By Sophia Ricco and Briana Panetta
With the goal of feeding some 500 Long Islanders by donating 100 Thanksgiving food baskets, The Helping Hands Foundation, Adventureland’s charity organization, is hosting their 2nd annual Fall food drive until the end of October.
The organization will be accepting non-perishable food donations on weekends all throughout this month. At the end of the drive they will donate their proceeds to the Long Island Harvest Food Pantry and The Town of Babylon Food Pantry. The effort aims at providing support to the 10% of Long Island’s population suffering from hunger, some 300,000 people.
“Our goal of the foundation is to kind of encompass everything that Tony Gentile was all about,” Jeanine Gentile, granddaughter of Tony Gentile and board member of The Helping Hands Foundation said.
The Helping Hands Foundation was created in 2013 to honor Tony Gentile, one of Adventureland’s founders. The organization claims on its website that it wants to help Long Island reach its potential.
Long Island’s official poverty rate is at its highest level since 1959, with 6.7 percent of Long Islanders falling below the federal poverty line, according to a study by the Long Island Association.
In 2012, the town of Babylon Food Pantry was desperate for donations.
“In these tough economic times more and more families in our community are having difficulty making ends meet,” said officials in a press release on the Town’s website. “Please help put food on their table.” The issue of hunger on Long Island has escalated over the years.
The amusement park, which is native to Farmingdale, uses it’s kid- friendly thrill rides and popularity of fun and games as a way to drive in customers to help address a serious issue that plagues not only Long Island but all different parts of the nation.
“The great thing about Adventureland is that it is such a big platform to really get our message across and reach other people in the community because we have been here for 55 years,” Caitlin Didalafani, Manager at Adventureland said.
Moe’s, a popular southwest grill chain, is also getting involved by offering two dollars of Moe’s bucks as incentive to anyone who donates food to the Helping Hands Foundation.
“Everyone who works at the Moe’s on Long Island, we all live here,” Melissa Lewando Moe’s Local Marketing Manager said. “We are a part of the community and we should give back to where we live.”
A large group in Long Island that depends on the food banks for assistance is the “working poor”, which was reported to make up 48% of those who receive food assistance. The “working poor” is described as a household that has at least one employed adult that may not necessarily be below the poverty line, yet still cannot afford to buy food.
“This is likely a continual impact of the recession, changes to the economy, changing demographics, and rising home prices,” Dr. Jennifer Rogers-Brown, Associate Professor of Sociology at LIU Post said.
Many report having to choose between paying for rent and utilities or for food.
“When you talk about the poverty rate, the federal government has a figure, it’s about $22,700, for a family of four to be considered living in poverty,” Paule Patcher, CEO of Long Island Cares Inc. said. “But we all know that on Long Island, one person can’t live any kind of quality life just earning $22,700.”
Several workers at The Helping Hands Foundation say they hope to continue the tradition of having an annual food drive around Thanksgiving to support families who cannot afford to put food on the table. However, food banks emphasis the constant need for donations.
“Hunger is a year round issue,” Don Miller, Spokesman for Island Harvest Food Bank said. “People tend to be more generous and giving around the holidays and we greatly appreciate that but if a family is hungry in November and December, chances are they’re also hungry in April, June, and September.”