While the Long Island Council of Churches’ food pantry, in Freeport, serves more than 2,500 individuals a month from all over Nassau County, the funding it receives from the federal government only lasts about half a year. Food pantry manager Yolanda Murray, 58, said that the money the pantry receives in the fall typically runs out by March 31, so the pantry is dependent on donations to feed those in need.
“People are here because they’re late in getting their food stamps, they used up all their money on their mortgage or someone in their family had a bad accident and they need to pay medical bills,” Murray explained. “They depend on this place. This is an emergency food pantry.”
While the food pantry does receive donations from local hunger-relief organizations, such as Long Island Cares and Island Harvest, one couple has spent the past eight years collecting donations to provide some much-needed support to the pantry. Rob and Mary Hallam, of Lynbrook, are now celebrating the eighth annual People’s February Food Drive, which unites residents from all over Long Island to donate and deliver thousands of food items and dollars to the LI Council of Churches’ food pantry program.
Rob, 58, said the first food drive started as something small that he did through his local church in Malverne. That first year, the Hallams collected about 980 food items. As word spread about the food drive, it eventually erupted in popularity as hundreds of residents and several local businesses decided to help the Hallams. Last year, the food drive collected more than 20,000 donations in both food and money.
“It’s amazing to have seen it grow so much,” Rob said. “There were so many people helping out last year that I got asked, “Just who’s food drive is this?’ But this doesn’t belong to any one entity. This is the people’s food drive.”
The food drive starts in February as the Hallams store all the donations in their house. To store the food, the Hallams free up their living room, and because they receive so much donations, they need to make sure to spread the weight around to avoid any damage to their floors. Rob Maeurer, 43, of Elmont, first met the couple three years ago at the Community Presbyterian Church, in Malverne. Last year, Maeurer created a GoFundMe page for the People’s February Food Drive, which managed to raise about $530. The money was used to purchase additional food for donation. This year, the GoFundMe has raised about $865 so far, and Maeurer hopes to reach the $1,500 goal he set for the page.
“I figured that there would be people who wanted to give but may not be able to go out to the drop off locations, so now they can donate money for us to purchase food with,” Maeurer said. “It’s great to see the SUV stuffed with food to deliver.”
Once all the donations are collected, about 200 volunteers come out to help load all the food in the Hallam’s home onto a large truck donated by Nassau Door & Window, who Rob works for at their Lynbrook location. The truck then arrives at the food pantry, at 230 Hanse Ave., where volunteers stuff the shelves. Murray said that the food the Hallam’s collect could last three-to-four months, which helps the pantry survive during slow donation periods.
“We can feed up to 70 families a day, so we never want to tell them that we’re short on food,” Murray said. “That’s why the food drive is so important to us.”
“It seems like there’s so much bad news going around nowadays, so it feels good to see so many come together to support something like this,” Rob added.
Those who wish to donate can drop off items in Freeport at Jeremy’s Ale House, at 239 Woodcleft Ave., and in Lynbrook at Nassau Door & Windows, at 487 W John St., and Nassau Shades & Blinds, at 211 Sunrise Highway. Donations can also be made to the GoFundMe page at gofundme.com/f/2020peoplesfebfooddrive. This year’s food moving day is set for