Long Island Cares: How Community Partnerships Help During a Disaster

Long Island Cares was founded in 1980 by Harry Chapin, co-founder of WhyHunger. As a resident of suburban Long Island, he recognized that although there was tremendous wealth there, there were also many pockets of poverty. His goal was to create a local food bank that offered programs and services that met the immediate need for emergency food relief, helped people become self-reliant and worked to eliminate the underlying causes of hunger itself. One of New York region’s most comprehensive hunger action organizations, Long Island Cares is comprised of two main divisions: The Harry Chapin Food Bank, Long Island’s first food bank and its Community Outreach program that offers personal development and job skills training for low-income head of household women, at-risk high school students and young adults. WhyHunger and Long Island Cares shared vision of self-reliant communities has led to many fundraising collaborations throughout the years including a Chapin Family Benefit concert and the One Ton Club, an initiative for donors to pay for the cost to collect, store and distribute one ton of food.

During Hurricane Sandy, Long Island Cares suffered only minor damages to the outside of the building. However, the facility’s computers and phone service were down for a couple of days and their main facility in Hauppauge operated on generator power.

Every day of the year Long Island Cares plans, organizes, fundraises and gathers resources to feed and support Long Island’s most vulnerable. This work uniquely positions Long Island Cares to play a pivotal role in the emergency response and recovery efforts after a natural disaster like Hurricane Sandy. Their 30 year commitment to serving Long Island and the level of coordination involved at a food bank on a day-to-day basis makes them a natural leader in an emergency situation.

Long Island Cares, and any food bank, could not acquire and distribute millions of pounds of food each year without working in conjunction with a multitude of partners: from collaborating with local and state government officials to secure food, to working with Feeding America, to acquiring food and funds, to the 580 member agencies that depend on Long Island Cares and the Harry Chapin Food Bank to deliver food to them every day.

Post-Hurricane Sandy, these relationships have proven very beneficial as Long Island Cares, in collaboration with government, emergency and community based organizations, handles much of the coordination of food and supplies going to designated shelters and community based feeding sites for the tens of thousands Long Islanders that have lost food, are without power and are unable to access resources. As Paul Pachter wrote in a letter outlining Long Island Cares role post-Sandy, “Our role in relief and recovery efforts following the storm is to support these organizations. We also have an obligation to assist our local communities in instances where our member agencies cannot.”

Every year, the Harry Chapin Food Bank receives, sorts, processes and delivers millions of pounds of food and household goods to their 580 member agencies and through their Mobile Outreach Resource Enterprise (M.O.R.E.) which provides information, referral assistance and emergency food to people in Nassau and Suffolk counties at times when their neighborhood pantries are not open — in user friendly locations such as libraries, parks and shopping centers bringing more food and resources to people in need. These resources have been extremely useful post-Sandy. The M.O.R.E. vans have been delivering non-perishable food to anyone that is homebound and unable to get out, including seniors, disabled veterans and others with special conditions that need immediate help. They’ve even been able to distribute $26,000 worth of fresh produce to their member agencies and other hunger relief organizations. Their warehouse and trucks which bring food to member agencies every week allow them to receive, sort and deliver the large amount of food and supplies being donated to the Red Cross, who then distribute them to those staying in their shelters.

Long Island Cares’ First Stop Food Pantry regularly serves as a triage pantry that provides individuals and families in need with up to ten days’ worth of food, along with information about critical community resources such as food stamps, Child Health Plus, WIC, heating and utility assistance, employment resources and mortgage assistance. After the hurricane, these pantries continue to serve as places for Long Islanders in need to get food and water.

Due to their dedication and commitment to providing food and resources to Long Island’s most vulnerable, Long Island Cares staff is working overtime in this greater time of need. Whether it is working at their own warehouse non-stop or assisting the Red Cross, for the staff it has been about being where they need to be and for whoever needs help. Many of the staff themselves are Long Island residents and have been living without heat, lights and gasoline. As Paul Pachter puts it, “We cannot forget that as we take care of ourselves we must continue to take care of others. For those of us at Long Island Cares, it’s all about collaborating with others to make sure that we are doing what is most needed and doing it right in order to help our communities recover. “

Suzanne Babb