- Here in the Hamptons, the holidays are a time for giving thanks, visiting with family and friends, and feasting on a cornucopia of seasonal delights, however it is important not to forget those among us who are less fortunate. Nestled amid the opulence of posh white tent parties, fabulous shopping, and the sprawling estates for which the Hamptons are famous, is a large population of East Enders who are hungry, homeless, and in need of support from their community this Thanksgiving.
Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman has worked to allocate funds and secure grants for several East End Food Pantries, The Retreat, and other charities. (jay2005.com)
While the change in seasons brings beautiful foliage and serenity to the East End, it also brings with it fewer employment opportunities, and with that, an increase in social issues such as hunger, homelessness and domestic violence. "It's always tough in the off-season because a lot of jobs
are seasonal," said Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman
, "It's tough to find employment." As a result there are currently more than 100 homeless people living on the South Fork, thousands more who visit food pantries every week, and a dramatic rise in domestic violence.
For many, these kinds of social issues existing in the Hamptons may seem like an oxymoron. "There is a broad misconception about life on the East End. We're thought of as a very wealthy area. I think that people don't see the poverty," explained Schneiderman. In fact, the median income on the East End is lower than the rest of Suffolk County. "To be poor out here is probably tougher than anywhere because you are surrounded by opulence and no one believes you exist. 'Homeless in the Hamptons'? Who would think that exists," said Schneiderman.
Food pantries across the East End are packed this year, serving more needy than in both 2008 and 2009 during the start of the economic down turn and recession. "There has been an increase [in visitors] especially in our senior citizens. I think the economy plays a part in it," explained Barbara Wolfram
, Communications Volunteer Administrator at the Sag Harbor Food Pantry, "We used to serve about 700 families per month - now it's over 800 families."
Unlike many other food pantries, the Sag Harbor pantry tries to serve only fresh food as opposed to canned food to ensure that those in need are consuming a healthy, well balanced diet. "We wouldn't be able to continue doing this work without the support of our community, as well as the local farm stands and stores that provide us with things. We couldn't do it without them," said Wolfram. Schneiderman expressed the same sentiment stating, "This is a generous community and a close community where people do take care of each other. There is a heart and soul here."
The Sag Harbor Food Pantry is in need of donations this holiday season. (Sag Harbor Food Pantry)
Legislator Schneiderman has been working hard to ensure that the food pantries receive as much funding and assistance from the county as possible. "It's a very small contribution that the county is providing. It makes a difference, but they need a lot more than that," said Schneiderman. The Legislator's newest project, a fundraiser called the 'Ladles of Love Concert,' will be held on February 12 at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center
, and benefit all the East End food pantries. The show, put together with the help of John Kowalenko
of The Art of Eating
will feature several big name performers, with all proceeds going directly to the food pantries.
Maureen's Haven Outreach Program, a non-for profit foundation that houses the homeless on the East End, is busy this time of year as well. "As the weather gets colder, you're going to find more and more people making themselves available to Maureen's Haven," said Mary Ann Tupper
of Human Resources of the Hamptons. Last weekend, Maureen's Haven housed more than 30 homeless. Every night at five p.m., the homeless are shuttled from the Riverhead and Hampton Bays train stations, to churches and other facilities that will provide those in need with food and shelter for the night. "Thank goodness there are groups like Maureen's Haven that are assisting in housing the homeless," said Schneiderman.
Guests of Maureen's Haven are picked up at the train station. (File photo)
While the role the economy plays in hunger and homelessness is undeniable, another negative, and often overlooked consequence of the poor economic climate in this country is the dramatic rise in domestic violence. According to Jennifer Palmer
, Development Director at The Retreat
, the only agency serving the East End with domestic violence services, the economy is the main reason that the organization has seen a 56 percent increase in demand for services in the past year. "As people lose their jobs, houses foreclose, and it gets more difficult to provide for families, stress levels within households rise and manifest in the worst possible ways - in many cases, in violence - it is truly a hidden epidemic" explained Palmer.
The Retreat is currently at 85 percent occupancy, and while the organization receives funding from Suffolk County, and several private grants secured by Legislator Schneiderman, private donations have dried up in the past few years. "Simultaneously we have seen deep cuts in state and local funding, as well as a decrease in private donations. "We've worked hard to keep up with the demand, but it hasn't been easy," said Palmer. The Retreat has a volunteer program, as well as a thrift store called 'The Retreat Boutique.' Both of these initiatives are great ways to get involved and help The Retreat, and bring hope to the victims. According to Palmer, hope is what victims leave with once their time at The Retreat is over. "Where there was once no hope, now there is. Hope for a life free of abuse, an opportunity to start over, and newfound self-esteem," said Palmer.
