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Island pantry feeding the hungry

BEVERLEA WALZ PHOTO Tippi and Al Bevan have been running the Community Food Pantry since 2006.
Tippi and Al Bevan have been running the Community Food Pantry since 2006.

Tippi and Al Bevan are busiest this time of year, and will stay busy all winter, with the week or so before Thanksgiving marking the beginning of the trend.

Since 2007, the Bevans have been running the Community Food Pantry, which provides free food staples and some personal items, at the Shelter Island Presbyterian Church. Mr. Bevan estimates that the number of hungry people using the pantry has increased due to the cold weather because seasonal, outdoor work, as well as jobs at restaurants and inns have dried up, leaving bread winners to provide for their families any way they can.

No records are kept of the number of people who use the pantry — a large, high ceilinged space tucked into a corner of Fellowship Hall at the church — since the Bevans or other volunteers are not present from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday though Friday when the pantry is open. One reason there’s no staff there is to allow those relying on the charity a measure of dignity.

But the Bevans can gauge the number of people using the pantry by the number of times they have to restock it. These days, they’re restocking the food source three times a week. The food is purchased through donations, and from now until the spring, the Bevans will be finding themselves at Walmart, BJs and other retailers much more often.

At this time of year, there’s always a spike in the number of adults and children, not just on the Island, who are, to use the sociological term, “food insecure.” These are people who have “limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods,”  according to the United States Department of Agriculture. The roadblock to acquiring the food is, in almost all cases, because they can’t afford it. Those characterized as food insecure are missing one or more meals daily because of financial stress.

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 in 10 Long Islanders are missing meals because of poverty.

Estimates vary on the number of Americans struggling, but Feeding America, an organization of more than 200 food banks across the country, says that “ 46.5 million Americans [are] in need each year, including 12 million children and seven million seniors.”

The most popular items going at the Community Food Pantry here are rice, beans, pasta, tomato sauce, canned goods, especially canned corn, and coffee, Mr. Bevan said.

Running the panty comes naturally to the two former East Hampton schoolteachers, Mr. Bevan has said.

He remembered a time in his youth when he had no food to eat for three days. He was 19 and took off for California with $78 in his pocket. His first purchase was a $50 one-way bus ticket, leaving him with little money in his pocket and in a short time an empty belly.

For those who would like to contribute to the fund for the pantry or help the current volunteers with the physical job of stocking the shelves, phone 749-0705.

And if anyone is hungry, come to the church and take the doors at the rear of the building, between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. weekdays.