HBO‘s special “Hard Times: Lost on Long Island” has brought to light the plight some families face after being crushed by the recession. Unfortunately, the challenge of putting food on the table is becoming a chronic problem for many Long Islanders, says Paule Pachter, 59, executive director of Long Island Cares Inc.
The food bank, founded in 1980 by the late singer, songwriter and social activist Harry Chapin, gets half of its funding from individual donations.
Pachter’s career spanned 25 years in mental health, part of which was spent as Nassau County’s deputy commissioner of mental health, which, he says, gave him a good understanding of people in need and transition. At the food bank his social worker instincts led him “to stop looking at the pounds [of food] and start looking at the people.” He launched a veterans program, a “storefront” pantry in Freeport, a mobile pantry that delivered food to seniors and the handicapped and a job development program to help people break the cycle of poverty.
Paule Pachter, Executive Director, Long Island Cares
Why are donations so important in the summer?
The need is significant because of children. There are 118,000 children on Long Island who are food insecure, which means they don’t know where their meals are going to come from, primarily because they’re not in school, and many of these children rely upon the free or reduced school breakfast and lunch program.
What are you doing for veterans?
On Tuesday afternoons from 12 to 4, the only people that come to our pantries are veterans, and they really have created some very nice bonds between each other. We bring in outside consultants to meet with them. We’ve brought in people from the VA . . . We’ve brought in mental health professionals, and that’s been a very nice program and really seems to be making a difference.
How severe is the need for food on Long Island?
It isn’t cyclical, it’s chronic. More than 300,000 people are utilizing the pantries and the soup kitchens and the emergency feeding programs. The food bank distributes about 6.2 million pounds of food a year. That has stayed pretty consistent during the last three years.
What donations do you need?
Our focus is really on the nutritional component of the meal, so sure, mac and cheese is important and peanut butter and jelly is there, but it’s also vegetables and fresh fruits and personal care products, like toothpaste and shampoo and toothbrushes and diapers and baby food . . . school supplies and nutritional supplements like vitamins and things like fish oil, Ensure and power boost stuff, because we provide outreach and direct services to the homeless, and that population is clearly nutritionally compromised in terms of their health.
How has the economy influenced the need for food?
The greatest need right now from what we’re doing, sadly but true, is addressing the needs of Long Islanders who are unemployed, and that represents the largest single increase in the number of people who are turning to the pantries and the soup kitchens for help . . . our agencies are telling us that they’re looking at somewhere between 15 and 25 percent in the increase in the people that are coming . . . hunger and food insecurity is becoming the norm on Long Island.
The politics of what’s going on in the country right now. There just seems to be a tremendous assault on this safety net in which we take care of people. You know we’re cutting farm subsidies. We’re cutting food stamps. We’re cutting Medicaid. We’re cutting the Emergency Food Assistance Program. At some point in time, how much can you cut before people turn around and say, “We really can’t help the needy anymore?” So I think for us, the biggest challenge has been that government has to understand that every time you lay somebody off you create another body on the food line. And you know, if you’re creating all this need, and then, in the same breath, you’re cutting back on services. That’s creating a very, very challenging situation for all of us in the food banking industry.