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Island Harvest kicks-off largest food distribution in Nassau County history

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On Thursday, Island Harvest, in partnership with Nassau County, kicked-off the largest food distribution event in the county’s history, with hundreds eagerly lining up on foot and in cars outside of Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

Thousands of boxes filled with 100,000 pounds of fresh produce, meat and non-perishable food items were distributed by hundreds of volunteers in the beating summer sun. Roughly 4,000 families — many struggling after the Covid-19 pandemic’s economic downturn — went home with a week’s worth of supplies.

“We’re here today because of this pandemic that has forced so many people to question whether they can put food on the table for their families,” said Island Harvest President and CEO Randi Shubin Dresner. “There are tens of thousands of people across Long Island that we’ve met the past couple of months — volunteers of ours, contributors of ours, supporters of so many different causes — and the floor has been pulled out from underneath them. Now, they find themselves on the other side of the food line.”

In an organized fashion, recipients on foot stood in line to have their bags and carts filled, while those in vehicles slowly drove up to one of dozens of distribution points. Green-vested volunteers manned every table, lugging supplies back and forth.

The event is thanks to Nassau County’s $1 million investment into local food banks as part of the new Community Food Distribution initiative. Since late April, the county has held two dozen small and large-scale distributions and will continue to partner with Island Harvest in the future.

“We’ve reached every corner of the county with our food distribution events, and we’re not done yet,” said County Executive Laura Curran. “We will continue putting food on the table for families in need throughout this summer with distributions large and small.”

The need to provide food for residents is evidenced by the increased number of applications to the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program. In April, the number of Nassau County residents seeking this assistance tripled, going from 1,095 in April 2019 to 3,786 in April 2020. The number of SNAP applications increased 125 percent in May 2020 compared to May 2019, according to county records.

June 2020 SNAP applications declined 35 percent from May 2020, but is still a 41 percent increase from June 2019.

“And it’s not just Nassau County that’s seeing this food insecurity,” Curran said. “Nationwide, 40 percent of people who are utilizing food banks are new to utilizing food banks.”

Nassau County has set aside $1 million in federal Community Development Block Grants for food banks to collect, distribute and purchase food, while also working with school districts and community stakeholders to identify families in need.