“Remember that the happiest people are not those getting more, but those giving more.”
– Jackson Brown Jr.
We planned to meet in the kitchen of the Old Whalers Presbyterian Church. Evie Ramunno, the director of the Sag Harbor Community Food Pantry, was waiting for a delivery. “’Fresh is Best,’ is our motto,” she said as she walked me through the maze of refrigerators, freezers and shelves of carefully organized canned goods. “Because we live in the Hamptons, everyone thinks we’re all wealthy. But that’s not so. There are a lot of people that need supplemental food. Everything’s expensive around here: food, gas, rents.”
Born in 1936 and raised in Bridgehampton, Evie had the simple and quiet adventures that growing up in a small town can offer. “I loved roller-skating outside in the warm weather. In the winter, I had permission to go into one of the huge potato houses and roller-skate. I would ask some friends to join me, and we skated inside. Of course, there was potato dirt on the wood floor so we kicked up clouds of dust and went out of there with our eyelashes and hair caked with dirt.” Evie remembers ice-skating on Poxabogue Pond in winter. “I loved skating but hated that it was so cold. Still do.”
Evie recalls playing ‘kick-the-can’ until dark, baseball in the cow pasture and riding her bike everywhere. “Sometimes we would go to the penny candy store with our pennies and get candy, maybe 2 for a penny.” With very few stores on Main Street, Evie remembers the Candy Kitchen as the center of activity. “Every day after school we would stop there for a nickel Coke.”
Having taken piano lessons and staying very involved in musical activities in school, Evie got to know a brother/sister duo from Southampton. “We formed a little band. He played the drums and she the sax. We met at my house, and lots of friends came to spend Sunday afternoons. My mom would make chocolate and vanilla fudge and snacks for everyone. It was a great way to keep us off the streets.”
Evie was also a Girl Scout, and her leader taught tap dancing.
“I would play piano while she gave dance lessons, and I got my lessons for free. I know some girls came from Sag Harbor for lessons: Deanna Lattanzio and her sister I believe,” she said.
Besides playing the organ at church, for which she was paid $5 a month, Evie babysat for spending money. “I was paid 35 cents an hour ’til midnight and 50 cents after. In the summer, we went to the ocean every day, either riding our bikes, or my mom would take us. I loved going to the library too; I think I read every ‘Nancy Drew’ and ‘Bobbsey Twins’ book that there was. “
Evie remembers a time that food was in short supply. “During World War II, I was maybe 11 years old; my mother would ‘hear’ that Bohack Grocery Store was going to get in some sugar or bread, and she would send me to stand in line with the ration stamps in order to get some.” Evie recalls that she still has some of the ration booklets. “We were kind of lucky in that my grandmother had a farm with cows and chickens. Once in a while Gram would make real butter and send it with a chicken to us; that was a real treat. When we didn’t have butter, I remember mixing up the oleo with the orange color packet that we had as substitute butter.”
“Bridgehampton was a quiet town,” remarked Evie, “where everyone knew everyone, so you didn’t want to get in trouble because your parents would probably know about it before you got home. I guess you could say they were looking out for you. In retrospect, I often say to friends my age, we were so lucky: we have lived through the best of times.”
Evie graduated from Bridgehampton High School and went to work as a receptionist/secretary at Bulova Watchcase Factory in Sag Harbor. “I met my husband Jim there. It was love at first sight. We got married eight months later. I was 18, he was three years older. When he told the friends whom he played cards with at ‘Sal and Joe’s’ that he was getting married, they took bets on how long it would last. Joe Lattanzio bet the longest at six months-but 60 years later, we were still together.”
Evie and her late husband, Jim, raised five children who all graduated from Pierson High School: Robin, Jan, Paul, David and Evy. Jim became a builder and built a home for each of his children and two of his grandchildren. “We were young when we had our family but thank goodness we had our health and the energy to take care of them. Sometimes that was a challenge. We experienced some of the struggles that people are going through today, maybe that’s why the pantry is so important to me.”
The family of seven grew together in their small ranch home. “For many years we only had one bathroom. I had to make a schedule for everyone. Jim, at one point, worked three jobs to keep us going and to feed those five little crumb-snatchers,” mused Evie. “But I wouldn’t change a thing; they all grew up to be good people, and they appreciate everything they have.” Evie’s family has now grown to include seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren!
After Evie’s children were all in school she became restless and began working in the Sag Harbor School district as a monitor. Soon Ethel McAree asked her if she knew how to type and eventually Evie became a secretary to the principal. “I loved working at the school. I was always happy to go to work in the morning. I loved the kids, and the teachers were always fun to work with.”
Evie retired from the school after 28 years of service. “After two years of retirement, I got restless again, and I called the church to see if they needed help with the food pantry. ‘Oh yes, we need help,’ they said. And that is when I became involved with the Sag Harbor Community Food Pantry.”
Providing more than 50 local families with fresh food and essentials each week has been a labor of love. “The food pantry creates a feeling of togetherness-neighbors helping neighbors-everyone working together,” exclaimed Evie. I have met a whole new group of friends. They are very dedicated and happy, and they feel good about what they’re doing.”
The Sag Harbor Community Food Pantry is run by 68 volunteers-some who are there each week and others that come when they can. It is open to the public from 10 a.m. until noon every Tuesday in the downstairs of the Old Whalers Presbyterian Church. The only requirement for receiving food is that you live in the Sag Harbor School District.
“We are helped by many local organizations, clubs, schools, banks, markets, farm stands, churches, restaurants. Much of the Sag Harbor community supports us. I think for people who are food deprived it is a wonderful place to come-a place of kindness and fairness,” said Evie.
With the holidays upon us, I asked Evie how the rest of us could help. “We are getting ready to send out our annual “Holiday Appeal” fundraising letter. These funds enable us to continue to provide fresh meat, produce and dairy items all year, not just at holiday time. The winter weather, with less work available, is a time of greater need. People are struggling with high rents and a high cost of living. There are hardworking people here and the elderly who still struggle to stay here because this is their home, and they don’t want to leave.”
We can all help by sending donations to the Sag Harbor Community Food Pantry at, PO Box 1241, Sag Harbor, NY 11963. Donations of nonperishable items, holiday gifts and wrapping paper are also welcome.
Having worked with Evie for many years at Sag Harbor Elementary School, I must say that she was always kind, helpful and cheerful. I asked her why it seems that she is always smiling; where did she get such a positive spirit and nature? “I’m just an up kind of person,” she said. “The glass is always half full. There’s always something to be grateful for.”
“No one should be homeless, hungry or without medical care,” she said. With thousands of people fed and cared for, we are so proud of and grateful for Evie Ramunno, for the Sag Harbor Community Food Pantry, for all of its volunteers and for this wonderful community that comes together to help. We are all so fortunate that Evie calls Sag Harbor HOME.