Protest planned on soup kitchen move

A protest against Riverhead Town’s push to relocate the Open Arms soup kitchen from the Riverhead train station is planned for 1:30 p.m. next Wednesday at Town Hall.

The demonstration is being organized by Hal Lindstrom of Calverton, who has acted as campaign manager in the past to Phil Cardinale, whom Sean Walter defeated for the town supervisor job last fall.

Mr. Lindstrom volunteers at the Open Arms, and said he’s hoping to get other volunteers to participate in the demonstration.

“It’s a shame that people who have the most always take from people who have the least,” he said. “For some of these people, this is the only meal they get a day.”

Open Arms Care Center itself is not involved in the demonstration, said Zona Stroy, its chairperson.

“We’ve decided that we’re going to focus our efforts on the emergency food pantry that Open Arms runs at First Baptist Church after our lease (for the soup kitchen) at the train station expires on June 21,” she said. Open Arms runs a food pantry in the church’s basement on Wednesdays and Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. The group has run the pantry for more than 15 years.

The town subleased the LIRR station building to Open Arms Care Center in January 2009 after the group’s soup kitchen was asked to leave the First Congregational Church of Riverhead, where it had been for 14 years, due to space issues.

But Open Arms’ lease at the station, where it offers sandwiches — but no more soup — to the needy each weekday expires June 21. Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter has said he doesn’t expect the group’s lease to be renewed, though he would like to find another location for the program.

The town leases the 100-year-old train station from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority for free on the condition that it be occupied. The town, in turn, subleases it to Open Arms, also for free, although approval from the MTA was needed for the sublease.

Ms. Stroy said there was a meeting with Mr. Walter, county Legislator Ed Romaine (R-Center Moriches), county social services head Greg Blass and others to try and find a long-term solution to the needs of the needy in the area, and another meeting is planned. She said she’s also met with the Long Island Council of Church and Riverhead Clergy Council to try and find a solution.

But there were some discrepancies in Mr. Walter’s assertions. Reached late Tuesday, MTA board member Mitch Pally said the MTA has made no official decision on the train station lease.

“We’re waiting for a recommendation from the Town of Riverhead,” he said.

The MTA hasn’t used the building as a train station since 1972. Earlier this year, the MTA planned to discontinue almost all passenger trains on the North Fork, but later reversed that position. And last week, the MTA announced a planned change in train schedules to accommodate jurors heading to courts in the Riverhead area.

Mr. Walter said he thinks running a soup kitchen at the station would hurt the MTA’s stated efforts to build ridership, as well as affecting area businesses and local commuters.

“It puts a burden on the residents and businesses of Railroad Avenue,” Mr. Walter said of the presence of homeless at the station. “I stand willing to help, but the train station is not the right location.”

The supervisor said he’d be willing to speak at the demonstration and explain his position, although he also believes Mr. Lindstrom’s motives are political. He said he had offered Open Arms a building at the Calverton Enterprise Park but they rejected the offer.

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