The Long Island Council of Churches (LICC) is the coordinating body for the ecumenical work of churches throughout Nassau and Suffolk Counties. For over five decades the LICC has been an effective center for the coordination, referral and assistance for low-to-moderate income Long Islanders. Through our extensive network of social support resources and our ability to mobilize the volunteer and advocacy efforts of nearly 800 faith communities, the LICC is uniquely qualified to respond to the emergency needs of the least fortunate throughout our region.
The Long Island Council of Churches, a not-for-profit 501 (c) (3) organization, is our region’s largest ecumenical and interfaith organization uniting people of diverse faiths to serve Long Islanders in need. We also include people from eleven different religions in our interfaith educational programs that promote greater understanding among people from all faith communities. We serve people in need without regard to their religious, cultural, or racial background.
Our office is located Freeport. Our professional staff works with volunteer leaders to implement programs and activities that assist the poor, needy and powerless in our region from all walks of life. Each year we serve approximately 34,000 individuals and families in crisis with emergency food and essential social services such as housing, utilities, heat, transportation, prescriptions, financial assistance and education, and interfaith education to promote religious tolerance. Ninety-nine percent of the guests we serve are poor.
We partner with several hundred houses of worship and more than 50 public and private health and social service agencies throughout Long Island to provide the following social service and educational programs:
1. We provide emergency food through our food pantry in Freeport. Last year we over provided 275,841 meals to 30,649 hungry Long Islanders.
2. We delivered Thanksgiving and Christmas food baskets to 596 families and Christmas toys to 206 families last year.
3. We provided housing assistance to 21 households and helped another 18 households pay for fuel, gas, and electricity for their homes. We also distributed coats, sweaters, clothing, and household items to more than 30,000 needy individuals.
4. We assisted over 33 Neighbors (guests) with transportation so they could get to work, job interviews, and doctors’ appointments. If we had additional funding, we could have helped several hundred more.
5. We support two part-time chaplains who provide pastoral care in the Nassau County Correction Center. Last year our chaplains served 1,500 inmates and their families at the Nassau County Jail. Chaplaincy assistance included worship services, family crisis intervention, one-on-one chaplaincy, and other support and assistance.
6. Our Multi-Faith Forum educational programs build bridges of understanding among the ever more diverse faith traditions on Long Island by lending interfaith education teams to local churches, synagogues, mosques, schools, civic groups and workplaces. Building Bridges programs to promote religious tolerance typically draw from 25 to 150, while Multi-Faith Festivals each draw between 1,100 and 1,500.
7. We provide financial assistance to help prevent homelessness, and devote major efforts to foreclosure counseling and prevention through our social service programs. Additionally we offer pre- and post-purchase budgeting and financial management education through financial education/predatory lending prevention workshops. These workshops for low to moderate income individuals and families are held in local churches, synagogues, mosques and other houses of worship, and in senior citizen centers throughout Nassau and Suffolk Counties. We also assist congregations with financing of energy conservation improvements in their houses of worship.
A staff of dedicated full-time and part-time clergy and laypeople operate these programs. The Long Island Council of Churches is governed by an Administrative Board comprised of local clergy and lay denominational representatives.
EMERGENCY FOOD PROGRAMS
We provide emergency food to individuals and families in crisis through our food center in Freeport. The Neighbors we assist come to us from the County’s Department of Social Services, houses of worship, partner health and social service agencies, people we’ve already helped, and walk-ins. No one in need is turned away.
Every three years Long Island Cares and Island Harvest commission and publish a report on hunger in our region. Their latest publication, Hunger in America 2010 focusing on Long Island, revealed that soon after the Great Recession hit our area, emergency food centers, pantries and soup kitchens were serving an estimated 283,700 individuals annually, a 21% increase from the 224,123 recorded in their previous survey. The 2010 report said the actual numbers could be as high as 383,200 a year.
Ninety-nine percent of the people we serve have household incomes at or below poverty level. They are single Moms raising children alone, adult men working at minimum wage trying to feed their families and pay the rent, families where a breadwinner is incarcerated or disabled and cannot work, and seniors, an increasing number of whom are raising their grandchildren. Many of our guests have special dietary needs that aren’t typically filled by food donations.
All of our Neighbors are food insecure. “Food insecure” means individuals and families cannot obtain food legally except from us through our hunger alleviation programs. As our Freeport Emergency Food Center manager noted, “Without our food assistance, they will either steal food and risk going to jail or die of starvation.”
The hungry guests we feed are faced with the stark choice of feeding their families or paying the rent, or between feeding their families and paying their utilities and/or buying their child’s prescriptions. Their initial request is usually for food assistance, though other essential social services almost invariably accompany this request because they are all interrelated. Even with our diminished resources because of cuts in government funding, we are still serving over 3,000 per month through our emergency food center in Nassau County.
When we give our Neighbors nutritious food, they can use the money they would otherwise have spent on food to pay their rent/mortgage, utilities, transportation so they can get to work, etc., which reduces their food insecurity and keeps them in their homes. The food we give improves their health because now they can feed their families and also pay for their medications. Children who are fed the nutritional food we provide are better equipped to learn in school, and their health and self-esteem are improved. Our assistance also buys the family time to access additional resources.