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Nonprofits continue to feel effects of pandemic as demand for services remains strong

Nonprofit organizations that feed and help the needy are increasingly finding themselves in need. Some of them say they are still having troubles caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, while others say they are just are just being overwhelmed by the need for their services.

Speakers from various organizations addressed the Riverhead Town Board last week seeking funding from the $225,000 available in Community Development Block Grants. The state Housing and Urban Development Corps provides the funding and the town is part of a consortium that distributes it to various nonprofit organizations, according to Dawn Thomas, the town’s Community Development Agency director.

Gwen Mack, the coordinator for the Church of the Harvest Food Pantry on Raynor Avenue, requested $20,000. 

“Our reasons are several,” she said. “As with many other organizations, the COVID pandemic has created a tremendous increase in those needing nutritional food assistance. For us in particular, we have seen the numbers of families served each week increase by 50%. The number of shut-ins, that is those we deliver to, has increased by 43%.”

Those numbers are only since January.

The demand for food has been offset with a decrease in available food from Long Island Harvest, and Long Island Cares, which were the primary food suppliers.

Contributions, meanwhile, have fallen off by $7,500 from individual contributors, Ms. Mack said. 

Since 1990, Bread and More has served hot meals at the First Congregational Church on East Main Street on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday nights. But when COVID struck, they were no longer allowed to have sit-down meals inside the building, according to Judy Barth, the coordinator of the program, which she has been part of for all but two of its years since 1990.

“We decided to serve take-out only, so that we could remain open, during COVID,” she said. “Not only were we vulnerable, our clients were vulnerable.” 

Bread and More did not close at all during the pandemic, she said. 

“During this, we continue to see familiar faces, however, we are also seeing new people that now have the need to come to us for their evening meal,” she said. 

Bread and More is feeding an average of 70 people per night, with some nights seeing more than 90. 

The switch to take-out meals has increased the cost of providing meals, she said, since they now have to package the food, which is more costly. 

“Hopefully, we will be able to return to that sit-down meal in a safe haven, but for now, we all feel safer in the way we are still able to provide this take-away meal,” she said. 

She said guests come from all walks of life with their own set of obstacles. 

“Here, at Bread and More, we believe food should not be one of these obstacles,” she said. The organization received $8,000 from last year’s application..

Zona Stroy, the chair of Open Arms Care Center, which operates a food pantry in the First Baptist Church of Riverhead on Northville Turnpike, is requesting $8,000, as it received last year. 

The Open Arms Emergency Food Pantry has been serving Riverhead and neighboring communities with free food for more than 20 years, and is all-volunteer. 

“The need continues to increase each year,” Ms. Stroy wrote in a letter to the Town Board. “So far in 2022, we have distributed food each month to an average of 822 households, representing a total of 31,934 individuals.”

Other nonprofits provide different types of services.

Maureen’s Haven has been providing homeless support programs, access to case management and a social worker, access to essentials such as food, clothing and other basic needs, according to Daniel O’Shea, its executive director.

“In 2021, while still in the middle of the COVD-19 pandemic, we provided direct support to over 325 individuals,” he said.

“During our 2021-2022 emergency winter shelter program, we prepared over 6,400 beds,” he said. 

Maureen’s Haven has remained fully operational and not had any interruption of services due to COVID-19, he said. 

During the pandemic, Maureen’s Haven got more than 200 people fully vaccinated and did not have any of their guests, staff or volunteers get seriously sick from the virus, Mr. O’Shea said. 

Riverhead Community Awareness Program, which teaches drug abuse resistance and education in the Riverhead School District, is seeking $5,000 in CDBG funding. 

The grant will provide about 18 days of counseling and prevention services for Riverhead K-4 students and their families at Roanoke Avenue Emergency School. The services will be provided by a state licensed clinical social worker, according to Felicia Scocozza, the executive director of the program. 

“The most recent Basic Education Data System identified 67% of the students“ [in Roanoke Avenue school] as poor,” Ms. Scocozza said.

For the past two years, all of the school’s students have been eligible for free breakfast and lunch. Federal law allows schools to offer two meals per day at no charge if more than 40% of the students are identified as low income. 

In addition, 92% of Roanoke Avenue students represent minority groups; Hispanics — who comprise 78% — are the fastest growing segment.

Ms. Scocozza said 57% of the students are English language learners. 

Many of the students come from crowded households and many of them have parents who don’t speak English. 

The services that will be provided by the counselors will include “individual and group counseling, evidence-based substance and bullying prevention programs,” among other services.

“These children have experienced stress and trauma at an early age which has been shown to to be directly correlated with substance abuse beginning in early adolescence and continuing throughout the lifespan,” Ms. Scocozza said. 

The Retreat is a nonprofit organization that provides assistance to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking, according to Susan Bereche, the staff attorney at The Retreat.  They provide services throughout the East End and have an office in Riverhead. 

The Retreat provides free counseling for people in domestic violence situations.

They also have a shelter for anyone on Long Island that has to flee for their safety and they provide food and clothing, according to Ms. Bereche. 

Over the past year, The Retreat provided 488 domestic incident reports, and they provided 1,400 services to at least 82 people from Riverhead.

Catholic Health Home Care’s Helping Hands Program has served elderly and disabled in Riverhead and Southampton since 1997.

The program allows low income population to remain safely and independently in their homes as long as they are able, according to Marianne Bogannam, the foundation director. 

The program ran with three part-time homeworkers and serviced about 60 clients this year. The group says that with a fourth homemaker, it can assist about 70 clients. 

The Butterfly Effect Project helps young girls to feel empowered.

“The Butterfly Effect Project provides programing to youth ages 8 to 18 that builds confidence, healthy relationships, critical thinking and self confidence,” said Brienne Ahearn, BEP’s program development director. 

The Town Board held the hearing open for written comments until Nov. 7.