I think it’s a very sad commentary about our society on Long Island that, at a time when 316,000 people or nearly 11 percent of our neighbors are struggling to put nutritious food on their tables that communities would object to a local food pantry providing additional meals to people in need. I understand that some of our fellow Long Islanders might have certain misconceptions about exactly who “the hungry” are on Long Island. I realize that people might have an image of which of our neighbors are populating the more than 600 local food pantries, soup kitchens, or emergency feeding services that we’re fortunate to have in Nassau and Suffolk Counties. The idea that the hungry in our communities are people who are poor, represent minority groups, are homeless, derelict, are alcoholics, or mentally disabled is far from the truth of actually where the issue of hunger has impacted our suburban landscape. The truth is that only one-thirds of the total population receiving emergency food assistance on Long Island can be categorized, if at all, within any of these groups.
The majority of the people seeking assistance from our local pantries are families and individuals who continue to struggle financially to afford a basic quality of life in one of the most expensive areas in our country. They are people who have lost their jobs and have not been able to rebound in an economy that has left many of our neighbors behind. They are families trying to manage their basic needs for food, shelter and clothing while earning less than $50,000 per year and trying to pay high rent, rising taxes, utility bills, transportation costs, and have enough left to purchase groceries whose cost have escalated significantly in the past five years. They are young couples attempting to start their lives while working two or three jobs, contemplating a family, and hoping to secure a piece of the American dream that brought most of us to Long Island in the first place. And, they are disabled veterans and those military families coping with a broad spectrum of problems of which not having enough food shouldn’t be part of. Lastly, they are more than 70,000 children who through no fault of their own find themselves struggling academically, socially and physically because they don’t have the nutritional food that other children are fortunate to have.
Hunger has no racial boundaries. On Long Island, we know that it has no economical boundaries. It is a national and regional health crisis that impacts more than 50 million people in all fifty states. Thirty-five years ago, the late singer, Grammy Award winning songwriter, and social activist Harry Chapin sought to respond to the issue of hunger on Long Island by establishing our region’s very first food bank. In the past three decades more and more people have had to turn to food banks and social service organizations on Long Island for assistance. Many of the people receiving food from their local pantries today are the people who often donated food to the pantry in the past. The least we can do as a society is not put roadblocks in their way of getting help.
This opinion editorial was written by Paule T. Pachter. Mr. Pachter is the Chief Executive Officer at Long Island Cares, Inc. – The Harry Chapin Food Bank. To receive future editorials and updates on Long Island Cares’ events and advocacy opportunities, sign up for our email alerts.