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South Jamesport woman leads local effort as part of national organization, Food Rescue US

While searching for a way to return to fighting food insecurity, South Jamesport resident Maria Orlando Pietromonaco came upon Food Rescue US’s website three months ago and with one impulsive click of a mouse, she became the site director of Food Rescue US – Suffolk County.

“It was just like they were speaking to me,” Ms. Pietromonaco said. “I just felt like that was something I was supposed to do.”

The national organization was formed in 2011 in Fairfield County, Conn., to help fight food insecurity in the U.S. According to its website, the organization has provided more than 100 million meals and kept more than 126 million pounds of excess food out of landfills. They operate as a web-based app, available at app.foodrescue.us. Those interested in volunteering can sign up through that website.

“The Food Rescue US model is unique in that we empower and support individuals who want to launch a food recovery site in their community,” Melissa Spiesman, chief operating officer for Food Rescue US, said in an email. “Our web-based app is the engine that makes our work adaptable and scalable, but it is our team that makes it all possible.”

Foods that can be donated include fresh produce, dairy products, fresh or frozen meats, baked goods, prepackaged foods, dry goods, nonperishables and prepared foods that have not been served.

Ms. Orlando Pietromonaco’s position requires her to find donors, identify agencies where the food will be donated and arranging transport all across the North Fork.

“You’re kind of trying to do that all at the same time and it’s definitely mind-boggling,” she said.

She works with a volunteer that helps with the same routine on the South Fork as well as other volunteers in Huntington that help cover western Suffolk County. She currently has around four active volunteers and a dozen on standby on the North Fork.

There is no physical location where Ms. Orlando Pietromonaco stores the rescued food. With the help of volunteers, food is collected directly from the donors and is taken to local charities or organizations that could use it.

Golden Earthworm Organic Farm in Jamesport is a weekly donor and Schmitt’s Farm Stand on Sound in Riverhead also donates weekly, according to Ms. Orlando Pietromonaco.

Their donations then go to organizations like the Center for Advocacy, Support and Transformation, Greenport’s North Fork Parish Outreach and the North Fork Spanish Apostolate at St. John the Evangelist R.C. Church in Riverhead, to name a few.

Ms. Orlando Pietromonaco’s fight against food insecurity started in the mid-1990s when she worked with Island Harvest, a Long Island-based food bank started in 1992.

“I actually picked up from high schools,” She said. “We picked up from Dunkin’ Donuts, we picked up from markets, restaurants, catering halls, and we would transfer the food to wherever it went.”

As time passed and Island Harvest grew, her obligations changed at the organization, and she began to miss the field work she used to do.

“I got away from the grassroots, boots-on-the-ground stuff that I love, like really getting my hands dirty and taking food and you’re rescuing it,” Ms. Orlando Pietromonaco said. “I really just love that. So, recently, my kids are older, they both just graduated — one from high school, one from college — and I feel like I wanted to get back into something like that again.”

Ms. Orlando Pietromonaco’s goal for the future is to find a central location where poultry farmers can drop off eggs as donations and increase their egg pickups. She would also like to work with more catering halls and restaurants in the area and collect their donations and raise public awareness of the site as much as possible.

“My biggest focus is to rescue as much excess harvest out here as possible from the dozens of farms across the North Fork,” she said. “[I] also would love to home in on other nutritious perishables these farms offer, such as meat and dairy, even seafood from local markets and commercial fishermen and cultivators.”

For more information, visit foodrescue.us/about/how-we-help. To make a monetary donation, visit secure.givelively.org/donate/food-rescue-us.

“Site director Maria [Orlando] Pietromonaco and the Suffolk County volunteers have done incredible work and are already making an impact in the community as they, rescue by rescue, reduce food waste and hunger,” Ms. Spiesman said.

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