BELLPORT, N.Y. - Martha, of East Patchogue, New York, calls Lighthouse Mission her second home.
"It's a struggle. It goes day by day," she said. "We went from having everything to nothing overnight."
The single mother of two fell on tough times in 2005. Drug abuse led to a painful divorce and she lost her home soon after. Her eldest son is on the autism spectrum. She has a Ph.D. in counseling but has been out of work for nearly a decade. Caring for her children has become her priority.
"I've gone to sleep hungry so that my kids can eat, many times," Martha said.
Martha visits the mobile food pantry at Lighthouse Mission to pick up food for her family and to help out. Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, she has been volunteering four to five days a week to sort food and pack the trucks. She then takes home a modest amount of food for her family.
"It's hard going home and not having anything to eat and telling your kids there's nothing to eat," she said. "It's either gas or food."
The holiday season is typically the busiest time of year but donations are down and the need is way up. Lighthouse Mission, based in Bellport, relies solely on donations and funding from the community. The mission needs food, gently used clothes, and even volunteers if people have extra time.
Pastor Jim Ryan knows what growing up poor and going to bed hungry is like. Lighthouse Mission helped over 9,800 people in November alone, he said. Many Long Islanders are on the receiving end for the first time because of the pandemic.
"We've never seen anything like this before. Whether they're losing their jobs, forced to quarantine and they just can't earn a living doing that," he said. "It's causing them to be in financial distress, which is pushing people to food distribution locations like Lighthouse Mission in a way we've never seen."
But Pastor Jim and his team are committed to keeping the community fed not just during the holidays but all year long. People like Martha are relying on him.
"Don't give up," Martha said. "There's hope. There's always hope."
You can donate to Lighthouse Mission here.
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