By the end of April, there will be over 26 million Americans who have applied for unemployment. In correlation with those rising numbers comes the increase in the number of individuals and families suffering from food insecurity. As a way to tackle this problem, local food pantries are making enormous efforts to help those in need.
Heart of the Hamptons is a nonprofit organization based in Southampton, founded over 30 years ago as a small food pantry and emergency assistance outreach center. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, upward of 50 drop-by volunteers could be seen at its headquarters at 168 Hill Street. Now, volunteer screenings and proper scheduling have become essential, including pairing cohabitants together, as the organization focuses on food distribution.
“The Heart of the Hamptons community has only gotten stronger and more powerful in providing our mission to ‘help people in our local community who are in need, without discrimination, in a dignified manner,’” Heart of the Hamptons Executive Director Hilton Crosby said. “I have never been more proud to be a part of a team of people that can accomplish so much during such difficult times.”
Bags are pre-packed for families of four with enough groceries to create 39 meals. They include non-perishables such as cereal, oatmeal, pasta, canned tuna, vegetables, soups, beans, and fruit. All of these items are purchased from wholesale distributors every Tuesday.
Frozen meat comes from the late Harry Chapin-founded nonprofit, Long Island Cares, which varies based on supply, and produce is donated from Hapco Farms in Westhampton Beach and Fresh from the Start in Riverhead. Based on availability this can include onions, spinach, parsley, avocados, mangos, apples, oranges, cabbage, horseradish root, tomatoes, potatoes, and carrots.
The first half of March, 3156 meals were distributed, and by the second half, 7488. Each week, the number rises. As of April 22, 188 families received supplies — 74 of which were new — totaling 7370 meals, indicating the nonprofit could see a distribution of 28,000 meals each month for the forseeable future.
“I can’t think of anything worse than children going without food,” said philanthropist Jean Shafiroff, who lends her help to multiple organizations. “Right now, the need to raise funds is massive, so my desire to help is even greater. Working to help Heart of the Hamptons is an honor. It is very rewarding to be one of many helping during this pandemic. Together we can all create change.”
Shafiroff’s recent donation enabled the organization to provide 10,000 meals.
“We are so fortunate to exist in a community that is so faithful and commandeering towards its own. Not just now, but always,” Crosby said. “The amount of love and support is so tremendous right now that we are starting to worry if we can keep up with expressing enough gratitude.”
Water Mill native Tim Malone grew up volunteering with organizations like The Hamptons Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing, the Rotary Club of Southampton, and Heart of the Hamptons through the Southampton school district. When the pandemic hit, he started a GoFundMe fundraiser that since its March 21 launch has raised nearly $37,000 of his $45,000 goal.
“My parents instilled giving back from an early age,” said Malone, who with his fiancé, CNN television journalist Don Lemon, also advocate for rescues, adopting three from Southampton Animal Shelter. “I think as blessed as we are, it is so important to continually give back and support those around us.”
Fellow CNN anchor Chris Cuomo, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s brother, gave a shout out to Lemon on-air in March.
“I think during these tough times, you see the best in people,” Malone said. “It is so important that this mindset continues when the dust settles. I hope we remember all the people who stepped up to keep our towns and villages running during these tough times and when everything is over, we continue to always help each other.”
Heart of the Hamptons distributes every Wednesday between 10 AM and noon at its Southampton headquarters. Those in need can sign up the day of or register by calling 631-283-6415. Registration requires a name, address in the Town of Southampton, and the number of children, adults, and seniors in each home. Three grocery bags are distributed to each family — an extra bag to any household with more than three people — and are placed on a drive-thru table set up outside. As customers arrive, they remain in their cars as bags are brought to them.
“The donor base is primarily made up of thousands of local people who donate $20 to $100,” Crosby said. “The thing that I really love about the Heart of the Hamptons community is our ability to adapt to the identified needs. We are able to come together and problem-solve on a daily basis.”