East End Food Pantries Brace Increasing Demand

Deanna Tikkanen packs bags for pick up at the Springs Food Pantry on Wednesday, March 18. DANA SHAW

The East End’s many food pantries, which provide a vital source of nutrition for the elderly, the underemployed, and the poor during even the best of times, are finding themselves inundated with new requests for help as the local economy grinds to a halt in the face of the spreading coronavirus.

“We’ve had crazy numbers,” said Holly Wheaton, the director of the Springs Food Pantry, which operates out of the Springs Community Church. “We had 30 new signups last week.”

The pantry which had served 75 families, representing about 290 people, is up to about 105 households including 404 people — and things haven’t gotten bad yet.

“We need money,” Ms. Wheaton said, “and we are running into a problem getting some foods.” She said the pantry is in special need of hot and cold cereal, pasta, and dried beans and peas.

Making matters worse is the fact that the cause of the increased need is an invisible — and deadly — virus that is spreading across the country like wildfire, requiring changes in how the pantry operates these days.

For now, the food pantry will be open Wednesday from 3:30 to 6 p.m. In the past, clients were offered certain options such as a choice of protein, hot or cold cereal, and pasta or rice. No longer. Now the pantry is asking that clients remain in their cars. A volunteer will give them a number, and when that number is called, one person will be allowed to enter the food pantry, pick up a prepacked selection of food based on family size, and be asked to leave through the rear door.

“We have to keep our volunteers safe,” Ms. Wheaton said.

Donations can be sent to Springs Food Pantry, 5 Old Stone Highway, East Hampton, NY 11937. Donations can also be made at its website, springsfoodpantry.com.
A similar scene is unfolding at the Heart of the Hamptons in the former Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary parochial school on Hill Street in Southampton.

“People are hunkering down,” said director Hilton Crosby.

Heart of the Hamptons will now distribute food on Wednesdays only from 10 a.m. to noon, down from its former schedule of three days per week. Unlike in the past, when clients came in to pick up their food packages, they will now be left outside.

But the organization wants members of the public to know if they are aware of someone who is in need of a food assistance to call the office at 631-283-6415 or send an email directly to Mr. Crosby at hilton@heartofthehamptons.org and arrangements will be made to provide help.

For the duration of the crisis, Heart of the Hamptons will not accept donations of either food or clothing from individuals, and the organization’s clothing room will be closed as well.

“It’s out of concern for the health and safety of our staff,” Mr. Crosby said. “We want to limit the amount of exposure and still take care of the people in need.”

With a halt put on donations, Heart of the Hamptons must buy its food from outside suppliers or rely on donations from organizations like Long Island Cares and Hapco Farms, which made recent large donations, he said.

“If people are asking, what we need most is money,” Mr. Crosby said. Donations can be sent to Heart of the Hamptons, 168 Hill Street, Southampton, NY 11968.

The Sag Harbor Food Pantry, which distributes food on Tuesdays starting at 10 a.m. is also in need of funds. Donations can be sent to Sag Harbor Community Food Pantry, P.O. Box 1241, Sag Harbor, New York 11963.

In an email, the pantry’s director, Evelyn Ramunno, said staff members had compiled the phone numbers of all the clients and requested they come in at set times starting at 10 a.m. New clients will be served at 11:45 a.m. Due to the influx of demand, the pantry will not be able to provide its clients with a choice of food. Instead, staff members will bring bagged groceries outside to the clients at their prearranged times.

Ms. Ramunno added that one volunteer had obtained a small supply of face masks to share with volunteers.

“We will do the best we can,” she wrote. “This is a terrible time like none of us have ever experienced.”

The East Hampton Food Pantry has moved to biweekly distribution dates, starting April 7 and 21, to protect staff, clients, and volunteers in light of the pandemic, said its chairwoman, Vicki Littman.

Like other area pantries, it will only serve one client at a time with strict protocols for entering the building.

The Amagansett satellite location at the St. Michael’s senior citizens housing center on Montauk Highway will be closed, but its clients are welcome to go to the East Hampton location.

Ms. Littman said that, between the needs of senior citizens and those newly unemployed in the restaurant business, among others, the pantry was seeing a particularly acute need for food. The shortage of food on grocery shelves exacerbates that need, she said.

“With schools closed and many clients now temporarily out of work, we are anticipating an even heavier need and draw on our food pantry. Please give if you can,” said a press release from the pantry.

The pantry, which does have a network of food suppliers from which it can get deliveries, is asking for extra financial help in particular to help the needs of its clients. Donations can be made at easthamptonfoodpantry.org or by calling 631-324-2300.

East End Cares, an organization that sprang up to provide boots-on-the-ground aid after Superstorm Sandy ravaged parts of Long Island, is again seeking volunteers to help in the face of the current crisis.

Melissa Berman, one of the organization’s founders, said those looking to volunteer can send an email to eastendcares1@gmail.com and someone will get in touch and pair volunteers with someone in need.

“If someone has to be home because they are part of a vulnerable population or have been exposed to the virus, we’ll match them with a volunteer to help them get what they need,” she said. Volunteers will help shop or coordinate food pantry visits, she said.

East End Cares is also planning a digital fundraiser for local food pantries called “5 for Food” that seeks donations of $5 or more. Ms. Berman said East End Cares would work with the Clamshell Foundation to raise and distribute the funds.

The group invites members of the public to sign up for its East End Cares page on Facebook and to follow it on Instagram.

“We have asked people to take a pledge to stay home,” she added. “We find that if they make a pledge, they stick to it.”

East Hampton Press Editor Virginia Garrison contributed to this story.