‘Most generous community’ donates food to help ‘working poor’

‘Worst I’ve seen in years,’ according to pantry director

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The annual Holiday Greeting Fund from the Suffolk County News raised $1,050 that was donated to the Chestene M. Coverdale Food Pantry in Sayville by publisher, Terry Tuthill.

Charlene Lehmann, director of the pantry that is located on 47 Gillette Avenue, said, “This is the worst I’ve seen in years for people in need.”

This past holiday season, beginning in mid-November, had a marked “uptick” in patrons of the pantry, with most being families and described by Lehmann as “working poor.”

While the immediate Sayville area is served, families come from the greater Islip Town and as far as Patchogue.

“The problems have grown,” said Lehmann. “There’s rent, utilities, gas for cars, so the need for food has just grown exponentially over the last few years. The families’ dollar at the end of the month just doesn’t stretch as far as it used to.”

The USDA defines food insecurity as  “a lack of consistent access to enough food for every person in a household to live an active, healthy life.”

Long Island Cares, a food bank established in 1980, conducted a survey from April to July of 2022 of patrons of 12 emergency food pantries throughout Nassau and Suffolk counties and found the following from 1,715 responses:

  • Family composition was 49 percent adults, 20.5 percent seniors, and 30.5 percent children.
  • 72 percent of households consisted of one to four people (according to 1,003 responses).
  • 58 percent of patrons had been recipients of donations to pantries for over one year.
  • 54 percent of recipients were Hispanic/Latinx, 21 percent Caucasian, and 18 percent Black.
  • 45 percent were married (according to 1,006 responses).
  • 18 percent were employed full-time, 22 percent were part-time, and 23 percent were retired.
  • 55 percent earned less than $25,520 annually, 25 percent earned between $25,520 to $49,999 annually, 5 percent earned $50,000 or above.
  • 64 percent were renters, 27 percent were home owners.
  • Household items that were most needed included: 35 percent paper products, 33 percent cleaning supplies, and 32 percent hygiene products.
  • 35.4 percent received pet food at the pantry.

Lehmann said that the Sayville pantry is one of the most well-stocked on Long Island and expressed the generosity of the community.

“People are so generous in this area. For Thanksgiving we had someone anonymously donate 80 turkeys and another family donated 60 bags of Thanksgiving fixings’,” said Lehmann.

Monetary donations are also appreciated by the pantry as many patrons are in need of gas cards.

The pantry has a standing freezer and is able to buy meat in bulk with monetary donations.

The Sayville Rotary Club has a monthly bread program that donates loaves of bread.

“We just received a large donation of rice from Goya,” said Lehmann.

With many families having three to four children, Lehmann said essentials like peanut butter and jelly, soups, stews, and cold-weather products are the most helpful donations for the season.

Local businesses have also been instrumental in providing fresh produce for Lehmann, who said that fruits and vegetables are especially welcome by patrons of the pantry.