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Helping their neighbors, for Pete’s sake

Sisters honor late father with food pantry

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Growing up, sisters Jeanne Rodrigues and Beth Escobar remember their father, Pete Haller, praying for the homeless before family dinners in their New Hyde Park home.

Last September — 21 years after he died — Rodrigues, who now lives in southern New Jersey, Escobar, who lives in Seaford, and their friend Claudia Brunie, of Levittown, formed For the Love of Pete’s Pantry in Seaford. 

“Covid-19 was actually one of the reasons we wanted to get started right away, because we saw such a great need — not just for people who are homeless, but for our neighbors who suddenly lost a job or wound up in a situation where they couldn’t go to work because of Covid,” Escobar said. “We were seeing friends and neighbors who are struggling, and we just felt we had to do something about this. We had to help.”

Seven months after it opened, the pantry has gained nonprofit status, which Escobar said, “opened a lot of doors.” “Our hands were tied because of a couple situations before, but now we can really expand,” she said. 

The goal of For the Love of Pete’s Pantry is to become a fixture in the Seaford community, where residents help out when their neighbors are in need of food, toiletries, Christmas or Easter presents, baby supplies and other necessities.

“We’ve got a big pantry in the backyard, in the shed, that’s got shelves,” Rodrigues said, referring to Escobar’s Seaford home. “It’s full of non-perishable foods that we can give out to people. So people can contact us directly if they need assistance.”

Last Thanksgiving, the pantry provided dinner for 50 local families. For Christmas, it sent presents to more than 100 children, and for Easter it gave 75 children the chance to wake up and find an Easter basket.

“We have a lot of local support, which is nice,” Rodrigues said. “If we say we need something, or if somebody needs something, on our Facebook page, people respond. I always found that people want to help, it’s just that they don’t know what to do. So if you give them some ideas or you tell them what you need or you lead them in the right direction, people want to help. So they do.”