By Annette Hinkle
As Christmas approaches on the East End, so does something not quite as cheerful — the need for food for many people in the Sag Harbor area who can’t make ends meet.
“We’re finding that we have more clients,” said Evie Ramunno director of the Sag Harbor Community Food Pantry on Tuesday. “Today 87 families were here. Up to this time, we’ve been facilitating between 65 and 75 per week.”
“Now it’s going up. It’s a trend every year,” she added.
That trend, noted Ramunno, is one driven by a couple of predictable factors. One is a decrease in the amount of available employment, and the other, a concurrent drop in temperature. As the heating bills start rolling in, more income is given over to the cost of fuel oil, which can be substantial.
“The seasonal workers are not working anymore, or are working very little, and they resort to coming here to supplement their incomes and their meals which is why we’re here,” said Ramunno.
In addition, many older residents who live on fixed incomes have found it increasingly hard to stretch their dollars, particularly since the recession hit in 2008.
“Social Security checks are not large and taxes are out of sight,” said Ramunno. “Do you eat, do you buy your medicine or fuel?”
“People have pride. They don’t like to come here, but it’s a necessary thing,” she said. “It’s sad the country has come to this. It didn’t get this way in four years and its not going to correct itself in four years.”
“I anticipate we’ll probably have over 100 families for the Christmas distribution next week,” she added.
Which is why the Sag Harbor Food Pantry, which operates from the basement of the Old Whalers’ Church on Union Street, is looking for additional food and monetary donations to stock pantry shelves now.
With the goal of providing the food needed to make a holiday meal, the pantry and its 60 volunteers will ensure that each family coming to the shelter next Tuesday goes home with a chicken, turkey or pork roast.
“We’re very fortunate in that we’ve had big donations of nonperishables from schools, individuals and the church. We’re generating a little here or there and we’re doing well.”
But the need is always substantial at this time of year and Ramunno would be happy to receive additional donations of hams and pork roasts this week to help ensure pantry families have the full makings for a holiday meal — and then some.
Ramunno and the pantry volunteers also strive to provide families with a range of fresh food items, not just non-perishables. For that, they rely on monetary donations.
“We buy our milk, eggs and cheese, fresh fruits and vegetables,” said Ramunno who noted that in summer, area farmstands donate fresh produce, but at this time of year, the pantry must purchase it. “That’s more of a cost for us now. We try to keep everything healthy.”
To help make it through the cold months, the pantry is currently holding a fundraiser through donation boxes placed at various businesses in the area.
“That’s going very well considering the economic conditions now,” said Ramunno. “Small donations, $10, $15 or $25 helps a lot. We have boxes at the Apple Bank, Suffolk County National Bank, Provisions, Prudential, the Noyac liquor store and there’s one at Agway.”
With January on the horizon, the need is only expected to grow in the New Year and Ramunno is optimistic that through the fund drive, the Sag Harbor Community Food pantry will continue to be able to provide families in need with food the entire winter.
In the meantime, however, next week is about helping families to celebrate the season the best way they can.
“We’ll have a Christmas party on Tuesday with Santa,” said Ramunno. “The children will get a stocking, someone with a guitar will be playing music, so it will be a festive time.”
“We try to make it very nice.”
To make a donation to the Sag Harbor Community Food Pantry, call Evie Ramunno at 725-0437 or Barbara Wolfram at 725-4237.