As Published in the Long Island Catholic
October 27, 2010 Vol. 49, No. 27 MARY IAPALUCCI
In local stores, Christmas displays are ready to take the place of the Halloween items as retailers anxiously hope an early start might lead to a profitable holiday season. At food pantries and parish outreach offices around Long Island thoughts are also turning to Thanksgiving and Christmas and worries that there won’t be enough food to go around.
“I’m nervous about this year,” said Joseph Samodulski, director of human services at St. Ignatius Loyola parish, Hicksville. “We are absolutely blessed with generous parishioners and a generous community,” he said, but due to the struggling economy, “everyone is rolling their pennies on Thursday night.”
There has seen a huge increase in the number of people seeking assistance in the past few years. In September 2007, the parish outreach fed 292 people. This past September 2010, they fed 552 people, Samodulski said, noting that this increase occurred despite the fact that the pantry was open five days per week in 2007 and now is open only three days.
People who receive aid at St. Ignatius fall generally into four categories, said Samodulski. Undocumented immigrants make up a large percentage of the clientele. “These are the people who are busing our tables, washing our cars and mowing our lawns,” he said, but don’t make enough to feed their families.
Some of the clients are homeless people. “The homeless population of our clients has dwindled from 45 to about 12, because a lot of the people we used to see have died,” said Samodulski.
Two other groups are growing in numbers, according to Samodulski. Each month the parish assists between 35 and 45 senior citizen households, most living on fixed incomes.
“The fastest growing group is the ostensibly middle class,” he said. “They have been laid off, downsized or outsourced. They have tuition and mortgage payments they can no longer afford because the primary or secondary wage earner or both have lost jobs.”
“While the numbers (of this group) are small in comparison (to the other groups) they have grown most quickly, almost double in the past year,” he added.
In Central Islip, Ana Sullivan, outreach coordinator at St. John of God parish, also reports an increase in the number of people seeking assistance. The parish sees about 350 families each month.
“This time of year the numbers increase,” said Sullivan, who came to St. John’s this past summer but has been looking at past figures to help prepare for this season. Last year they distributed about 200 baskets for Thanksgiving. “All people want to have more for a special holiday meal.”
“I am trying to be positive, but we have been short of food since July,” said Sullivan. “It is hard for me to tell people that we have to give them less food. We have to try to help as many as possible.”
On the positive side, Sullivan has already received a few calls from other parishes that are in a position to help provide holiday meals.
“Maybe we are going to make it,” she said. “Any help is welcome, particularly canned food and pasta, food that doesn’t go bad, that we can store for after the holidays.”
At St. Ignatius, Samodulski said the outreach is truly community based, both in its clients and its supporters. St. Stephen’s, a neighboring Evangelical Lutheran Church, has been running a yearlong food drive with its parishioners bringing different items each month to stock the pantry shelves. Holy Trinity Episcopal Church supports the St. Ignatius pantry financially. Samodulski worked with the local Methodist congregation to start a food pantry there that is open on one of the days St. Ignatius is closed.
A local Tae Kwon Do club holds a “Kick-a-thon” and, with the proceeds, fills 80 to 100 baskets. The Joseph Barry Knights of Columbus also provide a turkey or ham and all the trimmings for 60 families.
Samodulski encourages Scout groups, students who need community service hours and others who want to help to organize local food drives to keep the food pantries full.