Though not open to guests indoors since March 2020, the Interfaith Nutrition Network (The INN) keeps its food, job, housing, and mental health assistance programs running in new ways.
The Hempstead nonprofit organization’s Mary Brennan INN soup kitchen on Madison Avenue typically served food to hundreds of Long Islanders in need, who would sit inside the large cafeteria each day. Now, they stand outside and walk up to a window for their meals.
“We never completely closed the doors,” says Dana Lopez, The INN’s director of marketing and communications. “We served — not in the same way — but we turned our programs around and adjusted.”
In addition to providing hot meals, The INN offers emergency and long-term housing assistance, as well as aid with other needs such as finances, mental health, and finding jobs, at its resource center, the Center for Transformative Change (CTC), next door to the soup kitchen. The CTC building is also closed indoors for the time being, but staff and volunteers at The INN have set up tents and other outdoor structures to continue to assist people in person.
“The Town of Hempstead was hit really hard with Covid,” Lopez says, “and we don’t want to put anyone in a situation where they would still be in danger. We’re hoping as soon as possible that people will be able to come inside rather than stand outside.”
With a grant from the Town of Hempstead during the pandemic, The INN continued providing hot meals and soups as well as donating other necessities such as soap, diapers, wipes, shampoo and conditioner, and nonperishable food items.
The INN served 221,000 meals to about 57,000 people in 2020, more than double the number it served in 2019. The organization has also worked with the town and Northwell Health to facilitate vaccination appointments for their guests.
When The INN first formed in 1983, it was a small group of volunteers running a soup kitchen out of a church in the Hempstead area. The organization now consists of 58 paid workers and more than 1,200 volunteers, and it’s still looking to expand when it receives more financial support.
“People don’t think of poverty when they think of Long Island; they think of wealth. The truth is there’s both,” Lopez says. “By recognizing that early on in the ’80s, The INN has been able to make sure that anybody is welcomed, treated with dignity and respect, and helped in whatever way they can.”