This story originally appeared several years ago in our Grassroots newsletter. Besides giving us a glimpse of Long Island Cares in the very early days, it also speaks volumes about the love and dedication that Nancy had for our cause.
In The Spotlight
Nancy Bern, Agency Coordinator
Imagine yourself back in the summer of 1981. Long Island Cares was about a year old and just taking its first steps into the community. That year Nancy Bern, now Agency Coordinator at the food bank, was part of a small staff which operated out of a warehouse outfitted with orange crates, a few chairs, a small rug, and Nancy’s own electric typewriter. There were no trucks to pick up food donations for the 18 member agencies, but there was Nancy’s Volkswagen Rabbit.
"I would do the English muffin pickup in my Rabbit," Nancy related. "That car would hold only about 10 trays of Thomas's. If they had 20 trays for us, I would have to dump all the muffins in the car. There were 400 to 500 packages and they were everywhere - even in my lap and under the accelerator pedal.
"The problem was that in the summer Thomas's used to freeze their product. I would go into Farmingdale on a 90° day to pick up these frozen muffins. On the way back I would be driving down the highway using an ice scraper on the inside of the windshield as this stuff started defrosting and cooling down my car." Meanwhile, back at the food bank . . . "we had a big bin on the platform to unload the muffins and we would all stand there and shoot baskets into it."
Nancy said that she could easily write a book about her experiences with Long Island Cares [too bad she never did]. What she remembered most, though, is that the small staff and a few volunteers were able to accomplish so much. "Everybody was doing everything, like loading, unloading, working until midnight just to pack the orders for the next day."
Nancy said that her job has not been like any other she has ever held. When asked to describe a typical day at the food bank, she replied quickly, "I don't think there is a typical day because you never know what's going to happen." Nancy remembered the early spring day just after Long Island Cares came into being when she was notified that the food bank would receive a shipment of cheese through a U.S. Department of Agriculture program. "You must remember that at the time we had three women working in a small warehouse. We only had a handcart and a broken-down pallet jack. We had refrigerators but what we didn't realize was that the doors were too narrow to fit a pallet.
"The first shipment came in by tractor trailer at six o'clock in the morning on a grey, wintry day: 40 pallets of cheese, more than 30,000 pounds. The truckers told us that they were only supposed to drop it off. We had to unload it. Well, we got it off somehow and lined it up on our long loading dock. There was cheese as far as you could see - and the three of us.
"Then we found out that the pallets wouldn't fit into the refrigerator. That meant hand-loading 30-pound cases. What to do? Well, we just started. We called in a board member who ended up standing at the top of the pile of cheese inside the refrigerator with her head touching the ceiling. While she helped to load, she prayed for deliverance!
"During this ordeal, someone from the Suffolk County Office of the Aging called in because we were working with the senior nutrition program. Whoever answered the phone described what was going on with the cheese. At that time, we still had thousands of pounds to load.
"A few hours later, we looked outside and saw to our amazement about 10 trucks. Two men with walkie-talkies came inside the warehouse and asked if this was Long Island Cares. 'We're here to load cheese,' they told us and finished up the job in no time.
"It turned out that our friend at the Office of the Aging made a few phone calls to the right people. I think what really happened was that someone prayed to the right gods!"
Nancy felt that she has been lucky to have been working with Long Island Cares since its inception - really since the idea was born after World Hunger Year in 1979. "What is the best thing that has happened since I've been here? I really can't answer that. There have been so many good memories."
Note: Nancy worked at Long Island Cares, and was enjoyed by everyone who knew her all those years, until just a few days before her sudden passing in June 2004.