Community Food Pantry serving rising numbers of the needy

JULIE LANE PHOTO | Tippi and Al Bevan at their daily chore restocking the Community Food Pantry at Shelter Island Presbyterian Church.

The Shelter Island Community Food Pantry is providing more food for more hungry people than ever before.

Husband and wife Tippi and Al Bevan, who run the pantry out of Shelter Island Presbyterian Church, don’t have an exact figure of how many families they help, but they know visitors to the pantry have increased since the economy went into free fall at the end of 2008. They make no effort to track who is using the food pantry, Mr. Bevan said, but have noticed supplies need to be replenished more often, Within days of stocking the pantry last week, for example, church workers reported the shelves were looking sparse.

Sarah Eichberg, director of research for “Vital Signs,” a multi-year study of Long Island’s social conditions at Adelphi University, has done research revealing one of 10 Long Islanders are what sociologists call “food insecure,” or missing one or more meals daily because of financial stress, Eichberg said.

With cuts in social services by many municipalities and the lingering hangover of the recession, that number will increase, she added.

“I can’t imagine what the situation would be like without food assistance programs,” Ms. Eichberg said. The Bevan’s has been spearheading the Community Food Pantry since 2007, taking over from Dana Hallman. With the pantry open to hungry residents who are coming with increasing frequency from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays, the couple spend hours each week restocking shelves.

What the Bevans find they run out most quickly are paper goods — paper towels, napkins, tissues, toilet paper — all essential items, but can’t be purchased with food stamps, Ms. Bevan said. There’s also a need for soap, shampoo, deodorants, shaving cream and toothpaste and toothbrushes, she added.

But food is not going to waste at the pantry, where many come in order to feed themselves and loved ones. No one asks for identification. A sign in the pantry simply advises those who are hungry to “take what you need, but remember there are others who have needs.”

“No one should starve,” Mr. Bevan said.

Although the Food Pantry is housed at Shelter Island Presbyterian Church, it’s not a church function. The church doesn’t charge rent for use of its space and its one of only a few places on the Island large enough to provide space to store items and make them available to those in need, Ms. Bevan said. Neither she nor her husband are church members — both are Catholic. Ms. Bevan said she has frequently heard Father Peter DeSanctis, pastor of Our Lady of the Isle, listing a host of community programs the Presbyterian Church houses. Father Peter’s own congregation, like many other Island church congregations, contributes food and money to support the Food Pantry.

In years past, there were more contributions of food and paper goods. Today more people give money rather than non-perishable goods, requiring that the Bevans take trips off-Island to shop for the best prices.

Running the panty comes naturally to the two former East Hampton school teachers. Mr. Bevan remembers a time in his youth when he had no food to eat for three day. He described his encounter with hunger by remembering when he was 19 and took off for California with $78 in his pocket. His first purchase was a $50 one-way ticket, leaving him with little money in his pocket.

“I got a job, but pay day didn’t come until the end of the week,” he said. “I ran out of money.”.

For Ms. Bevan, reaching out just came naturally, she said. When she and her husband aren’t handling the Food Pantry, they function as long-time volunteers for the Meals on Wheels program providing sustenance for home-bound individuals.

The Bevans are constantly restocking the kitchen so that whenever someone visits for food, they don’t find empty shelves, Ms. Bevan said. The couple is attentive to checking expiration dates on nonperishable food brought to the pantry. And if they notice that some items are getting close to expiration dates, rather than see the food wasted, they bring it to St. Agnes where volunteers cook meals for homeless people and others in need. Some local restaurants also contribute food before they close down after the summer season, the Bevans said. And the local IGA puts out boxes occasionally for shoppers to contribute to the Food Pantry.

The Bevans’s said if anyone would like to help the current volunteers with the physical job of stocking the kitchen, they can phone 749-0705. And if anyone is hungry, just come to the church, accessing the pantry from the back of the building, between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. weekdays.

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