When East End for Opportunity was formed four years ago, its founders envisioned a grassroots organization that would help low-income families navigate the legal system by providing them with aid in writing documents such as wills, health-care proxies, and even establishing a network of local attorneys to offer them legal services at reduced rates.
And while the group has lent its support to issues like allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain New York State driver’s licenses and helping workers who are the victims of wage theft, it has broadened its scope to include sponsoring nutrition workshops with Cornell Cooperative Extension, providing scholarships for East Hampton High School graduates, and helping the Springs food pantry.
“Springs is the epicenter of need in East Hampton for everything,” said Mark Butler, EEFO’s president and one of the organization’s founders, adding that the hamlet’s food pantry has seen the number of people it serves soar in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, to the point where it is now serving nearly 700 people a week.
The needs of the pantry were brought to EEFO’s attention by Pamela Bicket, one of the pantry’s board members and the wife of Zachary Cohen, one of EEFO’s founders.
EEFO bought a $3,200 54-cubic-foot freezer last month and has also begun a fundraising drive, with the goal of covering as much of the pantry’s weekly expenses as possible, Mr. Butler said.
“Mark was instrumental in reaching out to donors we had not yet targeted, and those donors introduced their friends to the cause. His matching gift program surpassed our expectations,” said Holly Wheaton, the pantry’s chairwoman. “The Springs food pantry is humbled by Mark’s energy to help those in need.”
Ms. Wheaton said EEFO’s support had been substantial, but she said the pantry continues to face the challenges of feeding the hungry. “If it was $7,000 this week, next week it will be $8,000,” she said of the cost of the food distributed each week.
Margaret Turner, a member of EEFO’s board, said when the organization was founded, its members were “a bit disappointed we didn’t have lines forming outside our door” when it offered legal advice, but they are happy to lend a hand any way they can.
“This has become our primary focus,” she said of helping the food pantry. “The need for food is high, more so with the pandemic. People don’t have enough food in their homes.”