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Southold Fire Department collects items for distribution to assist area food banks

When its community sounds the alarm, Southold Fire Department answers the call. This time it was the fire department asking for help, and the community responded in a big way.

What has been called Southold Fire Department’s first food drive was declared a success. The department collected food and nonperishable items last month that were donated to local food banks.

“We’re very, very fortunate that we live in a generous community,” said Cathy Wilinski, a first lieutenant with the fire department’s rescue squad. “If there’s a need, this community rises to it.”

Ms. Wilinski said a pickup truck parked in front of the station house was filled to capacity five times over the course of three days, from Feb. 19-21. A wide variety of items were collected. Among them were toiletries, paper products, condiments, pasta, rice, beans, coffee and cereal. “Diapers, that was high on the list,” said Ms. Wilinski.

Pets were not forgotten. Dog food and cat food was donated as well.

“I don’t think we had really an expectation because it had never been done before, but we were all truly blown out of the water by the response,” said Ms. Wilinski.

The items were sorted and either picked up by or delivered to Community Action Southold Town, North Fork Parish Outreach and Maureen’s Haven, a homeless shelter in Riverhead.

Ms. Wilinski said those organizations were contacted beforehand and asked specifically what they needed so the donations could be tailored to their needs.

“We were just extremely grateful for their commitment to helping address hunger in our community and we greatly appreciate their generous donation of food and personal care items as we’re still experiencing elevated levels of food insecurity as a result of the COVID-19 crisis,” said CAST executive director Cathy Demeroto, who estimated that her organization received nearly $3,000 worth of food and personal care goods. “It’s wonderful to see the community work together for our neighbors in need.”

And there is a need, said Ms. Demeroto.

“We’re seeing hundreds of families who are coming to CAST every week and we’re still serving, we’re providing about four times the meals we were serving pre-COVID, so these types of donations certainly help us meet a tremendous need that’s still there on the North Fork,” she said. “Fortunately, we live in a very special, generous community between the big businesses and community members and our local farms who support CAST and help us get food to the families so they have food on their table. It’s really just heartwarming to see how everyone can get together.”

Mike Goscinski, captain of the fire department’s Hook and Ladder Company, said the idea for the food drive was Ms. Wilinski’s brainchild. Fire Chief Peggy Killian gave her nod of approval and other officers were in support of the proposal, said Ms. Wilinski.

Mr. Goscinski said, “It’s nice to hear your fellow firefighters, EMTs come in and say, ‘All right, what do you need me to do?’ ”

“You have no idea how much pride we take in the job we do here,” Ms. Wilinski said. “We’re all volunteers, but we come together for this community because we appreciate it.”

That appreciation was reciprocated.

“We greatly appreciate the support, and it’s nice to see everybody in the community, including the first responders who are so busy, you know, thinking of others in the community and how they can help,” Ms. Demeroto said. “It’s how they can make a difference. It’s what makes the Town of Southold a great place to live.

“I would say it’s a simple act of kindness that has great impact.”