Written by John H. Meyer Friday, 08 July 2011 00:00
This is my fourth piece about the Faith Mission Soup Kitchen and Pantry at 87 Pine Street in Freeport. When I was asked to visit in February of 2009, their needs were for food, clothing and a freezer for the pantry. At that time a walk-in freezer was donated. This visit was much more serious. The restaurant-style stove has been shut off by the Nassau County Fire Marshal’s Office because they said the 30-inch exhaust fan and suppression system over the stove that has been in use for more than 15 years and is in good condition is illegal and doesn’t conform with the current Nassau County commercial kitchen specifications even though there’s never a charge for food, soup and coffee to the more than 250 daily hungry men and women.
According to Mary Joesten from Oceanside who has been the director for more than 13 years, they have never had a problem from neighbors complaining about any cooking odors or noise from the wall exhaust fan.
Ms. Joesten told me that the most serious problem is that to install an exhaust and suppression system that would meet the current restaurant code would cost upwards of $60,000. I asked what brings the cost up so high? She explained that all of the ductwork has to be inside the building and go through three floors and out the roof. She added that means cutting through plastered ceilings, three floors of beams, and the roof to install a massive roof hood. She said that there would be patching, painting, plumbing, electric work plus the inconvenience in the kitchen while preparing a cold breakfast and lunches for the regulars. “I’m not even talking about the construction dust and debris that would promote a problem with the Nassau County Health Department,” she added.
Faith Mission is located in the lower level of Holy Redeemer Roman Catholic Church and receives no city, state or federal government support and has no administrative expenses. All of the volunteers and the director are unpaid and no one receives reimbursements for personal expenses like gas for their cars.
Jennifer Lyon, a volunteer team leader from Massapequa, said that not only will the kitchen be disrupted if they have to close Faith Mission, “We have men and women that come for food from our pantry for their families and many take showers and receive clean underwear,” she said. Ms. Joesten added that not only does Faith Mission service the regulars, many of which are returning veterans, they are also trying to find them housing. She said she has the pleasure of working with Willie Burks, Bob Kohler and George Towe, highly decorated Vietnam veterans, to organize The New York Veterans Advocacy Group, Inc. She told me that the number of returning Iraqi and Afghanistan veterans over the next three years will be 160,000 and the Department of Defense calculated some 40 percent of these veterans will have PTSD and/or traumatic brain injury. The report also predicted that of those serving some 300,000 would return to civilian life suffering from post traumatic stress disorder and some 320,000 would have some form of traumatic brain injury. Ms. Joesten added that in order to help these veterans, they need increased service capacity from both government and the private sector. “I was able to talk briefly with Peter Schmitt, Nassau County legislator and he said that there is an ongoing project close to the Nassau Community College,” she said. “He said that we’re converting former military quarters to housing for our returning veterans.” Ms. Joesten said that on June 24 they held a very well-attended fundraiser at the Memorare Caterers in Seaford. She said that they were able to have Staff Sgt. David Karnes, a veteran of three combat tours that included Iraq, Desert Storm, and Operation Sharp Edge and whose life was portrayed in the 2006 movie World Trade Center; his topic was “The Value of a Life.” She added that their mission is to establish comprehensive, transitional housing offering physical healthcare, a medically managed evaluation program, psychiatric help when needed and safe housing under one roof. Jennifer Lyon explains that one of the reasons there are so many homeless veterans is that they are dispersed to many different facilities for treatment and they end up falling through the cracks. There are only two VA hospitals in Nassau, Suffolk, Brooklyn (Kings) and Queens counties and 294,879 military veterans – 28 percent of the New York veteran’s population – so the need is there.