Covid’s fallout for the hungry

Local food pantry pulls out all stops to feed families in need


Thanksgiving may be over, but with the wintry festivities in full swing, families will once again gather for hearty platefuls of turkey and holiday trimmings. While the scene of loved ones enjoying a hearty meal together is deeply ingrained in the lore of the holidays, for many food-insecure families, this picture-perfect vision is a distant dream too costly to make real. At least, not on their own.
At a time when residents brave an unstable food supply and increased food prices, a growing number of families have turned to local pantries to help put food on their plates. Pantries and distribution centers throughout Valley Stream—like the Saint Vincent de Paul food pantry program at Holy Name of Mary Church—have been critical in ensuring that the most vulnerable residents are fed.
The church-based pantry has relied on the support of community donations from schools and residents as well as regional food bank organizations like Long Island Cares and Long Island Harvest to stock its inventory. “We anticipated a shortfall of food and turkeys, but we’ve been pleasantly surprised that people really have come through and remembered that people are still in need . . .,” said Sister Margie Kelly, the director of the outreach program at the church, who coordinates the efforts of dozens of volunteers to collect, sanitize, store, and distribute meat and canned items to feed a range of families.
“Anybody can come to receive food as long as they live within our parish boundaries, but if they don’t, we can easily refer them to one of our neighboring parishes,” Kelly said.
It first starts with an intake process, for which clients are asked a series of questions about their situations. In a normal year, volunteers would enter the homes of families where they attempt to “get to know” them and understand the full extent of their hardship. Now, the pandemic has forced volunteers to change how they operate, pivoting away from in-person home visits and limiting their interactions to over-the-phone conversations with fewer intake questions and no-contact food drop-offs.

According to Rose Ann Maloney, a church member who has volunteered at the food pantry program with her husband, Mike Maloney, for decades, the volunteer aid extends well beyond handing out food. Volunteers who understand a family’s specific situation become a lifeline of additional support, providing critical guidance on available resources, and linking them to the institutions best suited to help them navigate through their particular troubles. 
“We might end up sending them to social services. We might end up sending them to somebody that can help them with finances,” Rose Ann said. “If they have trouble with their electric bill, we would be able to encourage them to contact somebody over at the company to work out a budget plan.” 
At the height of the pandemic, the outreach program saw a jump in the number of vulnerable families requesting food assistance. “Of the roughly 90 families we usually handled, we had about 160 additional families,” Mike said.
“A few of them have left the outreach program, but many are still with us, and we are expecting that that will continue for quite a while,” Rose Ann added.
The pandemic’s residual effects are also beginning to challenge the resource capacity of food pantries themselves. According to Jessica Rosati, chief programs officer at Long Island Cares, a major donor for food pantries like that at Holy Name of Mary, contends that while the generosity of food donations has surpassed previous years’ rates, many pantries are starting to feel the effects of food supply chain woes.
“Foods that we never had an issue procuring like mixed fruit, canned chicken or canned tuna, we’ve had to source and purchase overseas to restock. A lot of vendors that we deal with are telling us they are having a hard time sourcing product,” Rosati said. Still, she is confident that there is enough food supply on Long Island to ensure that no one goes hungry this holiday season.