Honor Harry Chapin’s Legacy with Action to End Hunger

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

If you put compiled the names of the most impactful Long Islanders in our history, you’d surely start off with the likes ofTheodore Roosevelt, Marie Colvin, and Walt Whitman to name a few – and in my estimation, Harry Chapin is a fitting fourth candidate to complete any proverbial Mount Rushmore of great Long Islanders.

In just nine years as a recording artist, he released 12 albums that embodied his distinctive style as a musical storyteller. Thanks to timeless melodies and stirring lyrics that vividly told stories of everyday life, songs like “Taxi,” “W.O.L.D,” “Circle,” “Sequel,” and of course, “Cat’s in the Cradle” became embedded into the soundtracks of our lives during the 1970s and beyond.

Using those remarkable gifts, he pursued his philanthropic calling and his mission to eradicate hunger in the United States in particular.

As one of the world’s highest paid entertainers at the time, he gave generously to charitable causes, hosted numerous benefit concerts, and used his platform as a springboard for advocacy such as his involvement in launching World Hunger Year (now known as WhyHunger) and establishing the Presidential Commission on World Hunger during the Carter administration. However, the food bank that now bears his name is perhaps his greatest innovation. When Harry Chapin launched Long Island Cares in 1980, he created Long Island’s first food bank, and in doing so revolutionized our regional approach to addressing food insecurity and hunger.

In 2021, Long Island Cares distributed 14 million pounds of food – the equivalent of 11.5 million meals – and now has a half-dozen brick-and-mortar storefront locations across Long Island. The agency was instrumental in addressing crises like Superstorm Sandy and the economic disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. And because no member of the family – included the four-legged and feathered ones – is spared from hunger, their seventh location, Baxter’s Pet Pantry, is dedicated to gathering and distributing pet food and supplies to families in need.

In this oft-derided age of the celebrity candidate, Harry Chapin would have been a natural to run for the House of Representatives or another elected office, but not because he was a star. He would have been ideal because did the work and cared deeply about the future we shared. Sadly, he never got that chance – on July 16, 1981, while driving to a benefit concert at Eisenhower Park, Harry’s Volkswagen was hit by an 18-wheeler on the Long Island Expressway, and he was fatally injured.

The shock of his sudden, untimely death reverberated through the park on that summer evening and through our society for years to come. He would be cited as an inspiration for future endeavors like USA For Africa and Live Aid, and countless memorial awards, theaters and humanitarian events would be named in his honor.

Already, neighboring municipalities like Suffolk County have declared July 16 Harry Chapin Day in honor of all he achieved in just 38 years. Here in Nassau County, I am continuing to pursue legislation which I filed last year to formally establish a Harry Chapin Day of our own. While there has been no action by the Legislative Majority on my legislation to date, I will never lose hope or lose sight of the important mission in front of us.

Rather than wait for the gears of government to turn, I decided to immediately implement one of its tenets of my proposed legislation – after all, Harry Chapin was the man who said,“When in doubt, do something!” Starting on July 16, my office will be holding its second annual summer food drive to benefit Long Island Cares and draw renewed attention to Harry Chapin’s legacy.

Amongst the many lessons of the last several years, we have all been confronted with the hard truth that far more of our neighbors struggle silently with food insecurity than we everbelieved.

If you would like to support this endeavor, you can do so by making contributions of non-perishable goods at the Plainview-Old Bethpage and Syosset Libraries and Plainview’s Trio Hardware, or donate directly to Long Island Cares, through August 16. Please call my office at 516-571-6216 or email [email protected] if you have any questions.

In Harry’s words again,we all have the potential to move the world, and the world is ready to be moved.

This summer, as Nassau County residents and Long Islanders, let’s unite to move the world to a better and more humane place.

Arnold W. Drucker, of Plainview, has represented Nassau County’s 16th Legislative District since 2016.