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As demand for food pantries continues to soar, nonprofits make their case for funding

In 2018, the Open Arms Care Center on Northville Turnpike provided food to 1,239 individuals representing 559 households, according to Zona Stroy, who chairs the nonprofit emergency food pantry.

In 2021, those numbers jumped to 16,918 individuals representing 4,074 households. And the year isn’t over. 

The food pantry, which is located in the basement of the First Baptist Church of Riverhead, has operated for 20 years. And it has now been forced to adapt the way it operates.

“In 2018, we allowed people to come in the pantry and select what they wanted,” Ms. Stroy said. “At the volume we’re servicing now, we can’t do that.”

Instead, people drive their cars up, and someone places a bag of groceries in their trunk.

Open Arms has an all-volunteer staff and operates two days a week. 

“We serve all of Riverhead and the surrounding area primarily, but we won’t turn anyone away,” Ms. Stroy said. 

Open Arms Care Center is one of several nonprofit organizations that are once again asking Riverhead Town for funding through the Community Development Block Grant.

They spoke at a public hearing Tuesday during the Town Board meeting.

The money comes from the federal Housing and Urban Development Agency and is administered to Suffolk County through a consortium of towns and villages in low to moderate income areas such as downtown Riverhead, according to Joe Maiorana of the town’s Community Development Agency. The town has been allocated $200,000 for 2022. About $100,000 of that total goes to the Home Improvement Program, which is geared toward low to moderate income people in the town.

Many of the nonprofit organizations have been receiving CDBG funding for years and say they depend on that money to continue helping the poor. 

The Bread and More Kitchen, which operates in the First Congregational Church in Riverhead, is in a similar situation as Open Arms Care Center. 

It has been offering a hot meal three nights a week since 1990 and is also seeking CDBG funding. It serves between 40 and 50 people per night, no questions asked. 

But it’s had to adapt as well. 

“COVID-19 has changed everything,” said Judy Barth, a longtime volunteer. “We always offered a good sit-down meal. However, in these times we had to adapt and provide take-out meals for the guests that come to us.” 

The switch to take-out has also increased the cost of every meal they provide, she said. 

“Our funding comes from donations and the money in this CDBG provides,” she said. 

Ms. Barth said Bread and More’s guests come from all walks of life, with their own set of obstacles. She said food should not be one of them.

Maureen’s Haven Homeless Outreach also is seeking CDBG funding. 

Maureen’s Haven “provides critical support services tot he homeless community on the East End,” said Daniel O’Shea, the nonprofit organization’s executive director.

He said that to date this year, “Maureen’s Haven has assisted at least 125 individuals who are struggling with homelessness in the Town of Riverhead,” he said. 

The organization helps homeless get proper ID, find employment and make medical appointments.

They also respond to calls for assistance from people living in train stations, or in the woods, and they have a winter emergency shelter program among other services. 

But the need for service is increasing. 

“As we look ahead to 2022, we anticipate providing services to over 350 individuals who are homeless and those impacted by homelessness,” Mr. O’Shea wrote in a letter to the Town Board. 

Other organizations that are requesting CDBG funding include Riverhead Community Awareness Program, which teaches drug abuse resistance in the schools; The Retreat, which helps victims of domestic abuse; The Butterfly Effect Project, which helps empower young girls; and Catholic Health Home Care, which helps the elderly and disabled, and Church of the Harvest Food Pantry on Raynor Avenue, which began in 2016.

“I’m just impressed by all the work that’s done here,” said Riverhead Councilman Ken Rothwell. “It’s amazing what you do and I’m so grateful for your services to our community. Thank you all.

The Town Board must choose which organizations to give funding to. The hearing is being held open for written comments until Dec. 17.