The East Hampton Food Pantry was able to serve 363 Thanksgiving meals to needy families last week, but might have to close its doors soon, in the midst of the holiday season.
According to the pantry’s executive director, Gabrielle Scarpaci, monetary donations are not keeping up with the demand for food, and she said the situation is critical.
“So far this year, we’ve served 9,000 families,” said Ms. Scarpaci, who runs the East Hampton Food Pantry at Windmill Village II. “Those are the mouths that come through our doors each week. Around this time of the year, we get a lot of new people signing up.”
The pantry serves fresh foods daily to residents of Windmill Village II, a Section 8 senior housing community located at 219 Accabonac Road, as well as residents in need from all over East Hampton. The pantry also distributes food to four other town food pantries.
The food is purchased by staff volunteers using the pantry’s overall budget, and Ms. Scarpaci said that expenditures for food are outpacing donations this year. “We spend about $4,000 to $5,000 a week, and right now we have less than $20,000 left. You do the math,” she said the week before Thanksgiving.
The organization’s annual fundraising letter was sent out two weeks ago and if the drive is not successful enough, some local families in need will have to do without this holiday season.
“At this point, if we don’t get enough contributions, we might have to cut back or close for a few weeks,” Ms. Scarpaci said. “We’ve never been in this position before. People count on us, because we give fresh produce and fresh food daily. If we have to cut that out for a few weeks, it’s definitely going to take its toll on residents.”
Windmill Village II has a lot of senior residents who are living on fixed incomes. “The fact that they can live at Windmill and get food from the food pantry really makes a difference in their lives,” she said.
Windmill Village II doesn’t charge rent to the food pantry, according to Ms. Scarpaci, and the pantry has only two paid employees, Ms. Scarpaci and operations manager Mona Forbell. The rest are volunteers. “But we have to pay half the electric and insurance, stuff that any business would have to pay,” she said. “We don’t have a ton of overhead, but, obviously, we buy the food, which is expensive. But at Windmill they don’t charge us any rent, so we’re really grateful for that.”
The East Hampton Food Pantry volunteers do annual Thanksgiving distributions for those in need. Each year, the pantry provides an entire Thanksgiving package for every family that comes through its door. “We try to give our clients the entire meal,” Ms. Scarpaci said. “We give them fresh fruits, turkey, desserts, a pie. We try to do mostly fresh foods, the traditional meal that one would normally have on Thanksgiving.”
The food pantry also accepts non-perishable canned and boxed goods for distribution, but monetary donations are what is needed at this time in order to purchase the fresh foods the pantry gives out every day. Ms. Scarpaci said that the food pantry is grateful for the small donations it receives, but that larger donations are needed during these critical times.
“We really need somebody to write us a big, fat check,” she said.
Food donated to the East Hampton Food Pantry at Windmill Village II is distributed to the food pantries in Amagansett, East Hampton, Wainscott and Springs.
Ms. Scarpaci said that despite what some might think, the Hamptons has a large number of individuals and families who struggle every day to make ends meet. “People don’t really know what a need there is out here for food pantries, and there’s one in every town,” she said. “People think everyone in the Hamptons is rich. There are poor people in the Hamptons—so there’s really a need out here.”
The food pantry will be a beneficiary of the Polar Bear Plunge on New Year’s Day at Main Beach. At a cost of $30 per plunge, the pantry hopes to raise additional funds to help make it through the holidays. Registration forms are available by calling the food pantry at 324-2300 or on the day of the plunge.
Food can be dropped off at the East Hampton Food Pantry at Windmill Village II at 219 Accabonac Road in East Hampton. Monetary donations can also be made online at easthamptonfoodpantry.org.
By Laura Weir