The long-awaited and long-promised onsite emergency food pantry facility, run by the Freeport-based regional food bank, Long Island Cares, may finally be up and running by this spring.
While the anticipated grand opening of the 2,600-square-foot facility on Rockaway Avenue was initially November of 2022, news of the 2024 opening couldn’t have come at a better time for struggling families dogged by persistent inflation on basic food items.
The pantry will operate as a discreet “one-stop” site for families to acquire healthy foods. The food items available would reflect the dietary preferences and needs of the area’s diverse cultures from the Caribbean to the West Indies. Even financially pinched pet-owning families could look forward to securing free pet food.
Before space reconstruction could begin, the project found itself stuck in red tape, forcing unforeseen delays to get the former storefront retail space to conform to building code and fire safety regulations.
“Before the building department could issue the building permit that we needed to begin construction and turn this office space into a pantry, they wanted us to upgrade and bring the building up to code,” said Jessica Rosati, the food bank’s program coordinator. And so, they did.
Months behind schedule, the permit was granted by the end of August but then the project ran into another snag.
“We were asked to hold beginning construction because our landlord needed to install sprinklers within the building,” noted Rossati. “There was no sprinkler system and the Nassau County Fire Marshal is requesting that all buildings be equipped with it. It’s a very expensive job.”
With the sprinkler system box checked, construction has been underway for the past few weeks with all eyes on opening day in March or April. Once open, the facility is projected to serve anywhere between 800 and 1,000 people weekly. These numbers are on par with its other emergency pantries in Lindenhurst, Bethpage, Freeport, Hampton Bays, and Huntington Station.
While the price of gas finds itself on a marked decline, national food prices at the grocery keep ticking up, and expenses on the basic cost of living on Long Island remain frustratingly high, particularly for low-income families.
Despite delays, the pantry services will no doubt play a pivotal role for families beleaguered by rising food bills these post-pandemic years. Rather than hopes of diminishing demand as society phased into a post-pandemic normal, both Long Island Cares and its sister regional food bank organization, Long Island Harvest, have reported an upswell in demand for their services in the years since.
This year, the Melville-based non-profit is inching closer to distributing 17 million pounds of food, roughly an extra million than the last.
“As we closed out last year, the number of first-time visitors needing food at one of our emergency food pantry locations is up by more than 50 percent,” said Paule Patcher, chief executive officer of Long Island Cares in February. “That’s 42,000 new people across Long Island.”
The two key drivers of this need Paule argues are a roughly 35 percent increase in the price of many grocery store items such as milk, eggs, and poultry as well as an influx of new immigrants on Long Island regardless of their citizenship status.
The build-up in anticipation of the new facility is palpable for Paule and his team with their phone lines busy with callers asking about when the facility will open
“We pride ourselves on our satellite locations, and the site is going to be dynamic when it opens,” said Rosati earlier this year.“We’ll need a little more time, but the end result will be worth it.”
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