A Long Island Food Not Bombs “Food Share.” Photo courtesy of Long Island Food Not Bombs.
Imagine a place on Long Island where people exchange vegetarian food, clothing, toys, and household essentials. Local residents take what they need and give what they can. This is the philosophy of Long Island Food Not Bombs, an organization that operates five such locations, called food shares, weekly on Long Island, and one in Brooklyn.
Food Not Bombs is a world-wide food distribution program. Though Long Island has had Food Not Bombs chapters in the past, the current chapter was founded in 2006 by Alex Witcowski and Jon Stepanian, also known as JonSTeps. The program welcomes volunteers to help with driving, cooking, food share setup, and outreach.
Long Term Community Solutions for Long Island Hunger and Poverty
“We don’t want to be a charity… someone coming into the community and giving out band-aids. We want to build up the community… and help other people pull themselves out of poverty,” said JonSTeps. He explained that as a decentralized, grass roots organization, Long Island Food Not Bombs aims to provide healthy long term solutions. This differs from standard Long Island food pantries, where the main goal is to provide short term assistance.
Long Island Food Share, Not Food Pantry, Locations
Long Island Food Not Bombs has weekly food shares located in Hempstead, Coram, Huntington, Farmingville, and Wyandanch, with an additional Brooklyn food share in Bedford-Stuyvesant. According to the website, Long Island Food Not Bombs uses food that would otherwise be thrown away or wasted, such as restaurant leftovers or groceries that have passed their sell-by dates. Other food supplies come from farmers or individuals. Volunteers even collect food from fruit trees on sidewalks. “Food is a right and not a privilege,” the website states.
Entirely volunteer-driven, Long Island Food Not Bombs handles hundreds of pickups and tens of thousands of pounds of materials, according to the website. Individuals coming to a food share can leave with several bags of vegetarian groceries.
People who attend a food share can bring gardening supplies or produce, clothing, toys, toiletries, literature, and other things to share. They can move among the tables of goods, choosing what they need. While there, they can eat a hot, healthy vegan meal and sometimes enjoy a festive atmosphere. “We’ve had days where it looks like a carnival is going on, and other days are more relaxed. It’s always different,” JonSTeps said. He added that artists, musicians, and entertainers are always welcome to add their touch to these community events.
Last year’s Long Island Food Not Bombs events included multiple Thanksgiving food shares and a toy drive.
“I think it’s a beautiful thing. More of this should happen, not only because of Superstorm Sandy, but every day, this should go on,” said one Hempstead food share participant in a video. “It was definitely the largest vegan Thanksgiving in the world, that’s for sure,” added another.
Outreach: Obtaining Food and Supplies
Volunteers regularly and simultaneously reach out to local businesses, corporations, and their employees here on Long Island. For JonSTeps and the other volunteers, the outreach is about building lasting relationships, and not at all about money. “We take in very little cash, and yet, we have to pay so much money in compliance to New York State. Most of the fundraising is just to pay for those expenses,” he explained. For fundraising and donations, Long Island Food Not Bombs works with sister nonprofit Community Solidarity, Inc.
Nothing Goes to Waste
For JonSTeps, part of the food share experience is the knowledge that what you bring will be used. Unused contributions are rare, and volunteers bring them to people and organizations that can use them. “We want people to see the results of their personal actions,” he said.
Neighbors Helping Neighbors
A majority of food share participants are regulars, and the volunteers at Long Island Food Not Bombs strive to create a social community. “A lot of people don’t really know their neighbors… When something happens to them, they don’t really have a social safety net,” JonSTeps said.
For more information, including a supply wish list and volunteer opportunities, visit the Long Island Food Not Bombs website.