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State Aid For Hungry Seniors Set To Run Out

Jay Shah
A Long Island Cares worker hands out groceries to seniors in Brentwood.

Three thousand hungry seniors on Long Island rely on monthly grocery drop-offs funded by the state of New York. The deliveries stopped last year after a regional charity lost its eligibility to get state money.

Now, two other charities have started to bring hundreds of seniors their first food deliveries in months.

Seniors at a Brentwood housing complex lined up to get deliveries from the nonprofit Long Island Cares on a recent rainy afternoon. The residents said these deliveries help fill the gap after their SNAP benefits, or food stamps, run out. 

“[Fresh food is] very expensive for us and we only get a certain amount of food stamps.” Debra Lind Ridley said. “That goes very fast, especially in the winter.”

The program delivers groceries right outside Lind Ridley’s apartment. She said this helps her and her neighbors, who aren’t physically able to leave their homes or don’t have reliable transportation to buy food.

“We don’t get out, we don’t have a car,” Ridley said. “If you can’t take a SCAT [Suffolk County Accessible Transportation] bus or pick it up somewhere, you don’t get it.”

Credit Jay Shah / WSHU
Food deliveries include eggs, rice, chicken and fresh produce.

Catholic Charities of Rockville Centre had helped these seniors for three decades. The group served about 3,000 people on Long Island and 1,000 in New York City, but their delivery network collapsed when state funding ended last fall.

“It was a model that was working,” said Paul Engelhart, chief operating officer for Catholic Charities Diocese of Rockville Centre. 

Last year, the New York State Department of Health started to require that food banks serve 8,000 people before they apply for funding. Catholic Charities could not meet that demand.

“The caseload was less, but there were still people being served and we were willing to continue to do that,” Engelhart said.

Other food banks, including Long Island Cares, had to step in to fill the gap. The nonprofit received $59,000 in emergency funds from the state to restart the deliveries in January. As the group tries to build up its delivery capacity, Long Island Cares has yet to reach the remaining 2,000 seniors.

“In order to do it successfully and really efficiently, we need more support,” said Jessica Rosati, programs officer at Long Island Cares. Rosati needs “two full time people, that one can dedicate to Suffolk and one can dedicate to Nassau, two vehicles, and so forth.” 

Rosati said the group applied for a $160,000 grant from the state to continue bringing food to seniors.

Jonah Bruno, director of communications at the New York State Department of Health, says officials are working on a “permanent solution.” The department can’t promise additional emergency funding before the current money runs out.

The state emergency contract awarded for Long Island Cares’ efforts to deliver food to seniors expires at the end of March.

Credit Jay Shah / WSHU
Brentwood seniors sign postcards to local officials for New York State officials to keep providing funding to the program.

Jay Shah is a former Long Island bureau chief at WSHU.