199 Second Street, Mineola
Phone: (516) 294-8528
Phone: (631) 831-5388
Fax: (516) 747-6843
Randi Dresner, President and CEO
It began with a cooler, a station wagon, a woman who was angered at what she saw in her community and her desire to change that for good.
Island Harvest was created in 1992 by Linda Breitstone, after seeing food from a local convenience store being thrown away at the end of the day, while a soup kitchen sat down the street. From that point on, Island Harvest has focused on its mission to end hunger and reduce food waste on Long Island.
“When people realize how much hunger there is on Long Island, they just want to help,” says Randi Dresner, who has been with Island Harvest since 2001 and is currently its president and CEO.
Over the past decade, Island Harvest has grown to become the largest hunger relief program on Long Island.
“All the food that is donated in a community, is used within that community,” says Dresner.
Despite the sinking economy, through Dresner’s leadership the organization has seen an increase of more than 130 percent in revenues. Collection and delivery of donated food has also increased from 2.5 million pounds to 6.2 million annually.
“I am very proud,” says Dresner. “I’m proud of what I’ve been able to give to the organization and what I’ve been able to get back from the organization.”
For Dresner, this is not just a regular job, it’s a way of life.
This was made clear to her when she first began working at Island Harvest. It was a Sunday and Dresner was out shopping with her son who was 4 years old at the time. Dresner says even at such a young age he understood the purpose of Island Harvest and what it was working toward.
“We got out of the car and he said, ‘Hold on, Mommy. Stop! You’re not working today, aren’t people hungry?’” says Dresner.
The incident made the importance of this organization and the impact that it has on the Long Island community, in not only feeding people in need but educating Long Islanders on the issue of hunger, much more apparent.
Today, staff and volunteers of Island Harvest collect millions of pounds of surplus food from more than 800 commercial donors. This food is delivered to more than 570 Long Island-based food pantries, soup kitchens and other non-profit organizations that supply food to those in need.
During these hard economic times, however, food donations are low.
“It has been very difficult to get food donations,” says Dresner. “In this kind of economy, many food donors are trying to make sure that they do not have an excess of food products.”
Island Harvest has started several programs to tackle hunger in targeted and strategic ways. The Weekend Backpack Feeding program is just one of these programs that ensures children who rely on school breakfasts and lunches through the school week get a solid meal over the weekend.
Dresner says a goal for this coming year is to help senior citizens who cannot get to food pantries and other organizations where meals are offered.
Right now Island Harvest is gearing up for its busiest time of year. During the fall season into the winter is when people think most about hunger on Long Island, and Island Harvest is looking forward to working with the community to collect turkey, cans of food and anything else they can get.
This September, in honor of Hunger Action Month, Island Harvest is working with the Long Island Rail Road and Long Island Cares to collect food donations from commuters. Each Wednesday in September, volunteers of Island Harvest will be at select stations between 5 a.m. and noon. The 11 stations that are participating are Hicksville, Huntington, Long Beach, Manhasset, Massapequa, Mineola, Port Jefferson, Rockville Centre, Ronkonkoma, Syosset and Valley Stream.
There are many opportunities for LIers to help the organization and aid in hunger relief in our communities. Food donations are taken year round and people are encouraged to host their own food drives.
Volunteers are the backbone to Island Harvest, with several different positions available ranging from drivers to spokespeople to recruit businesses to donate food.
For more information or to fill out a volunteer application form, go to Island Harvest’s website or call 516-294-8528 or 631-831-5388.