Long Island Cares’ volunteer shines a light on community


April is National Volunteer Month in the U.S., and Stephen McDougal represents a shining example of what that is all about as a dedicated volunteer for the Long Island Cares’ food pantry in Freeport.

McDougal, 76, a Levittown resident, has been volunteering at the food pantry, the Nassau Center for Collaborative Assistance, at 21 E. Sunrise Highway, since 2013, after a 32-year career as a laborer with the Town of Hempstead.

President Richard Nixon first created National Volunteer Week in 1974, and in 1990, President George H.W. Bush expanded the designation to a month.

McDougal has been described as a community paragon responsible for shining a light in the world by showing up in service repeatedly for the good of the Freeport community.

For years, McDougal has worked Friday afternoons at the pantry, from noon to 3PM and is known for his caring demeanor and welcoming smile.

“Steve is one of those volunteers that clients always want to be helped by,” Reyna Felix, program associate at Long Island Cares, said “He always liked to greet the clients, asking how they’re feeling today… he starts a conversation,” she added. “He’s very polite, he’s very kind.”

Felix said McDougal has the ability to effectively go about his work and be present and optimistic. “He cares. He cares… there’s some people that have this presence, like ‘I’m really here for you.’ You can feel it,” she said.

McDougal originally started at Long Island Cares after retiring from his job with the town and his side business — a moving company that operated for 29 years around Long Island — because his wife knew the manager of the food pantry, and in May 2013 the organization had an open volunteer slot.

“It feels good to help people, take them around, show them the foods they can have,” said McDougal, who frequently attends Long Island Cares’ food drives at locales like community grocery stores.

He is also a devout Christian and intimately involved with his church, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Levittown. McDougal has also spent time selling Christmas trees as well as operating a pumpkin patch to raise funds for the church, and credits his religious faith with playing a major role in his volunteer service.

“You read the Bible,” he said, “and it’s almost like the Holy Spirit’s tugging things.

“When I get up in the morning the first thing I do is… find a quiet place to pray and have (my) relationship with God,” McDougal added. “I do it for about two hours… praying for people, doing my regular prayers, reading scripture, reading the Bible… I really enjoy doing it.”

“If people would read the Quran, or read the Torah, or read the Bible, there’d be a lot less violence in the world,” McDougal continued.

McDougal gives to a number of charitable organizations in his spare time, including donating clothes to Big Brothers, Big Sisters, a nonprofit which aims to “create and support one-to-one mentoring relationships that empower youth.”

McDougal, who was born in Brooklyn before moving to Long Island, has two children who also live on the island, as well as a grandson.

The retiree has also noticed an increased need for food on Long Island in recent times.

“(There was a time) we weren’t too busy,” he said. “(Now) you don’t have (that) at all… there’s definitely an increased need… on Long Island there’s 250,000 to 350,000 people who desperately need food… one out of seven children need food… it’s bad, really bad.”

He attributed the increased food insecurity to widespread economic struggles, mass layoffs, and downstream effects of the pandemic.

“You don’t have the means to feed your family so you have to go to food banks in order to survive,” he said.

In 2023, 68,833 individuals were served at the Freeport food pantry, and 586,772 meals were distributed. There was a 34 percent increase in individuals served and a 27 percent increase in meals distributed from 2022.

In the true spirit of National Volunteer Month, McDougal said he firmly believes in giving back to the community.

“I’m 76,” McDougal said. “What am I going to do, hoard my money ‘till I die? I can’t be doing that.”

The Nassau Center for Collaborative Assistance can be reached at (516) 442-5221 and is open MWF from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and on Thursday from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.