All For the East End, the organization formed to target food insecurity on the Twin Forks, has hit a milestone, with $1 million raised. When the organization launched its fundraising efforts last spring, it set a goal of raising $1 million, and during the September 17 Southampton Town Board work session, Supervisor Jay Schneiderman enthused, “They did it. They crossed the million dollar mark. It’s really, really exciting. It’s a big deal.”
He noted, however, that food insecurity isn’t going away. “A lot of people still are underemployed or unemployed and having trouble putting food on the table,” he said.
Councilwoman Julie Lofstad agreed. She reported passing by a church in Flanders and observing “a line out the door” for the food pantry. Food insecurity, she said, “is going to be ongoing.”
“We’ve been working hard to reach that $1 million goal,” Connie Conway, an AFTEE board member said. “We’re also thinking about setting a new goal for another million … we’re looking to keep going as we see the winter coming up.”
Area food pantries have plateaued at a very high mark with a need that has been between four and five times more than what they saw pre-COVID, Ms. Conway continued. In a recent release on the AFTEE website, Bonnie Michelle Cannon, executive director of the Bridgehampton Child Care and Recreation Center noted, “We went from serving 70 people a month before the pandemic to serving 700 individuals a week during the pandemic, with no end in sight.”
According to the East Hampton Food Pantry, the organization’s numbers swelled from feeding 1,263 people in February to helping 3,360 in May.
AFTEE also wants to look at helping to fill other social needs, such as rent and utility assistance, in the community. “People are really struggling … We’re in it for the long haul,” Ms. Conway told the board.
AFTEE Board President Claudia Pilato reported the milestone during a recent meeting of the East End Supervisors and Mayors Association. Reached for comment on Monday, Ms. Pilato said, “We’ve been going 24/7 since March, and we could never, never, never have done it without such an outpouring of generosity from the community.”
Donations varied from “big chunks of money” from organizations to donations of $25, $50 “sent to me with notes saying ‘Thank you, we really need this.’”
AFTEE has coordinated donations for all the food pantries on the East End, as well as what Ms. Pilato called, “pop-up” food pantries at places like the Children’s Museum of the East End.
The focus is food, but the organization has also helped with supplying diapers to one location, and in the beginning of the spring, with bags for the pantries to fill for families. Ms. Pilato takes pride in AFTEE’s ability to look across the hamlets and towns and see where there is a shared need that can be filled collaboratively.
For example, she mentioned local farmers and larger resources like Island Harvest donating food for pantries that lacked methods for storing it. Finding space at the Bridgehampton Senior Center, AFTEE worked with the Lions Club to procure industrial-sized refrigerators for three area food pantries — the Sag Harbor Food Pantry, the Bridgehampton Food Pantry, and the Bridgehampton Childcare Center. The Bridgehampton Lions Club helped purchase five units with a donation of $10,945.
In a release highlighting the Lions Club donation, Tom White, executive director of the Bridgehampton Food Pantry, called the donation “a godsend.”
“We’ve really been able to look across the board and find collaborative solutions to common challenges,” Ms. Pilato said.
AFTEE has given out grants nearing the $900,000 mark, Ms. Pilato said. “Our coffers are dwindling.” And, as they dwindle, so, too, has the COVID “frenzy,” of fear, and of donors looking to help.
“We’re concerned about that. We don’t know what the next four to five months are going to bring,” Ms. Pilato said. Once winter sets in, and seasonal jobs dissipate, food pantries normally get their greatest number of clients. While food instability will continue to be a focus, Ms. Pilato said, “We’re also going to try to put ourselves in a position to pivot to address whatever needs will arise.”
For now, the group is back into fundraising mode. Completely manned by volunteers, AFTEE, Ms. Pilato said, “has definitely been a labor of love.”
Originally founded in 2012, AFTEE reorganized and returned to vitality when the coronavirus struck. After community members reached out to him looking for ways to help, Mr. Schneiderman said he approached State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., wondering if a 501(C)(3) organization could give money to other similar organizations. He learned AFTEE’s structure was already in place to serve as an umbrella organization.
Nearly a decade ago, All For the East End was formed as a successor to the All for the Sea concerts at Southampton College as a means to raise much needed funding for not-for-profit institutions across the East End.
After resurfacing in March, in less than a month’s time, AFTEE amassed almost a half-million dollars in donations. Grants came from Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, the Willem de Kooning Foundation, the Town of Southampton, Nicolette Donen and Clifford Ross, and an anonymous donor, along with many online credit card donations.