Author Archives: Paule Pachter

  1. Unemployment is Causing the Increase in Food Insecurity on Long Island

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    Depression, anxiety and other mental health issues are spiking during the pandemic as social isolation, economic uncertainty and health worries take their toll. (Getty Images)

    I can sum up why more than 74,000 Long Islanders have visited Long Island Cares-The Harry Chapin Food Bank or a local emergency food pantry for the very first time within the past four months in one word – unemployment.  I can also confidently predict why an additional 50,000 people will be added to the census of 259,000 Long Islanders struggling with food insecurity as we begin 2021 in one word – unemployment.  The COVID-19 pandemic has pulled the rug out from under people that had jobs, and our neighbors who live from paycheck-to-paycheck to the point that tens of thousands of Long Islanders are getting some of their foods from large drive-through distribution events, visiting 321 food pantries that are open from Floral Park to East Hampton, or at any one of Long Island Cares’ pop-up food distribution centers.

    It’s difficult to determine if the additional fiscal relief approved by Congress has made life any easier for people that have lost their jobs due to COVID-19.  Most of the people receiving unemployment assistance or those that benefitted from any stimulus package, have not used the money to improve the economy.  They have needed the extra cash to pay their rent, mortgage, medical expenses, and other essential needs.  While during the first 2-3 months of the pandemic we saw some humanitarian efforts to provide a grace period for people to delay paying their rent or a car payment, we now see that bills are coming due.  At the same time that people are losing their jobs, we’re also seeing some businesses close such as Pier One Imports and Modell’s on Long Island, putting even more people out of work, and forcing them to wait in line for emergency food.

    While food distributors, supermarkets, and food wholesalers are doing fine due to the increased demand and purchasing from food banks, the same can’t be said for restaurants, movie theaters, amusement parks, hotels and other businesses that remain closed, or have been operating with reduced hours and occupancy. While some businesses are holding on, others are letting go and closing down leaving even more people unemployed and food insecure.  Unless the United States implements a comprehensive national plan to curtail the spread of the Coronavirus and stops politicizing the use of face masks, social distancing and treatment options, unemployment and food insecurity will continue to increase in our region.

    As some states continue to open slowly and safely, people will be able to return to work.  However, it will also require that the business community rehires the people they furloughed but, timing is not on the side of the employee.  Businesses are seeing some fiscal benefits toward reducing their workforce and allowing staff to work remotely if they are going to survive past this year.  Therefore, many Long Islanders are living in limbo not knowing if they will ever return to their current jobs, or if they will be reliant upon food pantries for the next 4-8 months just to feed their families.  The long-term and successful recovery from COVID-19 will require that we produce a safe and effective vaccine, maintain our vigilance by wearing masks, social distancing and washing our hands frequently to avoid spreading the virus.  It will also require that people return to work, and sadly, we’re not there yet.

    Originally published in the HIA-LI Reporter, August, 2020

  2. We Will Not Recover from COVID-19 Unless We Invest in Our Community Mental Health System as We’ve Invested in Responding to Food Insecurity

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    Depression, anxiety and other mental health issues are spiking during the pandemic as social isolation, economic uncertainty and health worries take their toll. (Getty Images)

    The past four months have brought incredible challenges for every single person living on planet Earth.  Responding to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has tested people in many ways not seen in more than 102 years since the last global pandemic in 1918.  As a nation, the United States of America seems to be playing a game of Russian roulette when it comes to leading the way for our people to stay safe and maintain their health, while the Coronavirus makes its way through our country infecting nearly 3 million and killing more than 130,000 of our residents.  Watching the news reports about COVID-19, or reading the newspapers, online stories, and following our progress, or lack thereof is undoubtedly impacting our mental health and emotional well-being.

    There’s been a great deal of attention focused on essential services and the roles that our healthcare workers have in trying to reduce the curve of new COVID-19 cases and doing their professional best to keep Long Islanders alive.  A majority of us have adjusted the way we function on a daily basis by wearing face masks, frequently washing our hands, maintaining social distance, using hand sanitizer, applying disinfectant wipes to sanitize our furniture and work spaces.  For those of us back at work, or for those of us at Long Island Cares-The Harry Chapin Food Bank, who have been responding to the need for emergency food assistance since March 13, and are now working six-days a week through the end of the year, one of the biggest challenges we’re facing is maintaining our emotional well-being and mental health.

    All of us know someone or even several people that have been diagnosed with Coronavirus.  As our staff meets with numerous people currently at more than 49,000 that have visited one or more of our 25 food distribution centers, we take the time to listen to their concerns, experiences during stay-at-home directives, and understand that at the same time that the need for food assistance has increased, so has the need for mental health assistance.  Our neighbors, especially our seniors and single parent families are experiencing real symptoms of anxiety, depression, isolation, and grief when a family member or friend has been hospitalized, placed on a ventilator, or has passed away.  All of us love our children and many have adjusted to our new reality of attending school online but, there are real consequences to feeling isolated and unattached to the world outside our homes.  This may be one of the reasons that in some parts of our country today, a growing number of people are willing to take the risks associated with not wearing a facial coverings, not social distancing, and willing to go to a bar where the chances of being infected are very high.

