Twenty-six years ago, seven churches put aside their differences to help those in need. Today, the Smithtown Food Pantry remains a cornerstone of the community, a shining representation of the Smithtown spirit.
"It's the most amazing thing seeing this community unite to help each other," said Pat Wetlake, the executive coordinator of the food pantry.
The pantry, which is located in the parish house of the St. Thomas of Canterbury Church, began after the Smithhaven soup kitchen closed. The churches recognized a void and decided to start their own pantry, which is stocked solely by donations, not from any government grant or larger charity.
Today, the founding churches - the Byzantine Church of the Resurrection, First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown, Smithtown United Methodist Church, St. Andrew's Lutheran Church, St. James Episcopal Church, St. Thomas of Canterbury Episcopal Church and St. James Lutheran Church - still staff the pantry for month-long intervals on a rotating basis.
According to Wetlake, the pantry has become more of a community necessity than ever before in this difficult economic time.
"In the past year alone, we've seen 50 percent more people come in asking for donations," she said. "It's been getting more and more utilized."
This July, 115 families (which equates into about 429 individual people) visited the pantry. Five years ago, only 46 families visited in that same time period. Last week alone, the pantry served 30 families.
"You can't assume everyone has been able to maintain a high income here," said Ken Misa, a Smithtown resident who volunteers at the pantry with his wife Linda. "The people we serve here really run the economic gamut."
Last September, following American's year of financial trials, the pantry's shelves were near empty. But Wetlake had faith Smithtown would step in.
"We started a major campaign asking for donations and the response we got was tremendous," she said. "They took care of us."
By Thanksgiving the shelves were stocked again, thanks to efforts from the school district, the senior center, the town service clubs and Smithtown individuals. The pantry was able to give away 68 turkey dinners, with 25 extra turkeys to spare in the freezer.
"Smithtown was exceedingly generous," Wetlake recalled.
The shelter recently received a donation of school supplies and is giving those out to families who come in, in addition to both frozen and canned food products.
The staff of the pantry represents all age groups and faith denominations but all share a similar positive sentiment about the pantry.
"I've liked helping out and giving back," said 15-year-old Jason Trutnik, who is currently working at the food pantry to earn his Eagle Scout merit badge.
"It feels good to help people in the community," volunteer Bob Scott said. "It feels really good to be here."
Donations are always being accepted. To find out how to donate and help the pantry fund and install a new freezer, please visit our announcements page.