On Long Island, in one of the most affluent regions of the nation, the insidious and often hidden dilemma of hunger is becoming more prevalent. This is do, not only to the high unemployment rate, and the unstable economy, but many are under-employed and earning a fraction of what they used to, thus finding it hard to make ends meet.
Agencies such as Island Harvest, Long Island's largest hunger relief organization, which services 570 soup kitchens, food pantries, shelters and other emergency funding programs throughout Long Island, act as a benevolent bridge between those who have more than enough to sustain themselves, and those who have not enough. Many local food Pantries perform a vital function offering a hand up, not a handout. Island Harvest reports a significant increase in the demand for traditional Thanksgiving meals in advance of the upcoming holiday.
The U.S Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service (USDA) reported last week that 50 million Americans, more than 17 million of whom are children, are food insecure, meaning they lack access to a nutrient-rich, balanced diet.
Locally, more than 283,000 Long Islanders are at risk of hunger every day, according to a study conducted earlier this year in cooperation with Feeding America, Island Harvest and the region's hunger relief agencies. Each week nearly 65,000 people contact emergency or supplemental feeding programs throughout Nassau and Suffolk counties.
Anne Kelly, director of Parish Social Ministry, a service of St. Joseph's R.C. Church in Lake Ronkonkoma said she has noticed an increased demand for food this holiday season.
"We're able to meet the need because of the goodness of the people at the parish. People that gave last year are coming in for donations this year," said Kelly.
She had to cut the interview short, because she had, "about 100 people coming in to pick up food."
Shepherds INN, the year-round food pantry at St. Joseph's is most in need of non-perishable food, personal care items, baby items, sandwiches and housewares.
The of Lake Ronkonkoma is always in need of donations of non-perishable food items, in addition to volunteers to help prepare meals, serve food and cleanup.
Cathy Mitchell, United Methodist's administrative assistant, said she has noticed that the need for food and other items has increased this year, especially with the holiday season upon us.
"We have been able to meet that demand," she said. "Luckily, our church members are incredibly generous people, both generous with their time as well as their resources that they've donated."
The church has an outreach program, and a soup kitchen that meets a couple of nights during the week, as well as a food pantry.
"I know we've had families come in that had their food stamps cut or single moms with little kids, and a variety of different circumstances," Mitchell added. "It's definitely been difficult times with people losing their jobs and whatever. We've even had church members themselves that have had to utilize it as well."
The pantry is most in need of things that people don't usually think to donate such as toilet paper, tissues, soap and shampoo.
"I know we don't get a lot of cookies and things like that, and a lot of times people think about just staples; and we do have children, obviously, who benefit from outreach, and every once in a while a little package like cookies is something that would be appreciated," said Mitchell.
Also, "luxury" items such as coffee and tea would be a nice treat as well as packaged milk and things that don't need to be refrigerated.
"It's a 'we have cereal, but no milk' kind of thing, some of our people don't necessarily have refrigeration," said Mitchell.
Barbara Drewes, church administrator at in Lake Ronkonkoma said, "We just had a Thanksgiving distribution, and we're preparing for Christmas distribution; also we have visitors to our food pantry every day. The need has increased."
Their pantry is primarily supported by the congregation, and occasionally from outside groups such as Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, schools and local businesses.
"We are meeting the need, but, sometimes, just barely," Drewes said. "Anything that's non-perishable is always welcome."