    Like many of my colleagues in food banking, I’m so grateful for the additional attention, financial support and recognition that food banks across America have received, and will continue to benefit from in the months ahead as we do our work smarter and safer.  People in need of food assistance are receiving it.  In fact, if you’re in need of food, there are more than 325 places you can access an emergency food package on any given day in Nassau and Suffolk County, and in some communities, people are accessing several food boxes each week.  Those that are hungry are being fed but, what about those people who are struggling emotionally, and could truly benefit from mental health counseling?  As aggressively as federal, state and local governments have invested in responding to food insecurity in the time of COVID-19, we must increase funding for our mental health infrastructure.  After the tragic events of 9/11, New York State established “Project Liberty” to respond to the long-term needs for mental health treatment.  As we know, more New Yorkers have lost their lives as a result of COVID-19, and their ability to recover from the impact of the pandemic requires a coordinate response and a renewed commitment to strengthening our community mental health system, similar to what government has been doing to respond to the increases in food insecurity.

    Originally published in the HIA-LI Reporter, July, 2020

  3. Nearly 40 Years Later, the World is Still Talking About Harry Chapin

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    On July 16, 2020 Long Island Cares, Inc. along with fans across the world will pause to reflect on the exact day that the singer, Grammy Award winning songwriter and social activist Harry Chapin died in a fiery automobile crash on July 16, 1981 on the Long Island Expressway on his way to perform a free concert in Eisenhower Park in East Meadow. At age 38, and in the prime of his music career with numerous albums, Top 40 singles, and two stage plays, Chapin performed more than 200 concerts a year, with half of them to benefit local charities including, Long Island Cares, WHY Hunger, and the Huntington Performing Arts Foundation.

    In the nearly four decades since Chapin’s death, the organizations that he and his wife Sandy founded are continuing to live up to Chapin’s expectations of calling attention to the plight of the hungry which he saw as, “The shame of America,” and the regional food bank they started to focus attention on local hunger and food insecurity in one of the wealthiest regions in our country. As the catalyst for the first and only Presidential Commission on Hunger under the administration of former President Jimmy Carter, Harry Chapin was a fixture in our nation’s capital where he advocated for sound social policies and increased federal funding to respond to the crisis of world and domestic hunger.  The work of the Presidential Commission ended with Carter’s defeat to former President Ronald Reagan but, not Chapin’s legacy.

    Today, with the Covid-19 pandemic turning our world upside down, the work of our nation’s food banks including, the work of Long Island Cares-The Harry Chapin Food Bank are recognized as essential services. The root causes of hunger that are deeply engrained in poverty, unemployment, and social injustice have become more visible as millions of people have had to place their lives and livelihoods on pause.  Hunger is once again on our political “to-do” list in Washington, New York State, and on Long Island with record amounts of donations being provided to food banks by government, foundations, corporations and generous individual donors.  For many donors across America, the connection between hunger, poverty, social injustice and now a global pandemic has become crystal clear.  It’s what Harry Chapin tried to explain to anyone that would listen during his brief but shining career.

    Now, forty-years since his death on the Long Island Expressway, the world is talking about Harry Chapin from Huntington, Long Island. Most recently, author Michael Francis Taylor published his book, “Harry Chapin: The Music Behind the Man,” (Newhaven Publishing, 2019) that analyzes Chapin’s stories through is lyrics and the deep meaning of his words reflecting on life and all that comes with growing up.  The book also describes Chapin’s passion towards ending hunger with several references to both WHY Hunger and Long Island Cares. This coming October, a new documentary about Harry Chapin’s philanthropy work will be released initially virtually and then through wide release.  The film also focuses on the work of Long Island Cares and WHY Hunger. And, if a book and a film isn’t enough, a new stage play is in the works that will bring Chapin’s music and message to off-Broadway to benefit the two organizations that were near and dear to Harry’s heart. Not many people are talked about forty-years after they’ve gone but, Harry Chapin’s life had meaning and he transcended far past his stories and songs, leaving behind a legacy that all of us at Long Island Cares are proud to share.

    Originally published in the HIA-LI Reporter, June, 2020

  4. Food Banks and Food Pantries are Responding to the Needs of our Seniors that are Home Bound or Sheltered-in-Place During COVID-19

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    Chief Executive Officer

    In the past two-months since the COVID-19 pandemic tightened its grip on our nation, requiring masses of businesses to close and millions of people to shelter in place and stay at home to stop the spread of the virus, Americans have donated more than $1 billion to support local food banks. Food banks like Long Island Cares and Island Harvest have been on the frontlines of our region’s COVID-19 response, delivering emergency food to our neighbors in need either through numerous drive-through locations or, in Long Island Cares’ case, delivering food to more than 310 local food pantries and now developing nearly two-dozen temporary food bank pop-up locations in high-need communities or expanding some of our existing satellite hunger assistance centers within the Towns of Hempstead, Babylon, and Huntington.  While most of the media attention is on the large food banks, we must not forget about our local pantries that are providing emergency food to record numbers of people that are turning to them for assistance as well.