Another worthy organization in urgent need of support this holiday season, is Amaryllis Farm
, the first and only senior horse sanctuary on Long Island. Amaryllis supports 68 horses, 56 of which are here on the East End. They come to Amaryllis to seek refuge from human neglect, abuse or discard. "We nickel and dime our way along working upwards of 17 hour days and I haven't had so much as a half day off in five and a half years. I do what I have to in order to ensure the horses a quality life day by day, said Christine Barrett-Distefano
of Amaryllis Farm, "People discard horses when getting divorced, moving and suffering a financial setback. Businesses discard them when they aren't profitable any longer. " There are over a dozen horses that are in excess of 30 years old, but there aren't enough homes out there for them.
Domestic violence is on the rise on the East End, and often overlooked. (The Retreat)
While it is important to remember those less fortunate this Thanksgiving, there is also much to be thankful for this year, and continued hope for things to get better in the future. "We live in one of the most beautiful places on earth, from our farmland to our oceans and bays. We have a healthy harvest from our farms and waters and that's certainly something to be thankful for," said Schneiderman, "Keep your eyes open to those in need. All around people are struggling and if you find yourself okay and have the ability to share whether its through a donation, or volunteering, or donating clothes, do what you can for those less fortunate."
While all of the organizations mentioned are in need of monetary donations, there are many other ways you can help this Thanksgiving:
Sag Harbor Food Pantry
: The Tuesday before Thanksgiving, November 23, The Sag Harbor Food Pantry will be handing out Thanksgiving food including turkeys, chicken, fresh vegetables and pies to those in need. The food pantry is open from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Tuesdays, and if you cannot get to the pantry to make a donation, call Barbara at 631-725-4237 or Evie at 631-725-0437 and they will make sure the food is picked up.
Springs Food Pantry
: The Springs Food Pantry is looking for turkeys, roasting chickens, dried and canned goods and other non-perishable items to be donated for Thanksgiving baskets. Drop off will be any time after 1 p.m. on Wednesday, November 24. Food will be distributed to those in need from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Food can be left at the Springs Community Presbyterian Church. For more information call 631-324-4791.
: Maureen's Haven will be operating on their normal schedule which consists of a different location each night. Thanksgiving dinner will be held at the facility on Thanksgiving. They are also in desperate need of clothing donations in anticipation of the cold weather. They welcome all coats, hats, gloves, scarves, boots, etc. You can make a donation by calling 631-727-6831.
East Hampton Food Pantry
: The Tuesday before Thanksgiving, the East Hampton Food Pantry will be distributing food at their headquarters at 219 Accabonac Road. They will be open from 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Between now and then, those wishing to donate can drop off canned and dry items, peanut butter, jelly, and more at the pantry. Volunteers are welcome to help on Tuesday with the distribution of goods, as well as Monday between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. for pre-bagging. Call 631-324-7195 for more information.
: The Retreat is collecting canned goods and all the ingredients necessary to create a complete Thanksgiving meal. They are requesting one turkey, one ham, canned vegetables, potatoes or yams, biscuit mix or rolls, jarred gravy, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and a pie crust and filling for each Thanksgiving meal basket. These goods can be delivered to The Retreat on or before November 22 to 13 Goodfriend Drive in East Hampton.
Human Resources of the Hamptons
: HRH will be holding their annual Polar Bear Plunge event on December 11 at Cooper's Beach
. They are asking for a $25 minimum donation. They will also be having a raffle for those who donate $100 or win a trip to Canada to see the real polar bears. For those who cannot make or participate in the plunge, there will also be a party held on December 2 at the Southampton Publick House
. For more information contact Mary Ann Tupper at 631-283-6415.
: The equine farm is planning events in December and February which will be announced on the website www.amaryllisfarm.com. Those wishing to donate can send money to: Amaryllis Farm, 44 Little Fresh Pond Rd, Southampton. For more information contact Christine at 631-537-7335.
The Southampton Youth Bureau would like to thank Teachers Federal Credit Union for donating Thanksgiving dinner baskets for two local families. These donations will provide two local families with a bountiful Thanksgiving dinner that they otherwise would not have had.
If you are able, donate to one of the wonderful organizations this Thanksgiving. A simple act can be huge to those in need. (sgvcc.org)