Filling tummies, and hearts, with 2M pounds of love

Fresh approach: By distributing nearly 2 million pounds of locally sourced fruits and vegetables this year, Island Harvest Food Bank is addressing both regional hunger and regional health.
By GREGORY ZELLER //

It’s been a bountiful 2019 for Island Harvest Food Bank, which will ultimately distribute nearly 2 million pounds of locally sourced fruits and vegetables this year to the food insecure.

Representatives of the Brentwood-based anti-hunger crusade welcomed partners from several groups recently to celebrate the fall harvest season. Among those in attendance were corporate sponsors, myriad anti-hunger advocates and representatives of World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, an international organic-farm booster, all uniting to celebrate the total of 1.9 million pounds of fresh produce about 1.6 million meals  Island Harvest will distribute this year.

That haul – gathered from Island Harvest’s 1.8 acres of farmland on the Brentwood grounds of the Sisters of St. Joseph religious order and multiple Giving Gardens, Grow-A-Row Programs and donation efforts – is enough to address the nutritional needs of 300,000 hungry Long Islanders, according to the food bank.

Citing a U.S. Department of Agriculture study that uncovers a link between food insecurity and chronic health problems, Island Harvest Food Bank President and CEO Randi Shubin Dresner said the 2019 harvest would go a long way toward addressing health issues such as diabetes, heart disease and hypertension in lower-income communities.

Tractor pull: Randi Shubin Dressner (at wheel) and friends are the driving force behind Island Harvest’s success.

“Most often, assistance for people who are food-insecure is short-term in nature and lacks fresh, healthy food,” Dresner noted. “Promoting healthier eating habits through our nutrition-education programs and reducing nutritional deficiencies by offering healthier food choices will eventually lead to better health for people struggling with hunger and food insecurity.”

Supervised by a certified organic gardener, Island Harvest’s Island-wide growing initiative includes beans, blueberries, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, corn, cucumbers, eggplants, okra, peppers, potatoes, pumpkins, radishes, rutabagas, squash, tomatillos, tomatoes, turnips, watermelon and zucchini, along with a number of fresh herbs.

Individual volunteers and representatives of several regional companies – including PSEG Long Island, Lessings, Richner Communications and Northwell Health, among others – lend a hand with the farming, as do unpaid helpers from around the world: This year, organic-farming volunteers from Australia, France, Germany, Israel and Kenya pitched in on the Brentwood farm, according to Island Harvest.

With generous help from across the country and around the globe, Island Harvest has grown into one of the state’s largest farm-to-food bank programs, noted Douglas Nadjari, chairman of Island Harvest’s Board of Directors.

“Island Harvest Food Bank is at the vanguard of change in food banking,” Nadjari said in a statement. “We could not put this good food on the table without the zeal and hard work of our volunteers from all corners of Long Island, and now from around the world.

“We reap what they sow,” he added. “And their labor brings a bountiful harvest to neighbors struggling with hunger.”