OpEd: Harry Chapin’s Spirit Lives On in Fight Against Hunger

harry chapin day
Harry Chapin at Veterans Memorial Auditorium in 1980. (Photo by Cindy Funk)

During his brief life (1942-1981), Harry Chapin released more than a dozen albums, performed 220 concerts a year with half of them being performed as benefits for local charities, made more than 15 appearances on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, composed the iconic, Grammy Award-winning song Cat’s in the Cradle, and founded two nonprofit organizations, WhyHunger and Long Island Cares, to raise awareness about hunger and food insecurity.

In 1980, when Harry Chapin founded Long Island Cares, Inc. he had two goals: 1) Raise enough funding and support to provide emergency food assistance to an estimated 50,000 Long Islanders considered to be impacted by food insecurity, and 2) Focus on the root causes of hunger and food insecurity in order to lift people out of the cycle of poverty.

As we commemorate the 40th anniversary of Chapin’s untimely passing in an automobile accident on the Long Island Expressway on July 16, Long Island Cares is taking a closer look and developing a network-wide response to the root causes of hunger that impacts nearly 480,000 Long Islanders including 79,370 children. Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, Long Island was on the verge of reducing food insecurity by 40 percent however, during the height of the pandemic an additional 223,000 Long Islanders joined the ranks of the food insecure population as a result of job losses, which increased the population from 259,000.

What Harry Chapin knew 40 years ago is still true today: Poverty, unemployment, immigration status, disabilities, underemployment, homelessness, veterans status, and systemic racism impact people’s ability to provide nutritious food to feed their family. Chapin believed that only by addressing these root causes could we have a chance at ending hunger, and he engaged elected officials, corporate leaders, and his many fans in his crusade which Long Island Cares has been leading for four decades.

Chapin was a key figure in former President Jimmy Carter’s convening of a Presidential Commission on Hunger in 1978. Chapin advocated for sound social policies and increased government funding to address the root causes of hunger. Today, Congress is once again discussing increased funding for hunger assistance and Congressman James McGovern of Massachusetts is proposing that President Joe Biden convene a White House Conference on Hunger to address the root causes that Chapin described four decades ago. Asked about what inspired him to become a lead voice in Congress on hunger and food insecurity, McGovern talks about meeting Harry Chapin in 1978. It’s rewarding to know that 40 years later, we’re still talking about Harry Chapin.

Paule Pachter is the CEO of Long Island Cares, Inc.

Sign up for Long Island Press’ email newsletters here. Sign up for home delivery of Long Island Press here. Sign up for discounts by becoming a Long Island Press community partner here.