Long Island Cares and the Harry Chapin Food Bank

It turns out the Long Island Cares Harry Chapin Food Bank is about more than just food.

Founded in 1980 by Harry Chapin with a budget of $75,000 and a land grant from the state, its main goal was simple: eradicate hunger on Long Island.

Photo by Steve Stout

Photo by Steve Stout

At the time, there were 40,000 people on Long Island in need of the services he was trying to provide, specifically the establishment of a food bank where there was none. Thirty-three years later, Long Island Cares operates out of a 35,000-square-foot building, including a 25,000-square-foot warehouse, and serves over 300,000 people. They run two outposts in Freeport and Lindenhurst and employ a staff of 42 people. That $75,000 budget? It’s now $13.5 million.

In addition to their pantry services, Long Island Cares offers job training and placement; mobile pantries for disabled or elderly clients; outreach to the homeless; services for veterans, including food, information and referral services; and a pet pantry (one of the few food banks in the country that has one, in fact). In everything they do, Long Island Cares thinks about community, and humanity, first.

What’s next for Long Island Cares? They are particularly excited about the introduction of their new training kitchen. Even the staff is getting involved by contributing their own recipes for items found in the First Stop pantry. Of course, the training kitchen is also open to staff who just want to cook their own lunch. The one rule of thumb? That they share with their officemates. Given that this is Long Island Cares, that sounds just about right.

 

HARRY CHAPIN’S LONG ISLAND LEGACY

It’s unclear whether Harry Chapin is better known for his successful music career, which included the number one hit “Cat’s in the Cradle” or his humanitarian work. What is plainly obvious, though, is that he left a lasting legacy on his native Long Island.

“There’s a connection between the community and Harry Chapin. When we pull into a community with our trucks, there is always the Harry Chapin story, says Paule Pachter, director of Long Island Cares. Where they saw him, where they met him, what record they had. It’s like a magnet.”

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Born in 1942 in New York City, Harry and his brothers were inspired by folk singers like the Weavers and Woody Guthrie. “Part of the power and charm for us was that these were great musicians and writers who sang about the real world. They also set a standard of using their talents to inspire, inform, raise awareness…to hopefully build a better world. We have followed that path, almost as if they had willed us to,” says Harry’s brother, Tom Chapin.

Harry’s daughter, Jen Chapin, herself a singer-songwriter and activist, says it was difficult to separate his activism from his music. “He was nakedly candid that he wanted his life to matter,” she says.

She shares a memory of her father, tireless and in need of activity, bustling about the kitchen, “Sometimes my dad would cook a massive omelet incorporating whatever leftover vegetables or Chinese takeout that might be laying around in the fridge. It was famously known as “barnyard goulash.”

Harry Chapin was killed in a car crash on the Long Island Expressway in 1981, a tragedy that seems burned into the collective memory of an entire generation of Long Islanders. When asked what he would most want people to remember about his brother, Tom Chapin, says, “Harry was the most can-do guy I ever met. Generous, unafraid, indefatigable. That was Harry.”

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