least have people who would like to select the food that they need come in and select it. Then we'll personally pack the box for them." People will be given, at a minimum, a five-day supply of food, he said.

Pachter added that over the last six months, officials have learned that "not all the food that we're giving out is food that people would go out and purchase on their own. Not everyone eats peanut butter. Not everyone likes chicken noodle soup."

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