The Montauk Food Pantry has morphed from a once-a-month, off-season charity, to a year-round operation due to the explosion in the number of those in need on the East End as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pantry will now distribute food every other Tuesday until further notice.
Normally, the pantry operates from fall through April, when jobs are scarce, and the pantry’s drive-thru distribution was scheduled to end this month.
The line of cars snaking up South Etna Avenue and around the corner to the driveway of the St. Therese of Lisieux Parish Center on South Essex Street opposite the church remained from the time distribution began on March 31 at 5:30 PM, to the time it ended at 7:30.
Cars pulled up to the front of the driveway, which leads to the basement level of the parish center, and drivers were greeted by Terry Berger and Cristina Coste, both of whom were wearing masks.
“I found mine in the basement,” said Berger, who is a member of the East Hampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals.
Coste asked residents if they were picking up supplies for one family, or two, and if they needed diapers. She then placed stickers on the windshield of the car, indicating the needs. The drivers pulled down to the basement entrance, where a team would hand off the supplies.
Pantry Director Alice Houseknecht said over 200 families were served that first night.
In the street, along with Berger and Coste, Houseknecht said, was former East Hampton Town detective Bob Reich, who directed traffic, to keep the line of those in need organized.
At the basement entrance four people were assigned to hand off bags of supplies, which contained a wide variety of nonperishable food items like soups, canned vegetables, pasta, and tuna fish, as well as some frozen meat. Inside was a team of nine, who assembled the care packages, then ran them to the door.
“We also included some Easter candy,” Houseknecht said.
While Montauk’s pantry operates every other Tuesday, East Hampton’s schedule runs on the opposite Tuesdays, so those in need can get supplies every week.
The pantry was founded 30 years ago by Fran Ecker and Inez Fox to help feed children attending Montauk Public School. Houseknecht has been involved with the organization for the past 17 years, and has been the director the past three.
“I was a teacher at the Montauk school,” Houseknecht said. “I became more and more involved.”
The food is mostly purchased from the Montauk IGA.
“The Montauk IGA is our lifeline,” Houseknecht said, adding that the workers there are indispensable to the pantry’s operation.
To help the food operation, donations in the form of checks or IGA gift cards can be sent to the Montauk Food Pantry, P.O. Box 997, Montauk, NY, 11954.
Many have called interested in volunteering. Houseknecht said she’s had to turn them away in order to honor social-distancing protocols.
Tuesday, April 14, is the next day the pantry will be distributing food, between the hours of 5:30 and 7:30 PM.