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Hungry for Change

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— February 15, 2018

Hungry for Change

  • Long Island Cares provides hunger relief to neighbors in need.
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You might not think twice about ordering a latte for the morning commute, eating leftovers at lunch and stopping at the supermarket to pick up the ingredients for dinner but, for the 41 million Americans struggling with hunger, the next meal is not guaranteed.

Long Island Cares has been helping residents of Nassau and Suffolk counties fill their cupboards since 1980. When songwriter and social activist Harry Chapin started the organization, he hoped it wouldn’t be around for long.

“[Chapin] hoped we’d close our doors after 10 years because he thought the problem of hunger would be solved,” explains Billy Gonyou, manager of community support and food drives for Long Island Cares.

Helping Hungry Long Islanders

Almost four decades later, the need is greater than ever and the first food bank on Long Island has grown into the most comprehensive hunger relief organization in the region, distributing 6 million pounds of food every year. Long Island Cares relies on grants and donations to purchase and distribute food, partnering with more than 580 community agencies, including food pantries and soup kitchens, to get nutritious foods to those who need them.

On Long Island, where 283,700 residents receive emergency food assistance every year, food bank clients range from those going through a hard time during periods of unemployment or natural disasters to working families who need ongoing support to put food on the table. Almost 60% of food-insecure households

Long Island Cares reaches out to people in need with the help of companies like Nature’s Plus.

participate in at least one federal food assistance program such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or the National School Lunch Program.

“There is no typical food bank user,” says Gonyou. “We see all types of people and we don’t question anyone; if you come in and tell us you’re hungry, we’re going to feed you.”

Long Island Cares relies on donations and grants to fulfill its mission. Corporate food drives are essential to meeting the need: The organization drops off donation boxes for companies to fill with non-perishable food items such as rice, pasta, tomato sauce, canned vegetables, cereal, and peanut butter, and later picks them up for distribution. In 2016, 12% of the foods distributed through Long Island Cares were donated during corporate food drives.

Nature’s Plus Lends a Hand

Nature’s Plus started hosting corporate food drives more than a decade ago. “You might not think about hunger on Long Island because it’s such an affluent area, but a lot of our neighbors don’t have enough to eat and depend on food banks to provide them with food,” says director of human resources and administration Susan Lange. Lange put up posters around the offices and warehouse encouraging staff to donate nonperishable foods and hygiene items such as toothbrushes and toothpaste. Hosting a corporate food drive allowed the Nature’s Plus team to support the local community and witness the power of collective action.

“Someone might not donate one or two cans of food because they don’t think it’ll help, but when you add those cans to a box that everyone is working together to fill, you can see how it adds up,” Lange explains. “If everybody does a little bit, we can have a huge impact.”

Gonyou believes corporate food drives also build awareness of hunger on Long Island.

“Sometimes [donors] have personal experiences with hunger or know people who are affected or just recognize the need and want to give back,” he says. “The food drives definitely spread the word and spread awareness and really makes people think and act. It all comes down to neighbors helping neighbors.”

“Sometimes [donors] have personal experiences with hunger or know people who are affected or just recognize the need and want to give back,” he says. “The food drives definitely spread the word and spread awareness and really makes people think and act. It all comes down to neighbors helping neighbors.”

As part of its mission to help neighbors, Long Island Cares operates mobile services vans that travel to libraries and shopping centers to provide referral assistance and emergency food supplies when food pantries are closed; weekend and after-school food programs for children; and a pet pantry that distributes pet food to families in need. The organization also offers programming to help address the root causes of hunger such as job training and hunger education.

“We believe there’s a reason why you’re in need of food and we want to know what it is so we can give you the resources so you don’t have to go to a food pantry again,” Gonyou says. “If there’s a need, we respond to it and if we can’t respond to it, we’ll find another organization that can.”

Updated Appeals

To help respond to the need—and appeal to new, younger donors—Long Island Cares started hosting virtual food drives.

The site—www.YouGiveGoods. com—works like an online supermarket: Search for Long Island Cares for a shopping list of needed items, add them to the shopping cart, check out and the donated foods are shipped to the food bank to be distributed to clients in need.

“You just click a link and purchase; it’s very Millennial,” Gonyou says. “Hunger is a year-round issue and we want to make it as easy as possible for people to donate and make a difference.”

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