After 10 a.m. on Tuesdays, if you continue driving on the East Hampton Town Hall’s campus past the courthouse, then take a left after the bend in the road, you will encounter a flurry of activity. No, not government in action. Rather, it is an example of citizens in action, helping to feed their fellow East Hampton residents at the East Hampton Town Food Pantry.
Around for more than 25 years, the pantry’s main location serves up to 180 households of varying sizes each week, said Stacy Holmes, the administrative assistant.
Depending on the size of their families, patrons get a choice of two types of fruit and two types of vegetables out of four or five options, then get eggs or milk or both. After picking bread (many are bagels donated by East Hampton Bagels), a pastry or two, meat when available and a miscellaneous snack, they get a staple bag, which could consist of rice, canned fruits and vegetables, shelf milk, and some condiments.
“We try to feed them for two or three days,” said Mona Forbell, the operations manager at the pantry. “If we tried to do the whole week, we would run out of food.”
When designing the meals, the pantry goes by nutritional standards similar to the ones set out by the United States Department of Agriculture in the food pyramid, said Stacy Holmes, the administrative assistant.
In 2017, the pantry moved from the Windmill apartments off Accabonac Road to the Town Hall campus. While small, the space provides room for a recently purchased walk-in freezer and a trailer the pantry rents for dry goods storage. On Aug. 20 it was filled with rice, peanut butter, and other foodstuffs, and even a set of candles marketed as for Shabbat.
The pantry gathers the food through direct donations and purchases, which means it can sometimes spend up to $2,000 in a week. Food donations come in through local business, other not-for-profits, and individuals. It buys dairy, fruits, and vegetables primarily with money from its fund-raising events, such as the Ladles of Love concert at the Stephen Talkhouse in March.
The number of patrons, and therefore the amount the pantry spends weekly, rises in the winter as the legions of beachgoers, and the jobs they provide, disappear. While the summer peak is around 80 households a week, in the winter that number more than doubles, to 170, Ms. Holmes said.
“We want to let people know that we’re here to help them when they’re in need and their families are in need,” said the Rev. Dr. Connie Jones, a member of the pantry’s board. “There comes a time when we all need somebody, and it doesn’t last always.”
She introduced the board to the idea of the pre-Thanksgiving Harvest Food Drive, which is now entering its ninth year. However, she did not come up with the idea herself, she said.
“The Lord gave me a vision to have a harvest food drive,” the Rev. Dr. Jones said. “It’s his idea, and he doesn’t fail at what he does.”
Around eight volunteers came to help out two weeks ago, including Ozzy Duarte, 17, who started at the pantry to fulfill his school’s community service requirement three years ago and has continued to volunteer ever since.
“I live 20 minutes away, so it’s just so easy,” he said.
Other helpers included Johnny and Franky Morris, brothers from Brooklyn, ages 6 and 8 respectively. They specialized in organizing the dry goods trailer, which Johnny characterized as “reverse shopping,” because instead of taking things off the shelf, he was putting them on.
During a brief pause amid the frenzy of putting the fruits and vegetables into bags, stocking the fridge with frozen hamburger meat, and carrying crates of eggs, Ms. Holmes presented the Morris brothers with certificates for their work volunteering all summer.
“Make sure to tell your friends how much fun you had,” she reminded them.