For the past decade, Rob and Mary Hallam, congregants of the Community Presbyterian Church in Malverne, have collected thousands of food items for their annual People’s Food Drive to benefit the Long Island Council of Churches’ food pantry, in Freeport.
Last year, the Hallams, who live in Lynbrook, were fortunate enough to collect donations before the coronavirus pandemic all but shut down the county, but, as Rob, 59, put it, they “never stopped helping after the food drive was over.”
As the pandemic devastated people’s finances and food insecurity spread across Long Island, the LICC pantry saw demand grow every day, and the Hallams were there to help in any way they could, raising funds and securing a new refrigerator for the facility.
This year, they have had to adapt to a new normal as they stage their 10th annual People’s Food Drive through the end of March. “The need has never been greater, and we need to do what we can to help,” Rob said. “But we’re facing some new challenges that have changed everything.”
The biggest setback has been the lack of access to crowds and gatherings. Rob explained that the biggest strength of the food drive was the community’s involvement by way of collection boxes in front of businesses, restaurants, schools and recreation centers across the South Shore.
But many businesses are working remotely, and restaurants and schools can no longer accommodate the collection boxes. The only exceptions are Hallam’s office, Nassau Shades & Blinds, at 211 Sunrise Highway in Lynbrook; his employer’s office, Nassau Door & Window, at 487 W. John St. in Hicksville; and Jeremey’s Ale House, at 239 Woodcleft Ave. in Freeport.
While this poses a monumental challenge, the Hallams have looked to the Internet for help. Once again, Rob Maeurer, of Elmont, has helped create a GoFundMe page for the People’s Food Drive. The goal is to raise $5,000, with all proceeds going to purchase food to donate to the LICC pantry.
“I figured that there would be people who wanted to give but may not be able to go out to the drop-off locations,” Maeurer said, “so now they can donate money for us to purchase food with.”
The Hallams also created a wish list on Amazon, where people can find items to buy for the pantry.
The couple found willing donors at Community Presbyterian Church, where they spend time after every weekly service discussing the drive with their fellow congregants. “We always get a great response from the parish,” Rob said. “We pick up food or money donations and go shopping for more food.”
Yolanda Murray, 59, the LICC pantry manager, said the People’s Food Drive serves as a necessary lifeline to help the pantry get through the spring and summer. It is one of the largest pantries on the South Shore, serving more than 2,500 people a month from across Nassau County. It saw more than 210 families a day at the peak of the pandemic, but the volume remains high, at nearly 100 families a day. Murray added that while the pantry previously limited the number of weekly visits an individual could make, those restrictions have been eased to help those truly in need.
“People are still hurting from the effects of Covid,” Murray said. “They’ve lost income, are struggling to pay their rent and mortgages, so they need help.”
The Hallams, she said, have continued to support the pantry beyond the food drive, donating vegetables in the spring and holding raffles throughout the year to raise money for food. One of the raffles helped secure a new deep freezer for the facility.
Although the food drive has started slowly, the Hallams are optimistic that they will not only be able to deliver thousands of food items to the pantry, but they will also be able to hold their traditional “moving day” in April. That is when hundreds of volunteers gather to help move the food from the Hallams’ home to the pantry. Last year’s moving day was canceled due to coronavirus restrictions, but with the number of positive cases continuing to decline, the couple hope to celebrate the day in one form or another.
To donate to the People’s Food Drive GoFundMe, go to https://www.gofundme.com/f/29gxw5sbuo?utm_campaign=m_pd+share-sheet&utm_medium=copy_link_all&utm_source=customer.
To shop from the Amazon wish list, visit https://www.amazon.com/hz/wishlist/ls/36YI4K2XFFS43?ref_=wl_share.