    Then, there are other programs like Meals on Wheels that are still delivering food to our homebound seniors who are limited in their ability to visit their local pantry because in order to go to the pantry they have to venture outside, and too many of them are fearful of leaving their homes in the middle of a pandemic.  In the past two-months, Long Island Cares has delivered emergency food to nearly 3,500 seniors through our S.O.S. (Supporting our Seniors) Mobile Delivery Services.  This program was initially funded by an emergency grant from the New York State Department of Health from January-March, 2020 and is now being funded by corporate and private donations made to our COVID-19 Response Fund. In the past two-months, Long Island Cares has seen a total of 790 new seniors turn to the regional food bank for emergency food assistance directly related to COVID-19.  In addition to the food we’re delivering to our seniors, we are also providing them with protective face masks and gloves generously provided by the Suffolk County Office of Emergency Management.  Our S.O.S. staff has always delivered food to our seniors at their various municipal senior housing locations but now, due to their fears and medical histories, we are delivering food and supplies right to their front door.

    Our local pantries and hundreds of volunteers on Long Island are also doing their part to help our seniors during these difficult time.  Pantries have begun to incorporate home delivery of food as part of their daily operations and volunteers in many local communities are shopping for senior neighbors at local supermarkets whose shelves continue to be half-stocked of paper goods, cleaning supplies and other essential products because of high demand and delays of 4-6 in deliveries from the supply chain.

    As we continue to adjust to our new normal, we just don’t know how New York State and Long Island will begin to reopen for business.  We don’t know if COVID-19 testing and tracing will be available to our 2.8 million residents in Nassau and Suffolk, and we don’t know how many Long Islanders will ever return to work following the record numbers of our neighbors that have been furloughed or have lost their jobs permanently.  What I do know is that, our local food pantries will continue to see an increase in demand and that Long Island Cares will increase our satellite locations from 8-24 by the end of May, and we will spend most of our funding to purchase food to get us through the next seven-months.  As we move forward in our plans to reopen Long Island, please consider donating to your local food pantry where you live and please consider an extra donation to our Meals on Wheels programs.  We will get through this and recover together.  To locate a pantry, visit www.licares.org/foodlocator


    Originally published in the HIA-LI Reporter, May, 2020


  5. There’s Much to Celebrate About Long Island Cares in 2020, But We Must Also Focus on Our Neighbors in Need

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    Chief Executive Officer

    There is so much to celebrate about Long Island in 2020, as illustrated by the conversation at the HIA-LI Legislative Breakfast on January 17.  The $2.6 billion grant to Brookhaven National Laboratory to construct an electron ion collider over the next ten years will undoubtedly change the tecno-landscape of our region, and position Long Island as an even more significant location to attract a highly talented workforce in the Sciences.  The installation of new sewer systems and additional luxury apartments in Smithtown and Islip townships will attract new businesses and new residents able to afford the many benefits of living in a vibrant downtown area.  The planned New York Islander’s Arena in Elmont, and the proposal to construct a convention center in Ronkonkoma might pump millions of needed additional income into the economies of both Nassau and Suffolk Counties.  These achievements and bold ideas deserve to be supported by our elected officials at all levels of government.  However, we need to balance our growth in these exciting areas by keeping our focus on the human services landscape in our region that, is plagued with many challenges.

    On January 12, as widely reported in the media, there were 2,500 people that took part in the “March Against Anti-Semitism,” which was led by Nassau County Executive Laura Curran and Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone on the steps of the Nassau County Legislature Building in Mineola.  Dozens of elected officials, civic and religious leaders spoke about the need for unity and tolerance in the wake of ongoing attacks against the Jewish community, and a Task Force on Anti-Semitism was convened.  However, if we continue to discriminate against minority families purchasing homes in certain communities, we will have failed.  If an LGBTQ student continues to be bullied in school, we have failed.  And, if additional swastikas are painted on our synagogues, we will have failed.

    Then there is the issue of the street homeless population on Long Island.  There is simply not enough resources being provided to our region to help our veterans, emotionally disabled, and young people living at Long Island Rail Road stations, in wooded areas, and behind Home Depots that are need of affordable housing, Section 8 HUD vouchers, and safe shelters.  During a three-hour legislative hearing on January 16 at SUNY Farmingdale, state legislators made the case for additional rent subsidies to help property owners and developers build new affordable housing but, building apartments that would rent for $2,400 a month for a one-bedroom unit is just not affordable for many people with limited income or those receiving government entitlements.  We need a better solution and bold thinking if we are to get our homeless of the streets before they die in the elements.  Unfortunately, this wasn’t discussed at the hearing.

    These are just two areas where our region is lagging-behind other countries, cities and municipalities, and how realistic will it be to solve our problems when New York State is facing a $6 billion deficit in 2020?  So, while we celebrate the good fortunes of BNL, Smithtown, Islip, Elmont, Ronkonkoma, and the Nassau Hub, we must keep our focus on the many people on Long Island who struggle with homelessness, discrimination, mental illness, substance abuse and hunger every day, because for them, there isn’t much to celebrate.

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