‘Trailer plan’ floated for soup kitchen

05/20/2010 12:00 AM |

The Salvation Army and county officials are considering a plan to feed Riverhead’s homeless and needy each day from a lunch truck outside the Riverhead County Center.

The program would use the soon-to-be-vacated homeless sex offenders trailers — currently parked in Westhampton Beach and outside the county jail in Riverside — for shelter.

The idea was crafted by Legislator Ed Romaine (R-Center Moriches) and is being considered just as Riverhead’s only soup kitchen — run by Open Arms Care Center — is set to close June 1.

Without running water, the trailers have been deemed unsuitable to house the county’s homeless sex offenders at night. But Mr. Romaine think they might be the perfect place to serve Riverhead’s homeless and needy population.

“Why not use them to feed some hungry people?” said Mr. Romaine, adding that county Department of Social Services Commissioner Greg Blass was “seriously considering” his suggestion.

In a meeting last week, Mr. Romaine stressed to Mr. Blass that those who have used the soup kitchen in the past either walk or use the bus, so the move would not affect parking at the County Center.

“Right now we are exploring the possibility of making a county trailer available for the continuation of the program,” said Mr. Blass, a Jamesport resident. He acknowledged that said a soup kitchen is a much-needed service in the Riverhead area.

Since January 2008, the Riverhead Long Island Rail Road station, which the Metropolitan Transit Authority owns but no longer uses, has played host to the soup kitchen.

But earlier this year, Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said the town, which subleases the station to Open Arms, would not be renewing that agreement when it expires June 1. The supervisor and other critics have said that while a soup kitchen is important to the town, Riverhead’s transit hub is a bad location for it.

Under Mr. Romaine’s plan, the Salvation Army would provide lunch using a coffee truck and the needy could eat at tables set up inside or outside the trailers near the county center in Riverside. Former Open Arms volunteers would continue to serve the food, though the organization’s director, Zona Stroy, said she will no longer be running the program.

Captain Richard Sanchez of the Salvation Army in Riverhead said he couldn’t give further specifics on how the program would operate, because nothing was set in stone.

Mr. Walter said the town would do whatever it could to help the program along. He noted it’s the county’s responsibility, not the town’s, to oversee social service issues such as feeding the homeless.

“I think that fits better,” Mr. Walter said.

Mr. Romaine said the plan wouldn’t cost Suffolk County taxpayers “much of anything.”

County officials have not offered a timeline on when the Riverside trailer program would be abandoned after a judge ruled the shelter inadequate. But Mark Smith, a spokesman for County Executive Steve Levy, told the News-Review “the clock is ticking.” The county is looking to replace the trailer in Westhampton Beach with a larger trailer outfitted with running water, but that move has been so far blocked in court.

As for the soup kitchen proposal, Open Arms volunteer Hal Lindstrom, who earlier this month organized a protest against the town’s push to move the soup kitchen, said that although a downtown location would have been ideal, the new plan is an agreeable solution.

“It is not as accessible as the train station,” he said, but the area’s needy “should be able to get there.”

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