By Kelly Alvarado and Rabia Gursoy
Paul and Alex Todaro, a senior couple, are the only volunteers left at the Long Island Cares center on Thursday at 11 a.m., still sorting through donation boxes full of Campbell’s canned soup, peanut butter jars, and cereal boxes. Two of the six volunteers at the food bank, the Todaros are part of the charity frontline to prevent hunger on Long Island, despite shortages in donated food and volunteers who decide to stay home afraid of the coronavirus pandemic.
During the second week of March, N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo further restricted the number of employees of businesses following the shut down for public schools and all dine-in options due to the Coronavirus outbreak. With a record of unemployment, the demand from food banks has skyrocketed. Volunteers and retailer donations have decreased but food banks are stepping up and restaurants have started to provide free services to those in need.
“Panicked Long Islanders who are hoarding supplies from supermarkets have significantly affected the donations to food banks,” Paul Pachter, CEO of The Harry Chapin Regional Food Bank, said. “We are not concerned as food is coming in regularly because Long Island Cares purchases 80 percent of what it delivers.”
Long Island Cares stepped up by reaching out to school superintendents and senior centers, dispatching two children’s mobile food trucks and preparing more than 5000 meals-ready-to-eat for people in quarantine or with limited cooking ability.
“We are doing mobile deliveries to seniors, to homebound veterans and who can’t get out because of medical conditions,” Pachter said.
The coronavirus has now sent over 3.3 million Americans to the unemployment lines. The job-killing virus has severely affected Long Islanders who rely on hourly rate jobs leaving more people food insecure. Long Island Cares has not let go of any staff members but they have reduced the number of volunteers that come in and some staff hours.
“We currently have 51 staff members in all of our six locations on Long Island,” Claire Fratello, Assistant to the CEO for Administration and Media Relations Long Island Cares, Inc. said. “We have six or less volunteers working at a time.”
Long Island Cares locations are open full time from Monday through Friday providing emergency food boxes to anyone in need as a result of the pandemic, including people who have been laid off or terminated from their jobs.
There are approximately 150,000 students across Long Island that rely on school food programs, according to the NYS Education Department. Suffolk County is working to take a more comprehensive look at food resources. Many school districts across the region are continuing with food programs and doing curbside pickup.
“Almost every school district is continuing a grab and go program but beyond that, there are a number of organizations that are providing food as well including Long Island Cares and Long Island Harvest,” Bridget Fleming, Suffolk county legislature said.
There are over 100,000 small businesses on Long Island and these make up a large economic driver for the region. Customers spend nearly $5.9 million dollars in restaurants and hotels according to the 2019 New York State Comptroller’s Office report. Even though restaurants are currently struggling, they continue to provide free food to those in need.
“People that can’t afford to have food and they’re not getting it at school they can get it here,” Scott Schnell, manager at Chubs Burgers Burritos and Heros, said.
Until schools reopen, Cherry Valleys, a sandwich shop in Long Beach, is offering children a choice between peanut butter and jelly sandwich or a grilled cheese that comes with a drink and bag of chips for free.
“Considering school is out and our job is to develop the community and build a relationship with the community it’d be good to give back because obviously they’re the ones supporting us so we’d like to give back to them,” Aidan White, an employee at Cherry Valleys, said.
Restaurant employees, like those at La Famiglia, an Italian restaurant in Farmingdale, have been working around the clock to provide free take-out meals to those in the community that needs it most. The Italian restaurant, La Famiglia in Farmingdale, is offering a free three-course family-sized portion of salad, pasta and chicken dinner to students and families in need.
“Our priority right now is really just to feed this community and do the best we can,” Giovanni Divella, the general manager at La Famiglia in Farmingdale, said. “We’re just doing it from the bottom of our heart and for no other reason, we just want to give back to the community.”