Hundreds of Long Island seniors wait on line for fresh food

John Asbury for Newsday

Originally published in Newsday

Lena Walker stood in a long food line Friday, braving freezing temperatures outside the Long Beach Housing Authority to get a rare delivery of fresh fruit.

The 75-year-old Long Beach woman said food deliveries had stopped around October when a state contract for senior food supplements ended. She said, like many seniors, their fixed income and disability payments are devoted to paying for rent and medical expenses.

“It was a nice program, and I looked forward to it. I don’t know why it stopped,” Walker said. “When doctors' bills come out of your pocket, you accumulate a lot of bills and have to make arrangements. Food is something you might have, or you might not have it. You might not eat steak.”

Walker and about 200 other seniors waited outside last week for the delivery of a shipment of five tons of fresh produce from Stop & Shop and the Long Island Cares food bank.

Long Island Cares and the Manhattan-based New York Food Bank each received emergency $50,000 contracts from the state Department of Health after no Long Island contractors were selected to carry out the state’s Commodity Supplemental Food Program. The emergency contracts are slated to end April 1.

Catholic Charities of the Rockville Centre Diocese did not apply to renew a contract for the program that serves up to 50,000 eligible seniors who live under the poverty line. Catholic Charities previously served about 4,000 seniors, and the charity said it could not meet the state’s new mandated threshold of serving 8,000 seniors on Long Island.

Stop & Shop partnered with Long Island Cares and planned to deliver additional produce to 30 other sites on Long Island.

Long Island Cares has distributed a dozen food shipments in the past month to more than 500 seniors.

“When we found out this specific instance of seniors going hungry, we knew we had to help,” Stop & Shop spokeswoman Stefanie Shuman said.

State Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) helped distribute food Friday and is working with the state to find a long-term solution.

“That delivery every three weeks is critical for people, especially seniors. To not have a plan not to go forward with that after March 31 is not acceptable,” Kaminsky said. “I think we have to keep raising the alarm. People find it hard to believe in 21st century New York, we’re talking about hungry seniors. You see the need right here. This is food that is as critical as anything.”

State Health Department spokesman Jonah Bruno on Friday said state agencies are working with the legislature and the community to prioritize food security for Long Island seniors.

Long Beach City Councilwoman Elizabeth Treston said the program lapse hurt seniors during difficult times and through the winter.

“No one should go hungry,” Treston said. “The state and Gov. Cuomo’s staff should immediately rectify an oversight. This is not just a Long Beach issue. This is a Long Island issue that doesn’t seem to be on the list. The entire Island didn’t just fall off the map.”

Long Island senior food supplements:

  • Five tons of fresh produce donated by Stop & Shop to 30 sites Islandwide
  • 50,000 Long Island seniors who live under the poverty line eligible for state food program
  • Long Island Cares distributed food shipments in the past month to more than 500 seniors