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.