CAST sees huge increase in need for food at its pantry

Before the COVID-19 virus struck, Community Action Southold Town was distributing about $1,200 a week in food to needy families and individuals at its Greenport food pantry.

That was then, this is now: “We are spending about $5,000 a week on food, and we are seeing far more people who have never come in before who need help,” said Cathy Demeroto, CAST’s executive director. “It’s a whole new group of people.”

In a stark indication of how the spread of the virus has struck low income people and families on the North Fork — the people who wash dishes in restaurants, clean bathroom in motels and, generally speaking, clean up after the rest of us — the huge spike in demand for food illustrates what has happened and all in a matter of days.

As of noon Sunday, the numbers cataloging the COVID-19 pandemic here and statewide keep rising. The numbers will surely rise again as the days go on. There are 5,168 confirmed cases in the state; 1,034 in Suffolk County; 70 in Southold Town and 11 in Riverhead.

The death toll statewide is 374; the Suffolk County death toll is 12 — four of which occurred at Peconic Landing in Greenport. Southold, and in particular Greenport, is in the bull’s eye of a virus that spreads easily and quickly and for which there is no vaccine yet.

And CAST is on the front lines.

“We are definitely seeing a dramatic increase in people coming in,” Ms. Demeroto said. “And not just our regular clients, but people we have not served before… Seniors, too. I’d say we are seeing 15 to 20% of the people coming in we have not served before.“

As a result, CAST’s food costs have increased dramatically — from about $1,200 a week to now $5,000 a week.

“We are making three and four runs to Riverhead to shop for food,” she said.

To help fill the monetary gap, former Greenport mayor David Kapell and his family have stepped into the breech with a GoFundMe page that in just 24 hours has raised over $4,000 from community residents determined to help those who need it.

“CAST has enough funding for maybe a couple of weeks,” Mr. Kapell said. “But they will need more and more to meet the demand. I think on Friday something like 100 prepared meals went out from the pantry. In just a few hours. There is a significant low income population in Greenport” getting hammered economically by the shuttering of dozens of businesses.

“I’m going after anything I can get,” Mr. Kapell added. “My own sense is that, when we come out of this, life will be completely different. There will be fewer businesses and massive unemployment.”

Expanding its efforts to get food to those in need, on Monday CAST launched an emergency Feed-A-Kid program, with families receiving a food bag once each week during food pantry hours, which are 9 a.m.-noon on Monday, 3 p.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday and 9 a.m.-noon Friday. To sign up, people can call 631-477-1717 during food panty hours.

“It’s really important we come together as a community. We are stronger when everyone is thriving — when they have food,” Ms. Demeroto said. “I’m finding the community to be very kind and generous. The number of people volunteering is truly amazing. And we are in for the long haul and doing our very best.”