Community Solidarity Presentation by Jon Stepanian
“Hunger in this country can be solved - without any additional spending”, said Jon Stepanian, President and CEO of Community Solidarity in his Coffee Hour presentation on Sunday, January 26.
“The answer lies in re-purposing waste, rescuing food that would otherwise be thrown out. Twenty-seven million pounds of food is wasted on Long Island each week, and 185,000 people go hungry. We can feed them 45 times over! We have the solution in the trash can.”
Community Solidarity now give out thousands of pounds of fresh produce each day. What began with one table and a few volunteers at the Hempstead train station has grown into a complex food distribution network with five locations across Long Island, including one in Huntington Station.
“We realized that maybe we don’t want to just offer handouts. Maybe we want to build a community.”
Most of the people Community Solidarity serves are from working, middle class families. The food they receive helps them save about $120-150 per week off their grocery bills. In some cases that means they don’t have to choose between feeding their children or paying the electric bill.
“Every day someone calls our emergency food assistance hotline and begins with an apology..…as if being hungry is their fault or they’ve done something wrong. They always begin with a sense of shame.” Jon says that the opportunity to take part in the work provides a sense of purpose and a network of supportive relationships. They are a part of something. “Slowly the shame washes away.”
“We want to build community for a purpose. Conversations happen during set-ups and clean-ups. We have these small conversations where one person will say to another, ‘What do you need today?’ Every great aspect of our program has occurred because of these one-to one-conversations.
“We believe in awkwardness”, he explained. “It’s one of our principles. We want everyone to feel a little bit uncomfortable.” In those moments, “you kind of have to make social connections. Everyone is on the same playing field, and you start building these bonds.….all kinds of different people in the same space together. It is very family friendly. There are no lines of demarcation. There is something very beautiful when you start building that kind of community.”
Community Solidarity’s mission is to build compassionate communities that can heal themselves. Jon believes that the network of relationships has its own intrinsic value. The social bonds created strengthen both the individual and the community. Community Solidarity’s hope is to use that strength to empower all of us, especially those who have previously had no voice, to find solutions to the underlying causes of poverty and hunger on Long Island.
Jon reiterated that volunteers from St. John’s are welcome at any time. The Huntington Station food share happens every Tuesday night all year round, regardless of weather. Volunteers begin arriving at 7 pm, and food distribution begins at 8 pm. Several parishioners volunteer regularly, but if you would be more comfortable going with a group, Outreach will be organizing small groups periodically. Mary Beth and the confirmation class volunteered last week, and were greatly moved by the experience.
At the close of the presentation, we presented a $1,000 check on behalf of St. John’s Outreach as an expression of our thanks and support for Community Solidarity’s amazing work.
If you are interested in learning more, please contact Laura Swiggett (http://www.communitysolidarity.org., or visit Community Solidarity’s website:
We also commend Jon’s TEDX talk at NYU in 2018. Here’s a link:
~ Laura Swiggett, Outreach Chair