In the past two-months, more food has been delivered to Long Island Cares-The Harry Chapin Food Bank than ever before. On average, the regional food bank has been purchasing 1.5 million pounds of both perishable and non-perishable food monthly to assist our neighbors in need as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. From March through June, most food banks across the country including, Long Island Cares were experiencing delays of between 8-12 weeks in receiving the food we had purchased. At the same time, a majority of our community food drives were cancelled, and those that were in progress were not successful. That includes our annual HIA-LI Summer Food Drive. The first three-months of our COVID-19 response efforts brought many new challenges, of which receiving food into our warehouse was one of the biggest challenges we faced.
During the same timeframe, we experienced a dramatic increase in our retail donation program that, provides us with approximately 2 million pounds of perfectly good perishable foods annually. We also benefitted from an increase in corporate food donations, and we found our niche in transitioning our food drives to a virtual platform. As of July, the delays in food delivery have significantly improved with on average, 10-12 tractor-trailers arriving at Long Island Cares’ warehouse each week. As of September 20, we had 1.9 million pounds of food in our Hauppauge and Hampton Bays warehouses. Simultaneously, our virtual food drives are continuing and expanding. Our retail donations are ongoing, as well as, our corporate donations of food, personal care products, household supplies, pet food and PPE. We’re also seeing an increase in the amount of government commodities we’ve received from the USDA, and we’re actively purchasing additional food through our contract with the New York State Health Department. Not to mention or forget about the food we’ve received from Governor Cuomo’s Nourish New York Initiative, the USDA Food Assistance Program, and the continued generosity of Long Islanders. However, one of our biggest challenges now, is getting the food out to our member pantries, soup kitchens and other programs that provide emergency food assistance.
As I write this column, 310 of our 331 member agencies are open and serving their local communities. A major improvement from March when 74 of our agencies were closed due to COVID-19. At the same time, our member agencies have been reporting not only an increase in need of between 10-25% but, they’re also receiving food from numerous sources including, retail donations, virtual food drives, limited special events, in addition to food received from food banks like Island Harvest, Pronto of Suffolk, and from celebrities like Jon Bon Jovi. One might question if the current supply of emergency food available on Long Island is greater than the current demand. If we are able to get everyone who lost a job back to work and earning a steady income this might be the case but, it’s not. The emergency food supply must remain strong and abundant because we honestly don’t know when the COVID-19 pandemic will end. A recent prediction by Dr. Anthony Fauci has the virus possibly leaving the United States by September of 2021 with or without an effective vaccine.
If businesses on Long Island cannot fully open, people will still need emergency food assistance. If additional stimulus support ends, people will still need to visit the pantries. If schools must go on lockdown again due to spikes in Coronavirus cases, children that rely upon their school meals program will still need emergency food assistance. And, if Congress doesn’t provide additional aid to the states and counties hardest hit by COVID-19 like New York and Long Island, the food banks will be needed even more.
PAULE T. PACHTER, A.C.S.W., L.M.S.W.
Chief Executive Officer