Rise Life Services: On a Mission to Bring Essential Food to the Homebound (Dan’s Papers Feature)

It’s sometimes difficult to see, through the glare of opulence on the East End, that there are people with food insecurity living among us, weaved between the hedges in the Hamptons, hidden in plain sight on the charming North Fork. But while many of us are trying to decide between fine Italian and a prime steak establishment, others are wondering if there will be anything for dinner at all.

RISE Life Services, a nonprofit based in Riverhead servicing the developmentally disabled, made it their mission to help combat food insecurity in our community and rolled out a food pantry eight years ago. The 100% donation-based Main Street Market food pantry operates like a grocery store, where community members can come in and pick their own non-perishables, meats, dairy and produce. RISE receives their donations from Island Harvest, local farmers, their own greenhouse and the community’s generosity.

The pantry services around 350 families per week — about a 300% increase in visitors per month compared to last year due to rising food prices, as well as the pandemic forcing the closure of several local pantries. They also deliver food to 30 families in the area who cannot make it to the food pantry due to health issues or lack of transportation.

However, there are more than 30 households, including seniors and the disabled, who do not have the means to access the food pantry in Riverhead. The solution? A mobile food unit that would deliver much-needed nutritious food to the homebound and those most vulnerable.

“Our goal is to have two refrigerated food trucks,” says Charles Evdos, executive director of RISE Life Services. “There are people who can’t get to Riverhead. We need to get to them. Refrigerated trucks mean healthier food options for the people we serve. … This includes milk, vegetables and fruit. Our mobile pantry covers the entire East End, from Riverhead to Orient on the North Fork, and the whole South Fork out to Montauk.”

RISE Life Services was established in 1980 as Aid to the Developmentally Disabled (ADD) by a core group of family members who were concerned about the welfare of patients forced to live in crowded institutions, believing their physical and mental health would decline in such conditions.

This group rallied for an initiative that would provide appropriate treatment and education in a sheltered, comforting environment. The foundation of ADD was made possible through the support and funding of New York State’s Office of People with Developmental Disabilities and the Office of Mental Health.

RISE opened their first residential program in March 1984 in Riverhead, meeting initial success and quickly expanding into a multi-service organization providing residential programs, supported apartments, clinical supports and case management services for the developmentally disabled and mentally ill. In 2018 ADD was rebranded to RISE Life Services, which aligned with their current scope of services they now provide. Today RISE operates 32 homes and several different programs and services throughout Long Island.

“The individuals who attend the RISE community-based prevocational are the supporters needed to run the pantry,” says JoAnn Vitale, day program director at RISE. “They go to Hauppauge each week to pick up donations and stock the pantry. The individuals also deliver food to 30 or more families each Thursday and Friday to people who are ill, elderly and/or unable to come to the pantry. There are various farms that donate through Long Island Cares and Island Harvest.”

She continues, “The food pantry not only serves the community and is completely funded by RISE with help from donations and fundraising, but it services as a stepping stone for individuals with disabilities to learn valuable work skills, as well as social interactions by being involved in the community.”

In order to attain their goal of two refrigerated food trucks, RISE needs to raise $85,000.

They have several fundraising efforts planned in the coming months, one being a fun family event on Sunday, June 9 at the RISE Life Services Sensory Garden in Riverhead. Festivities for the day include a Rubber Duck Race, food trucks, live music, craft vendors, face painting, raffles and more.

RISE is currently accepting food donations at their pantry, as well as monetary donations to help fund their Mobile Food Pantry goal. Visit riselifeservices.org to see how you can help make life better for those in need in our Long Island community.

The RISE Main Street Food Pantry is open every Wednesday from 9 a.m.–1 p.m. and is located at 901 East Main Street, Suite 508, Riverhead. All are welcome.

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