Open Arms soup kitchen will close

Supervisor Sean Walter addresses protestors outside Town Hall last Wednesday duringÊa rally aimed at convincing the Town Board to keep the soup kitchen at the Riverhead train station.

The soup kitchen that’s been serving meals from the Riverhead train station for the past 16 months will be closing its doors in June, according to the town supervisor, despite efforts by supporters to keep the facility open until another location could be found.

The program, run by the nonprofit Open Arms Care Center, provides free sandwiches during weekdays to the area’s homeless and needy.

About a dozen people rallied last Wednesday outside Town Hall to protest the town’s effort to see the soup kitchen relocated when its sublease with the town ends June 1. They toted signs that read “Hunger Hurts” and “Save the Soup Kitchen.”

Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter told protesters Wednesday that Open Arms director Zona Stroy had told him she would not continue the program and that another organization would have to take over in a new location. The supervisor and other critics have said that a soup kitchen is important to the town but Riverhead’s transit hub is a bad location for it.

“You folks here have to take it over,” Mr. Walter told protesters, adding that a new group would be responsible for finding an appropriate location.

Reached this week, Ms. Stroy declined to comment.

Protestors Wednesday expressed fears that if the soup kitchen shut down some people would lose access to their only meal of the day. Hal Lindstrom, an Open Arms volunteer who organized the event, accused the supervisor of “hurting those who have so little.”

One protestor, Norwood Bland, said that feeding the needy is especially important when the economy is weak. He noted that times are apparently so tough, some Riverhead Town Board members even reneged on a promise last year to cut 5 percent from their paychecks.

“The town council can’t afford to give 5 percent of their salary,” he said. “How do you think the people out here, who don’t have food, no job, how are they going to eat and pay their bills?”

Mr. Walter said at the rally that he would not consider extending the lease at the train station. Mr. Walter had offered Open Arms a building on town-owned property in Calverton as an alternative, but soup kitchen supporters said the location was too far away.

“The alternative they suggest is just not a viable option,” said protestor Adele Mueller.

Mr. Lindstrom, of Calverton, has in the past acted as a campaign manager to former Riverhead Supervisor Phil Cardinale, whom Mr. Walter defeated last fall.

Mr. Walter has said he suspected Mr. Lindstrom’s motives were political, a claim Mr. Lindstrom denied last week.

The town has been subleasing the LIRR station building, which the Metropolitan Transit Authority owns but no longer uses, to Open Arms since January 2009. Before that, the program was run out of the First Congregational Church of Riverhead, but had been asked to leave after 14 years due to space issues.

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