Since 2016, a service for many in the Bellmore-Merrick community has operated from a book room in the Brookside school building on Meadowbrook Road.
The Bellmore-Merrick Community Cupboard serves about 40 families who need help keeping food on their tables, and according to organizer Karin McMahon, with the operation recently expanding in size, she needs the community’s help to keep the shelves stocked more than ever.
“It’s kind of a labor of love from the school district,” said McMahon, a phys. ed. teacher at Mepham High School. “Anyone who wants to help us out — it’s great. We’ll never turn them away.”
The Community Cupboard was the brainchild of McMahon and Meadowbrook Alternative Program teacher Tiffany Rzempoluch, who were inspired to create the program by their work delivering leftover food from the district’s middle school cafeterias to the Rosa Parks Interfaith Nutrition Network in Hempstead.
Newer Cupboard allies in the district include Calhoun High School Assistant Principal Mark Melkonian, who now advises a student community service club that benefits the Cupboard, and Darlene Boden, a school nurse at MAPS who is now one of its chief organizers.
After Thanksgiving — also the Cupboard’s one-year anniversary — operations stepped up, in response to the community’s need, according to Boden.
“We had a one-year anniversary, and then we expanded, three Saturdays ago,” Boden said. “We doubled in size, so we had half of the book room, and now we have the whole thing. We could definitely use more donations to fill it, though, because we’ve expanded the number of families, unfortunately, that we have to serve.”
Families can get the help of the Community Cupboard without fear of exposure or the stigma that some might attach to picking up boxes of food. A private line at the school district takes messages, where families can leave their information, after which they are given a “code name” known only to them, McMahon and a deputy superintendent.
If a family is given the code name “Rose,” a bag with the items they need is left at the security desk at the Brookside school building late on Wednesday, with a picture of a rose on it, for them to pick up on Thursday. A family member need only tell the security guard that he is from the “Rose family,” and then be on his way.
“We didn’t want to put things in boxes. This is just more discreet,” McMahon said. “They feel more valued as a person with a bag. People are happy about it. They go home, and they don’t really have to worry about carrying out a big box . . . They’re just using reusable bags.”
Also, McMahon added, a Cupboard representative might meet with the family member, if needed.
“Sometimes they just need somebody to talk to,” she said. “And we’ll just sit here and talk to them for a while.”
The Cupboard is now equipped with a deli-style refrigerator, courtesy of an anonymous donor, and district science students have gotten involved, helping out with a community garden in the Brookside building. Now families using the service are given a variety of fresh vegetables.
“We turn around and give it to our families, and the majority have been like, ‘Wow, fresh vegetables are incredible!’” McMahon said. “They don’t get that often.”
Families in need can contact the Cupboard’s private line at (516) 992-1072.