"Watch your back!" was good advice the day I visited the Glen Cove soup kitchen, an affiliate of the North Shore INN, and saw firsthand the bustling efficiency. Before my arrival The Metropolitan in Glen Cove phoned and said they had food donations. Two male volunteers drove to the site and returned with seven restaurant sized steam table trays.
Lorna Durante and her mother, Gina Bartley, spend time together when they volunteer at the soup kitchen.
The kitchen had been busy, now it hummed. The trays, filled with mashed potatoes, onions, vegetable medley, penne pasta and couscous, were quickly emptied and marked accordingly. Some were designated as lunches for the rest of the week, others packed up for the guests to take home, others marked for the freezer. The trays then needed to be returned by the volunteers. The Metropolitan and Harrison House are two catering establishments that regularly contribute to the kitchen.
The soup kitchen operates from the basement of the First Baptist Church in Glen Cove located at 7 Continental Place. The kitchen has a roster of approximately 110 volunteers and serves a hot lunch Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from noon to 1 p.m. On any given day 10-15 volunteers arrive to prepare and serve the lunches. Before noon when food is served, tables must be set up, salad made, bread buttered, coffee made, desserts prepared etc. in the main hall while cooks decide which of the donated food is to be cooked today, and which purchased food must be included. Seconds are offered to avoid wasting food. Food is also prepared specifically for the guests to take home, and any leftovers are also packaged so they too can be taken. Shortly after 1 p.m. clean up begins.
Bob Adams is the president of the North Shore Interfaith Nutrition Network (NS INN) headquartered in Hempstead. He has been president of the parent organization for three years and he physically donates his time at the Glen Cove soup kitchen, an affiliate of the NS INN, one of 18 found on Long Island. Most affiliates are located in Suffolk County, while only four are located in Nassau County. Bob loves working at the soup kitchen. "It's a wonderful job, mainly because I love working with all the other volunteers and we don't have too many meetings."
In early fall approximately 75 people are served but the number increases to around 100 as the temperature drops. Guests are a cross-section of the population. Close to 40 percent are day laborers in either construction or lawn maintenance who cannot find work in the winter. The remainder consists of local residents including many women, children and seniors.
Around the holidays, beginning with Thanksgiving, the canned food drives keep the pantry stocked. Last Thanksgiving 120 turkeys were donated and given to the shelter guests to take home. Donations of food are definitely needed and appreciated yet 60 percent of the food is purchased with monetary donations. More than half the donations are received during the months of November and December which coincides with the busiest time of year.
The food and fund donations allow the soup kitchen to provide nutritious meals of high quality for an average of less than 80 cents per person. Many soup kitchens operate with government funds. Others depend upon groups like Island Harvest Services, a non- profit organization, whose trucks blanket Long Island where they deliver twice a week to the food shelters. The soup kitchen at the First Baptist Church is fortunate to have enough food and funds donated to operate on its own.
Even considering all the donations nothing would be possible without the army of volunteers who make it happen. Some days there are too few, other days too many. It is the coordinator, on this particular day, Bette Farrell, who created the assignment sheet. Bette has been a volunteer at the soup kitchen for five years, is currently vice-president and has been a daily coordinator for three years. "I love it," she said. "People say I am such a good person to do it and it makes me mad because I get so much out of it." Bette continued, "When I'm here I work hard, it is very busy, but what is so great is you get to see the results of your efforts. You are feeding people who need a meal, and providing them with a setting for social interaction, something sorely lacking in their lives." Homelessness and abject poverty are isolating. Volunteer social workers canvass the room while the guests eat and provide whatever comfort they can, from locating a crib, finding shelter, helping with depression or just listening. Clothing is available. Bette said speaking Spanish is a big plus. Bette also said that she has joined a book discussion and a prayer group as a result of volunteering.
Pat O'Keefe, a Manhasset resident all her life, initially volunteered in 1996. Her involvement mushroomed and she now prepares the hot segment of the lunch for 70-100 people two times a week. "I like to cook and I can do what I love and it benefits people. They are so appreciative and so complimentary." Pat donates about 15 hours a week to the soup kitchen as she also collects food donations from stores. "Whole Foods Market has been tremendous to us since they opened. I can't say enough about them; they are so generous. Other stores give day-old bread and they very often give us day-due bread as well as produce. We have received sandwiches from their deli that our guests can take home because the soup kitchen is only open three days a week. I have been dealing with Chris Ivers, marketing team leader at the Manhasset store, since they opened and he is very generous to the soup kitchen." Other stores that are very generous on an ongoing basis are Fairway and Waldbaum's
Joyce Hein has volunteered for two and a half years. She pitches in where needed. "You can never tell how many guests will arrive on a given day. One summer day we had 80 people and it was a beautiful day, I guess they did not get picked up for work."
Gina Bartley was busy marking donations for the freezer to be easily read and handy for a future meal. Her daughter, Lorna Durante, who also works at the food kitchen, was instrumental in her mother volunteering. Lorna was interested and thought it would be "nice to do it with my mother and to give back to the community because we feel so blessed in Manhasset with what we have been given." Even Lorna's children pitch in, and, if they have a Tuesday off in the summer they go with mom and grandma to work at the kitchen. The pantry is kept full for those days when donations are lacking and throughout the school year different schools hold food drives which help bolster supplies. Last year by June the cupboard was bare so Leah, Lorna's 16-year-old daughter, and her friend, Taylor Boz, took it upon themselves to replenish it. They stood outside Trunz Food Center in Port Washington and collected 10 baskets of canned goods for the soup kitchen.
Holidays can be lonely for many people. Families cannot always get together and now and then one is alone on a holiday. Why not call the soup kitchen and volunteer on Thanksgiving or any holiday when the regular volunteers might be unavailable. It will get you out of your funk and you will be providing a needed service.
The soup kitchen needs volunteers for managerial positions in addition to volunteers to work with food and the transportation of food donations. Call Bob Adams at 446-6146 or Pat O'Keefe at 627-1843 if you are able to volunteer.