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Put Those Extra Reusable Bags To Good Use With The FreshDirect Bag Donation Program

Nicole Barylski

Several East End-based food pantries are taking part in the pilot program. (Photo: FreshDirect)

If you have a stash of reusable FreshDirect grocery bags that you're not using, and are not sure what to do with them, the online grocery delivery service has launched a creative pilot program that allows customers to support local community organizations by donating the reusable bags.

"We are excited to partner with several remarkable non-profit organizations out east on FreshDirect's new bag donation program," said David McInerney, FreshDirect CEO. "The initiative provides a way for our customers to return their unused bags to places that have real need for them, and in the process, also introduces residents and neighbors to some of the passionate people behind the incredible work these organizations are doing day in and day out, for the Hamptons communities they serve."

After learning about the innovative solution, All for the East End (AFTEE) reached out to their widespread network to spread the word. "AFTEE has relationships with all the local pantries. Bags have been a chronic issue across the East End for pantries, so a number of months ago, one of the things that came through, because we're in touch with everybody, was we just don't have bags. We have food, but we don't have bags," Claudia Pilato, AFTEE Board Member, noted. " And at that time, I was able to get BNB Bank, who's now Dime Community Bank, to donate 5,000 bags that they shipped and we got them out to all the pantries. But bags continued to be a problem, and in the beginning, used bags were not being donated, because there were concerns about the pandemic. But as things have changed, and FreshDirect continued to deliver out here, there's all these people out here with bags."

Pilato continued, "They [FreshDirect] came up with this program for the pantries, and AFTEE found out that they were doing this, and we went out to all of the pantries on our list and said, 'Hey, sign up to be part of this, because this will be a great solution. These are really strong, good bags. And you could have an ongoing supply.' We were really a conduit because of our role as sort of an umbrella organization that works across all five towns and with all of the pantries."

Currently, East Hampton Food Pantry, Springs Food Pantry, Heart of the Hamptons, and Children's Museum of the East End (CMEE) are participating in the pilot program.

"Springs Food Pantry initially reached out to the community for recycled FreshDirect and PeaPod/Stop & Shop bags through the 'Neighborhood Springs' app on Facebook and got an overwhelming response," Holly Reichart-Wheaton, Springs Food Pantry Chairperson, explained. "We got over 300 bags within a few days which we used to pack up milk, eggs, cheese, yogurt, butter and chicken. The bags are super strong and easy for our volunteers to carry out to the recipient's cars. Once FreshDirect announced its Donation Program, we hopped on their website and registered directly with them as well."

Bag donations should be clean, in good shape, and any labels containing personal information should be removed.

"Every month, we typically need about 600 bags for the Museum's Food Pantry. FreshDirect's bags are the ideal size and shape for carrying food from our lobby - where we pack up all the groceries - to the trunks of people's cars," noted Steve Long, Children's Museum of the East End President. "I'm very grateful for their new Bag Donation Program."

East Hampton Food Pantry, Inc. (159 Pantigo Road, East Hampton, easthamptonfoodpantry.org) - which operates three food pantry locations, East Hampton, Amagansett, and from the East Hampton High School, will accept donations Monday through Thursday, from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Donations for the Springs Food Pantry (5 Old Stone Highway, East Hampton, springsfoodpantry.com), who fed nearly 30,000 people last year, can be left on the front porch at any time. Heart of the Hamptons (168 Hill Street, Southampton, heartofthehamptons.org), who currently serves more than 1,000 registered households, will accept bags on Tuesday and Thursday, from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Upon arrival, those dropping off bags should call 631-283-6415. The Food Pantry at the Children's Museum of the East End (376 Bridgehampton/Sag Harbor Turnpike, Bridgehampton, www.cmee.org), which was established last year in response to the pandemic, will accept donations Monday through Sunday, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

"Heart of the Hamptons is very excited to be a partner of the FreshDirect Bag Donation Program. We will use the donated reusable bags to pack fruits and vegetables for our registered food pantry customers," Delaney Jones, Heart of the Hamptons Program Coordinator, said. "Every week, we pack approximately 150 bags of fresh produce that range from 20 to 30 pounds each. Reusable bags are much more durable and eco-friendly than the paper and plastic bags we typically use, and are easier to transport. We thank FreshDirect and AFTEE for this opportunity!"

Not only will this be one less thing local food pantries have to worry about, it will also help pantries save money. "The East Hampton Food Pantry encourages our clients to bring their own reusable bags, as the food pantry can't afford to purchase high-quality reusable bags. If not, the food pantry has to purchase paper bags for all of our food that is distributed weekly," Vicki M. Littman, East Hampton Food Pantry Chairperson, noted. "The pilot program FreshDirect is launching will benefit our clients, as this will save the food pantry money which now can be allocated towards purchasing more food for our families. It will also have a positive environmental impact on our community."

In the meantime, AFTEE remains committed to championing vital East End organizations. "Right now, because the pandemic still has such a far reaching impact, we are still focusing on food insecurity and other issues that are caused by the pandemic. We're a funding organization, our mission has always been to provide a new source of grants and money to the nonprofits that do so much good here on the East End," Pilato stated. "And when the pandemic started, we changed the focus to the nonprofits who were dealing with the issues of food insecurity. To that end, we've raised $1.3 million and we've granted out about $1 million. We're in the process of sort re-stocking the coffers. It's been everything from money for the purchase of food, to facilitating shared refrigeration and freezer space, to brokering the relationship with Quail Hill Farm, whose creative program we're funding because they're going to be growing for the second year specifically for Bridgehampton Child Care and Recreational Center. That's really been the focus and I think that will continue to be the focus."

"At this point, we've given out 64 grants. It's been really gratifying," Pilato added. "And it's been amazing how generous this community is and how creative people have been in solving the problems that have presented themselves with COVID."

For the full list of participating food pantries, visit www.freshdirect.com.

Nicole is the Editor-in-Chief of Hamptons.com where she focuses on lifestyle, nightlife, and mixology. She grew up in the Hamptons and currently resides in Water Mill. www.hamptons.com NicoleBarylski NicoleBarylski

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