People Loving People began in November 2019 as a project that would provide for senior citizens at a local community center.
But little did the volunteers at People Loving People know, their project would become a lifeline to hundreds of people and families during the pandemic, a time where many had lost their jobs and suffered mental and physical illness. It was also a time that families adjusted to children studying at home and parents working from home.
To this day, many rely on their food pantry, the People’s Pantry, which operates at 123 Audrey Ave. in Oyster Bay on Wednesdays 3 to 6 p.m. and Fridays 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. Among the goals of the pantry is to provide a shopping experience for those that use it, as the clients enjoy seeing and touching the produce before taking it home. The pantry offers fresh meat, dairy, produce, personal care items and other personal care items.
But People Loving People goes beyond meeting nutritional needs, especially as the children begin returning to school.
“We started as a food pantry, but we realized there was more of a need in the community than just food,” said Donna Galgano, one of the founders of People Loving People. “In order to try to get to the root of the problem with the food insecurity, we always felt that it’s great to hand out food, but how do we help these families get a better life?”
The not-for-profit held a back to school supply drive through Aug. 26 to provide children with what they need for an educational school year.
“We were able to supply every child who registered through the pantry, I think it was 94 children with backpacks and school supplies,” said Galgano. “So that helps alleviate the burden for the families.”
And even beyond supplies, People Loving People provides assistance through the Homework Helpers Club after school on Tuesdays and Thursdays for children in grades kindergarten through fifth grade.
“We’re able to have the kids come with peer mentors, who are kids in the highschool from not just Oyster Bay; but Locust Valley, Friends Academy, Portledge, Eastwoods,” Galgano said. “And those older kids help the younger kids with their homework, because unfortunately these kids don’t necessarily do well in school, we’ve heard from social workers, because of the language barrier with the parents, who don’t speak English. These kids can’t get the help they need. They can’t afford teachers.”
Unfortunately without help, it is more likely for a child to barely get through school and not succeed in their classes, which can ultimately lead to not being able to attend college or other secondary education programs.
“The peer mentors are a great role model and example for smart kids who are good kids, and these little kids bonded so well with these kids,” Galgano said. “Plus these kids’ grades were just tremendous. We give them a little bit of an incentive with prizes, rewards and honors that they would not normally get in school for their best average. It’s really just them competing with themselves, not others.”
Two teacher aides run the classroom and one of them is fluent in Spanish.
“They have a snack, they do the homework, they meet with the homework helpers and then they play a game if there’s still time,” Galgano said. “All great. All free for the families.”
For the children’s parents who are Spanish speakers, People Loving People provides an English as a Second Language class during the Homework Helpers Club hours.
“That’s going to change things for them,” Galgano said. “It’s going to allow them better jobs, better communication with an immigration attorney. So many things are a barrier to just getting out of this cycle of poverty.”
People Loving People also runs a free health clinic.
“I’m a nurse practitioner by trade,” Galgano said. “The clinic is always open when someone reaches out. I can meet with someone privately and see what I can do for them. It’s kind of like a walk-in clinic but you don’t have to pay. We were able to vaccinate almost 154 people for Covid and give boosters, and now I’ll have the new boosters coming in a week.”
But People Loving People does even more than just meet physical and educational needs, it provides people with what they need and want in their own homes and personal lives, like scholarships to programs like the Boys & Girls Club of Oyster Bay-East Norwich.
“We have a Spanish speaking gentleman who volunteers and he speaks to every family as they come in to shop,” Galgano said. “I have an ongoing list of people who need an air conditioner, people that need a job, people that need a dresser, a stove, a fridge, a T.V. I just work little by little on this list. I go on Facebook Marketplace and buy stuff that seems reasonable… I just bought a broiler for someone who doesn’t have a stove and they have three kids.”
What’s important to People Loving People is treating these families and people who have come to them for help with dignity and respect.
“I did not want to be a food pantry where people line up, we give them a bag and they leave,” Galgano said. “It’s treating them with dignity.”
And Galgano hopes that People Loving People can be a not-for-profit that doesn’t just put a band-aid over the issue, but one that can help break the cycle of poverty for many families.
An Increased Use Of Pantries In Nassau County
On Sept. 1, Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman announced an increased percentage of Nassau County residents relying on food banks.
“We just came out of two years of darkness all throughout the world with the coronavirus pandemic,” said Blakeman. “A time when many people lost their job, many people were confined to their homes, many people had no way to feed themselves. You have organizations like Long Island Cares that really stepped up to the plate. They entered into partnerships with the private sector and the public sector and literally fed millions of people here on Long Island.”
The county saw long lines for food offered by pantries.
“When people are willing to wait 30 minutes in their car for food, they really need it,” Blakeman said.
People Loving People has seen the trend itself.
“We used to be serving on Wednesdays maybe 80, or sometimes 60,” Galgano said. “We are serving 105 families on Wednesday and another 50 on Friday. Aside from the pandemic, this is the most we’ve served, which makes it hard because we have to buy food we don’t get. We have to buy eggs and milk. Eggs are so expensive. We buy it every week and make sure we have it and we take whatever we can get from the food banks and a lot of local donations.”
Serving residents in Oyster Bay and surrounding communities, People Loving People can certainly use the community’s help. Dropping off food and offering to volunteer are great ways to serve those who rely on People Loving People.
To learn more, visit peoplelovingpeople.net.