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Long lines form for emergency food in Long Beach after halt in state program

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They stood along Center Street in Long Beach as crisp wind blew off Reynolds Channel on Friday morning. Some walked arm-in-arm the few blocks from their apartments in a housing project to get there on time. Others came with the aid of a cane, and still others in wheelchairs.

These people, most of them seniors and all of them living on low-incomes, had come for what many people in this county assume is always just there - food.

But not necessarily so for the people who waited on line behind a delivery truck parked a few yards away from the Long Beach Housing Authority’s main office. Stop & Shop, partnered with Long Island Cares Inc., had stepped up in an emergency situation to provide five tons of food that will go to 30 destinations on Long Island in the next few days. On Friday, it was Long Beach’s turn for deliveries.

The deliveries were made necessary after Catholic Charities, which had been providing food for the needy on the Island for 25 years, was forced to bow out of the Commodity Food Supplement Program, administered by the New York State Health Department. The Health Department had significantly changed the terms of its contracts with food providers, and Catholic Charities said it would not meet the new, more arduous requirements.

But Long Island Cares and another provider each received $50,000 grants from the state to provide food for the needy; however, contracts with those providers end March 31. State Health, Long Island Cares and State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, a Long Beach Democrat, are working to develop a long-term solution to allow for food delivers. But at the moment, no one knows what will happen to the program.

Kaminsky was handing out food packages that he took from the rear of the Stop & Shop truck. “I’m optimistic we can come up with a solution with the state” for long-term delivery services,” he said.

Long Beach City Councilwoman Liz Treston watched the activity. “Absolutely nobody should be hungry,” Treston said. She said the city of Long Beach would do what it could to facilitate discussions between the state and potential food providers like Long Island Cares or others.

Stefanie Shuman, a spokeswoman for Stop & Shop, said the giant food retailer learned of the food problem in the media and contacted Long Island Cares, its partner in philanthropic causes. “We asked how can we help,” she said.

Barbara Bussey, 77, helped bring the food issue to light by contacting local legislators and the media. She stood watching the line as it moved slowly along Center Street.

“I’m happy,” Bussey said. “I’m very pleased.” But, she wondered, how would food get delivered to people who cannot get out of their houses. No one had an immediate answer to her question.

But Dr. Jessica Rosati, chief program officer for Long Island Cares, said the organization would be making food deliveries in Long Beach and elsewhere next month, and hopes to have a long-term solution after that.

People waited for bags containing oatmeal, spaghetti, canned salmon, rice, canned fruit, chicken, beef, canned soup and beans, enough for a minimum of three days, providers said.

“I came because I’m on a limited income,” said Georgia Krakowski, 77, who shivered in the gusts blowing up the streets. She said she had been receiving food at a Catholic Charities office in Freeport, but that office had closed down. “But,” Krakowsi said, “I have been managing.” The extra food, she said, will help allow her to pay her rent and insurance costs.

Cynthia Beatty, 58, was among those who find it hard to get out. “It’s very hard because I’m confined to a wheelchair and I’m on oxygen,” she said. “This,” she said of the food delivery “is very helpful.”