Volunteers unload turkeys at the Island Harvest Turkey and Trimmings...

Volunteers unload turkeys at the Island Harvest Turkey and Trimmings annual collection campaign in Bethpage on Nov. 17. Credit: Linda Rosier

In March, Island Harvest began mobile food distributions. People could line up in their cars at the food bank's offices to more easily pick up boxes and bags of canned goods, packaged items, fresh meat and eggs. At first, the Melville-based food pantry saw about 50 cars during the once-a-week effort. Now, that number has climbed to 200.

And with those 200 cars, said Island Harvest chief executive Randi Shubin Dresner, come 200 heart-wrenching stories.

Island Harvest provided food to about 300,000 Long Island residents last year. Most also are trying to manage medical expenses or car and rent payments. Some have faced physical or mental health challenges, job loss or insufficient wage increases, and added concerns over caring for parents and children. Each worry adds to the precarious pile. "The neighbors we're helping are going from trauma to trauma to trauma," Dresner said.

At a time when many Long Island families gather around bountiful tables, we also should remember that for some of us the holiday season is a time of particular stress, difficulty and concern. Those who can help should make an extra effort to reach out to those in need.

The numbers tell the story. This year, Island Harvest and its partner organizations saw a 34% increase in the number of turkeys required to meet the estimated need. Long Island Cares and its agencies have seen as much as a 50% increase in those coming for food. A study from No Kid Hungry in the spring found that 52% of Long Islanders said they worry about how to pay for food if they had an unexpected $500 expense. Nationally, U.S. Department of Agriculture data showed that 17 million households, or 12.8%, had difficulty providing food to all of their members at some point in 2022. In 2021, that figure was 13.5 million households, or 10.2%.

Such increases came as pandemic-era checks and extra benefits stopped and as prices rose. The combination, said No Kid Hungry New York director Rachel Sabella, puts the region "in an absolutely devastating place." 

The Friday after Thanksgiving is often filled with shopping for holiday presents and savoring leftovers stocked on refrigerator shelves. Let it also be a day of reaching out to neighbors, of donating and volunteering as you're able, and if you're in need, of getting the help you require.

Long Island fortunately has many nonprofits that assist families in need, including Island Harvest and Long Island Cares — major organizations dedicated to combating food insecurity. If you need help, you can find food banks and other assistance by going to islandharvest.org or licares.org. And if you're able to help others — by donating money, providing food or volunteering your time — please go to those websites, or choose another organization you trust, and reach out.

Don't wait. Our neighbors need us now. 

MEMBERS OF THE EDITORIAL BOARD are experienced journalists who offer reasoned opinions, based on facts, to encourage informed debate about the issues facing our community.

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