Annual ‘People’s Food Drive’ is off to slow start

LICC has nowhere else to go


For the 13th year in a row, Rob Hallam is stacking his living room with boxes of food for his annual People’s Food Drive.

“It’s gotten so big,” Hallam, of Lynbrook, said. “I get checks from out of state. So any person involved with this in any way, it’s their food drive. That’s why I started calling it the People’s Food Drive.”

The food drive’s origins lie with the Community Presbyterian Church of Malverne, where Hallam and his wife, Mary, are members. The church is a long-standing contributor of the Long Island Council of Churches food pantry — but the Hallams wanted to do more.

“If you believe in callings, I had a calling,” Hallam said. “I felt that God was telling me, ‘your church has done a great job collecting food here, but you’ve got to make this thing bigger. You’ve got to take it out of the church doors.’”

To collect food items and money donations, Hallam and his church have teamed up with local businesses — like his workplace, Nassau Door and Window, which started putting out collection boxes, and Cross Island Fruits, which provides strawberry boxes to store the donations. Countless neighbors have also pitched in.

The People’s Food Drive has no overhead cost, Hallam said, with every single donation — every cent, every can of soup — going directly to those who need it.

Every year, the food drive culminates in a Move the Food day, on which neighbors, elected officials and students come together to transport the hundreds of boxes from Hallam’s home to the LICC in Freeport.

The first food drive, in 2011, gathered 998 combined food items and dollars. Their most recent, in 2023, amassed 23,556 donations, filling 719 strawberry boxes that stacked from floor to ceiling in Hallam’s living room.

The pace has slowed in a major way this year, however. The drive has been underway for more than a month, but only 172 boxes have been filled. Though the drive often picks up speed toward the end, the results are nowhere near the turnout of past years.

Part of the problem, Hallam said, is that food insecurity is being misunderstood. Featured in news stories are homeless people living in the subways, and illegal immigrants who are being given money, he added. But that’s not where donations to the People’s Food Drive or the LICC are going.

“The Nassau County residents that need help are what we call the ‘working poor,’” Hallam said. “So they’re not homeless, living on the streets. They’re people that go to the same schools our kids go to. Most of them are working. A lot of them are seniors on fixed incomes.”

More than 200,000 people — including nearly 70,000 children — across Nassau County are facing food insecurity.

Many families are living paycheck to paycheck and have a difficult time putting food on the table, when they are faced with other financial burdens, Hallam said.

“There needs to be a little bit of a better understanding of who these people are in Nassau County that our food pantry is providing to,” he said. “These are veterans, these are children, these are seniors.”

And those neighbors who need help may soon have nowhere to turn. The LICC has been helping those with food insecurity for 50 years. But at the end of March, its lease expires, and the organization is struggling to find a solution. Most other rent options are just out of reach for the 50-year-old nonprofit, which has nowhere else to go.

“It would be really, really sad to see that have to stop,” Hallam said. “God knows where these people are going to go.”

The LICC provided nearly 600,000 meals to neighbors last year alone. Food banks across Long Island are facing a strain because of increased need, Hallam said, and they’re reaching a point where they have to turn people away.

The LICC’s search for a solution isn’t over yet, and the nonprofit has until the end of the month to figure something out.

“It’s really getting down to the wire right now,” Hallam said. “We’ve had so many what I’ll call small miracles over the years we’ve been doing this food drive.

“We’re hoping for a real big one here,” he added.