By Jhonatan Bonilla
Two Long Island radio stations, WBLI and WBAB, raised $21,968 by hosting a virtual food drive in April. Money raised will go to the non-profit food bank, Island Harvest. The “April Foods Day” drive took online donations generated by the selling of virtual food items. On the site, anyone wishing to donate is greeted with a small shelf of food items, ranging in price, that they can “scan.”
The drive’s website shows a receipt that not only tallies how much money donors will be giving to the charity but also totals the number of meals these donations provide. Almost all the donations go to the programs and services provided by Island Harvest, to help some 155,150 people in Nassau and Suffolk County who are food insecure, according to the non-profit, Feeding America.
“We’ve spent more than $750,000 to help feed people impacted by the coronavirus,” Don Miller, Island Harvest’s spokesperson, said. “Island Harvest Food Bank has changed from relying mostly on donated food to support for 300,000 Long Islanders who struggle every day with hunger, to now having to purchase food to meet the increased demand created by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
COVID-19 is causing problems not only with funding but because of how contagious it is, food items can’t be directly donated to pantries, and poses a risk to volunteers distributing food items and those relying on the pantries.
“One difficulty is estimating the increasing number of families seeking food …The first week in March we had 275 people seeking food and the first week in April we had 449. This week we are estimating about 520 people,” Pamela Bicket, board member of Springs Food Pantry, said.
Not only is the increase in demand straining pantries, but now, since anonymous donations of food are no longer being accepted, items must be bought by the organizations, adding yet another step in the process of getting food to those who need it.
“We have been shopping ‘retail’ — going to supermarkets as far away as Hampton Bays for cereal and other items,” Biket said. “It’s costing us more money but we are determined to get adequate food for our families.”
On top of this donation shortage, pantries are implementing other measures to prevent the spread of the virus.
“We just put a tent up to handle the traffic area …” John Kowalenko, who serves on the board of directors for the East Hampton Food Pantry, said. “People will pull up in their cars, we have pre-bagged food, so dried goods in one bag and then have a selection of fresh fruit, fresh vegetables … we’re pretty proactive, we’re dealing with the public, we don’t want to get anyone sick.”
Along with the hosted food drive, the radio stations are responding to the pandemic by keeping an updated list, called “Open On Long Island,” on their website of local businesses who are currently open. The website also features “Long Island Jobs Board,” a partnership with LongIsland.com, which is meant to help those who lost jobs in the community find one, and “Helping Hands,” a list to help Long Islanders find info on resources providing aid during the pandemic.
“When a need arises, we will be there to help,” Jason Steinberg, director of marketing for the two stations said. “We expect that once this pandemic is over, there will be lots of charities and businesses that will need support and we will be there along with millions of Long Islanders who are the ones that really make things happen.”
Although the food drive met its original goal of $10,000, donations are still accepted here.