On Tuesday night, in a parking lot on East 6th Street and Fairground Avenue, volunteers for Long Island Food Not Bombs will gather to set up their weekly Huntington Food Share. It's something that they have been doing for the past three years as a local branch of Food Not Bombs, a grass-roots organization started 30 years ago that now shares free food with the hungry in over 1,000 cities around the world.
Operating under the belief that many people go hungry due to waste rather than a scarcity of food, FNB volunteers work with food establishments - including Whole Foods and Trader Joes - to collect and distribute perfectly good and healthy food that might otherwise be discarded.
Food Shares are then planned where all of the food collected, as well as other donated items, are set up on tables with an open invitation to the community to "share". Everyone is welcome to participate in whatever way they are able. Donations of food, clothing and books are distributed for free to anyone who can put them to good use.
This week's gathering, beginning at 6:30 pm is part of a special, week-long Thanksgiving Bonanza, which includes nearly a dozen events taking place at locations around Long Island.
Jon Stepanian, one of the founders of the Long Island chapter of Food Not Bombs, is one of the primary organizers of most of the events. "We organize special events every Thanksgiving and Christmas, but this is the biggest one ever." he said. Each year we try to make it bigger to accommodate more people."
Food Not Bombs is about people taking care of their own community in solidarity, not charity. "There's a bit of overlap between those coming for food and those distributing it, especially setting up." explained Alexandra Reisner, a volunteer since 2008. "In Huntington especially, the kids from the community like to help out behind the table, and in many cases men who originally started coming just to get food are now helping to unload cars and set up tables. If there is bread left over at the end of the night, volunteers are welcome to take it home." she said, adding that "There is no official hierarchy within the FNB community."
A typical Food Share in Huntington generally attracts between 100-150 people and this Tuesday night there will be hot prepared vegan food to celebrate the holidays in addition to donated groceries that will allow families to prepare their own feasts on Thanksgiving Day.
Anyone who is looking for a more meaningful way to spend the holidays is invited to make a difference by getting involved. Right now Long Island Food Not Bombs needs donations of warm winter clothing and coats, sleeping bags and blankets. "Anything that can help keep someone warm is very important." said Reisner "Today, a man told me he sleeps on the street and needed something to keep warm, but we didn't have any blankets or sheets left. All I had to offer him was a sweatshirt, which was some small consolation but still better than nothing."
"Just show up." says volunteer Vincent Cocca. "We are always looking for ways that the community can get involved. Bring clothing, food, or help us drive the food"
"We would love help for Thanksgiving, but following that, we really need toys." Reisner said, explaining that they distribute gently used and new toys at each of their Food Share's two weeks before Christmas. "There's always a big turn out when we share toys for Christmas." added Cocca
"People think you have to go through all this paperwork to volunteer or make a big commitment, but FNB isn't like that." Reisner explained. "You come, you do what you can, and you can even take something home with you if you need it. If you try it for one day and it isn't for you, that's fine. The more people who come even once, the better chance even one of them will want to come back every week."