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Places of worship join forces to help the food insecure

Providing a hearty Thanksgiving for the food insecure

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The Silveri Center at St. Dominic’s Church was a hub of activity for a week earlier this month. The room was filled with cans of vegetables, soups, pasta, stuffing mix and Stop & Shop gift cards. Volunteers organized and bagged all the fixings needed for a Thanksgiving meal.

The Interreligious & Human Needs Council Partners in Giving 2020 in Oyster Bay, which hosted the food drive, committed once again to helping those who are food insecure, especially during the holidays. And it was a success. The families picked up what they would need for Thanksgiving dinner on Nov. 16 and 17.

The drive was organized by six churches and the Jewish Center. The nonperishable foods were gathered in October by community members, private and public schools and the places of worship, and dropped off at the Oyster Bay Preschool. Local children were involved, too. Each grade at St. Dominic’s Elementary School adopted a family, according to Joan Adomsky, the parish’s volunteer outreach coordinator.

The Rev. Dr. Jeff Prey, pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Oyster Bay and president of the Interreligious and Human Needs Council’s Social Action Committee, was in charge of the food drive. His parish, he said, has been involved in spearheading the drive for 25 to 30 years. It used to be held at Prey’s church, but the space was only available two days a week, which made it difficult to organize the food and then distribute it. Five years ago, St. Dominic’s Church offered its center for a week each year.

“This was possible because of Joan Adomsky,” Prey said. “The graciousness of St. Dominic’s is appreciated.”

Adomsky said she was pleased that the different faiths in Oyster Bay work so well together, adding that everyone knows the importance of outreach.

“Yes,” Prey said, “this is a unique aspect of Oyster Bay. We just do it here together without a bunch of conferences.”

Other agencies in the hamlet are involved, too, like Youth and Family Counseling and the Boys’ and Girls’ Club. Prey said there is never a concern over turf. Everyone is committed to working together to help the food insecure.

“The heartbeat of this is Ingrid Morales,” said Anne Watters, a volunteer from Youth and Family Counseling. “She is the person who knows the families and assesses the needs in the community. Because of Ingrid, this has become a personalized support system.”

Morales is the outreach and special events coordinator at Youth and Family Counseling. She works closely with those who need help in the community, especially residents who speak Spanish.

“To me this is very personal,” she said. “I don’t sleep until everyone is taken care of. During Covid it was ugly. People suffered. Now they’re trying to catch up on paying their rent and the bills.”

Adomsky, a retired educator, said she worries about those who have lost their jobs and people who will lose their jobs in future if Long Island is forced to close down again as the pandemic drags on. This is her second year participating in the interreligious food drive.

“This is a labor of love for me,” she said. “I love every minute of doing this.”

Those who volunteer to bag the groceries have included students from Oyster Bay’s Harmony Heights, a residential and day school for teenage girls with emotional, educational and social challenges that cannot be adequately served in a regular high school setting. 

On Nov. 17, the girls were busy boxing and bagging the donated food. Kathy Nastri, a social worker and the executive director at Harmony Heights, said the seniors at the school have been taking part in the food drive for a long time. “We try to get them to do community service and encourage them to give back,” she said. “They come from all different communities, but all end up loving Oyster Bay and East Norwich.”

Most of the seniors who helped with the food drive wanted to share their experiences. The school requires that they remain anonymous.

One of the teens said she enjoyed the effort because she needs to stay busy. She said she was grateful that participating has helped her do that, and she also helped other people. She added that she was surprised by how much need there is in the hamlet.

“I feel very morally responsible, being the next generation,” said another student. “I have a lot of environmental anxiety and don’t think our country is handling things well. Since I can’t donate, it’s nice to help this way.”

Watters said she was haunted by how many people can be hungry. “I am taken by the level of community touch here,” she said, “that children are partnering and gaining an understand of the needs here and helping to make the world a better place.”