07/24/14 2:00pm
07/24/2014 2:00 PM
LI Cares started offering free breakfast for kids under age 18 through the end of August. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

LI Cares started offering free breakfast for kids under age 18 through the end of August. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

A 2010 study by food bank L.I. Cares showed that 39 percent of the 283,700 Long Islanders who receive emergency food each year are children under 18 years of age.

So when school goes out for the summer — leaving many kids who receive free and reduced lunches at school without a source of nutrition — hunger assistance organizations such as L.I. Cares and Long Island Harvest find themselves trying to fill in the gaps for families.

With that in mind, L.I. Cares launched a new site for anyone under age 18 in need of a morning meal, opening an open site location in Stotzky Park from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. every weekday.

“I chose it because I live in Riverhead, and to my knowledge it’s a popular park,” Child Nutrition Program Specialist Kerry Tooker explained.

An “open site” food location means that any child 18 and under can receive food there, no prior enrollment necessary.

The Summer Food Service Program is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and works with food banks to provide free and nutritious meals for children in low-income areas.

In Riverhead School District, 2,145 students out of the total student population of 5,100 qualify for free lunch and 300 qualify for reduced lunch, according to the District’s Chief Information Officer Chris Amato.

Though the meal changes daily, it always includes some type of fruit, a grain like a bagel, muffin or cereal bar, and a choice of milk or chocolate milk. The program started on July 7, and is offered through Aug. 29

Turnout was a little sporadic to start, Ms. Tooker said, varying anywhere from 19 kids to only one, one day.

Though the attendance numbers have picked up in the last week, staying well in the teens every day, Ms. Tooker said that public transportation to the park would be helpful. Currently, no buses run directly to Stotzky.

On Friday afternoons only, free lunch is given out from 12 to 1 p.m. at Ammann Riverfront Park in Riverhead. It is an open feeding site as well, coordinated by L.I. Cares in partnership with Lighthouse Mission of Patchogue.

For the last two years Riverhead Public Library was an open site for the Summer Food Service Program, working with hunger-relief organization Island Harvest, but this year they will not be. During the first year of the program they served 1,068 meals over 39 days.

“When I found out that Stotzky Park was going to be a location for L.I. Cares and that Island Harvest was going to have a site at Flanders Community Center, I thought it would just be duplicating services to have it at the library too,” said head of children’s services Laurie Harrison, who worked with Island Harvest the past two years.

“With resources so scarce, I thought, why drain each others’ resources? But we’ve offered to be a site again next year, so that’s in the works.”

02/06/14 6:00am
02/06/2014 6:00 AM

Barbaraellen Koch file photo | Long Island Council of Churches office manager Carolyn Gumbs and volunteer MIchael Lacy of Shinnecock Reservation in Southampton preparing side dishes for the annual Migrants Dinner in November.

Area food pantries and soup kitchens are preparing for an uptick in demand as some eastern Suffolk County households that currently receive assistance from the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, prepare to see those benefits reduced — again. (more…)

06/26/13 8:00am
06/26/2013 8:00 AM

Most children count down the days until school gets out for summer, but for those who receive their only meal of the day during school hours, the thought of three months off does not hold the same feeling of excitement.

Over 90,000 children on Long Island receive free or reduced-cost school lunches, but when summer arrives their main source of nourishment is taken away. Luckily, Island Harvest, the biggest hunger relief organization on Long Island, has a summer food service program for children in this exact position. And, for the second year in a row, Riverhead Free Library is a feeding site for local youth in need.

“Island Harvest approached us last year about becoming an open feeding site,” said Laurie Harrison, head of children’s services at the library. “They wanted us to provide, along with the location, an educational and literary aspect, so that’s why I agreed.”

In addition to the food, the library also encourages the children to take part in the summer reading program and collects book donations so children can leave with at least one book each.

“I feel that it’s not just a meal project, because it was very evident last year that this was most of the children and their caretakers’ first time at the library,” acting Library Director Pamm Trojanowski said. “It’s a chance to feed not only the body, but the mind as well.

“When they come they find out that they can get a library card, which opens a whole other world of opportunity for them. It’s just amazing for us on staff to watch.”

Island Harvest chooses communities for the summer food service program by looking at the number of children who qualify for discounted or free school lunches in the area. Just over 50 percent of students in the Riverhead school district qualify. Ms. Harrison also said the Riverhead demographics fit the census requirements to take part of the program.

This summer, the program starts on July 8 and will run for five weeks. Children under the age of 18 can go to the library Mondays through Fridays from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. to enjoy a free, nutritious lunch.

The visitors don’t have to meet any criteria to receive the meal, but children under the age of 10 must be accompanied by an adult. The Riverhead Library is different from most of the other summer feeding sites in Suffolk County because it is an open site, meaning that community members do not need to enroll to receive a meal. Anyone can walk in during the open time slot.

