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Paule Pachter

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

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.

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OpEd: Food Bank Needs Steady Supply Now More Than Ever

food bank
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In the past seven months, more food has been delivered to Long Island Cares-The Harry Chapin Food Bank than ever before.  

On average, the regional food bank purchased 1.5 million pounds of perishable and nonperishable food on a monthly basis to assist Long Islanders as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. From March through June, most food banks across the country, including Long Island Cares, experienced delivery delays between eight and 12 weeks in receiving the foods we had purchased. The first three months of our COVID-19 response efforts brought many new challenges, one of which was receiving food at our warehouse.  

Another challenge was with our community food drives. Many were canceled, and those that were in progress were not successful. It was at this time that we found our niche in transitioning our food drives to a virtual platform, which has taken off and continues to grow and expand.  

During the same time frame, we experienced a dramatic increase in our retail donation program that provides us with approximately 2 million pounds of perishable foods annually. We also benefited from an increase in corporate food donations. We received an increase in the amount of government commodities from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and we have been actively purchasing food through our contract with the New York State Health Department. Additionally, we are a recipient of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Nourish New York Initiative and the USDA Food Assistance Program.  

One might question if the current supply of emergency food available on LI is greater than the current demand. If we are able to get everyone who lost a job back to work and earning a steady income this might be the case, but it’s not. The emergency food supply must remain strong and abundant because we honestly don’t know when the COVID-19 pandemic will end. A recent prediction by the U.S. government’s top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci has the virus possibly leaving the United States by September of 2021.  

If businesses on the Island cannot fully open, people will still need emergency food assistance. If additional stimulus support ends, people will still need to visit the pantries. If schools must go on lockdown again due to spikes in coronavirus cases, children that rely upon their school meals program will still need emergency food assistance. 

And, if Congress doesn’t provide additional aid to the states and counties hardest hit by COVID-19 like New York and Long Island, the food banks will be needed even more.

Paule T. Pachter is Chief Executive Officer of Long Island Cares, Inc., The Harry Chapin Food Bank.

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