“One thing about being an open site is that we’re never sure who will be coming through the door,” Ms. Harrison said. “We don’t know their age, or how many there will be that day — it’s challenging.”

Typically, children receive a sandwich, milk, fruit cup and an apple. On one special day of the week they are treated to a slice of pizza, milk, juice, fruit cup and a granola bar.

Last year, the library gave out 1,068 meals during the 39 days of the program, and that was with very little publicity.

“I think we barely scratched the iceberg,” she said of the numbers. “It’s such a big community and the library is difficult to get to and across town from a lot of people. We’re just doing the little bit that we can to help.”

Though being a feeding site is a lot of work for the library, Ms. Harrison said that being involved is very rewarding for all of the employees.

“It’s definitely hectic having to count the food when it comes in, making sure everything is fresh … it’s time consuming,” she said. “But it really is so satisfying to see the children being able to eat and relax and read for a little while.

“You just don’t realize how many hungry people there are until you literally see them sitting there waiting for a little something to eat that day.”

intern@timesreview.com

07/27/12 3:00pm
07/27/2012 3:00 PM

COURTESY PHOTO | Long Island Farm Bureau’s 2012 honorees, Randi Dresner of Island Harvest (left) and Debbie Schmitt of Schmitt Family Farms.

For the first time in its 95-year history, the Long Island Farm Bureau will honor two women at its annual awards gala celebrating the achievements of prominent members of the local agricultural community.

This year, the bureau will recognize the efforts of Riverhead farmer Debbie Schmitt of Schmitt Family Farms and Randi Dresner, head of the Island Harvest anti-hunger group, during tonight’s gathering at the Hyatt East End in Riverhead.

“Their service to agriculture has been tremendous,” said Natasha Beccaria, farm bureau promotions coordinator.

Ms. Schmitt will receive the Amherst Davis Memorial Farmer Citizen Award. She’s one of only 16 women in the country who participated in an April leadership seminar funded by American Agri-Women, a national agriculture organization.

Once the farm bureau’s education coordinator, Ms. Schmitt has worked to get farmers into North Fork classrooms to teach children more about the origins of the food they eat.

In addition to helping found her family’s Sound Avenue farmstead, which produces a full line of vegetables, Ms. Schmitt also sells fresh-cut flowers.

Randi Dresner, whose organization supports Long Island food banks with fresh produce from local farms, will receive the farm bureau’s Citizen of the Year Award for her charitable work with Island Harvest.

“They’re like a food bank for Long Island,” Ms. Beccaria said. “They are our largest hunger relief organization. They work closely with the farmers, who receive tax credits for donated produce. That produce is then distributed to places across Long Island that provide food for the needy.”

Ms. Dresner has visited Washington, D.C., with LIFB executive director Joe Gergela to share information on the program’s efforts.

Tonight’s event starts with a cocktail hour at 6:30 p.m. followed by an awards reception at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $90 and can be purchased online at www.lifb.com or by calling 727-3777.

gvolpe@timesreview.com

07/08/12 9:00am
07/08/2012 9:00 AM

NEWS-REVIEW FILE PHOTO | Riverhead Free Library will offer free lunches to kids this summer.

A first-time program at Riverhead Free Library this summer will offer kids, up to age 18, a free lunch every weekday from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

The program, sponsored by the hunger-relief organization Island Harvest, kicked off Monday and will run through Aug. 24.

The meals, which range from sandwiches to pizza, come at no expense to the library or the kids who will enjoy them. Riverhead was selected as a site for the Summer Food Service Program based on the number of children who qualify for school lunches in the community. It’s considered an “open” site, meaning the program requires no enrollment and anyone can participate.

The first week of the program has been relatively slow, said Lisa Jacobs, the library director.

“We’re doing everything we can to get the word out,” she said.

The slow start was somewhat expected considering Fourth of July was in the middle of the week and the library had a light programming schedule. Jacobs said it helped to get through some of the early logistics before bigger numbers start to show up.

Jacobs said the program serves an important need for the community. The staff at the library has been more than enthusiastic about implementing it, she said.

Island Harvest presented the library with the idea for the program, which was used at a different library last summer, Jacobs said.

In the first week mostly younger children came in with their parents for the lunches. Jacobs said she hopes the older kids will start to take part as well.

Each day is a different meal. Most are sandwiches like ham and cheese or turkey and cheese on whole-wheat bread. The kids also get a juice, fruit cup and Nutri-Grain bar. Pizza is served one day.

Jacobs said the meals are based on specific guidelines from the USDA.

The library has already gotten a few new sign-ups for library cards, an added bonus to the program.

“There are a lot of things we offer that maybe people didn’t realize,” Jacobs said.

joew@timesreview.com