Young adults with autism launch food bank delivery program
The Nicholas Center is launching a food pantry delivery program, Port Provides, Powered by The Nicholas Center. The Nicholas Center, located in Port Washington, is a non-profit dedicated to providing meaningful work and volunteer opportunities for adults with autism who have aged out of school. In addition to supporting young adults with autism, The Nicholas Center is always contributing its time to help the community thrive. The Port Provides program is another way The Nicholas Center can be active in strengthening our community.
Port Provides was created as a COVID-19 response effort by the Port Washington Community Chest (PWCOC) to provide household necessities and food for over 1,400 Port Washington families, children and seniors. The Nicholas Center partnered with the PWCOC to assist in the COVID-19 relief program around July 2020.
After months of quarantine, The Nicholas Center wanted to get back involved with the community. Brook Mellet, The Nicholas Center Program Director in Port Washington, approached the PWCOC and asked how they could help. The Nicholas Center and PWCOC have a strong professional relationship, so the Community Chest welcomed their help during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The PWCOC has a ‘Port Pantry Supply Squad’ that went around to get necessities such as paper towels, toilet paper, dish soap, and hygiene products like toothpaste and toothbrushes. The Supply Squad would then deliver these items to local pantries throughout the community.
“COVID-19 has died down, but the need has remained and grown,” said Lee Anne Vetrone, The Nicholas Center Director of Development.
According to the Health and Welfare Council of Long Island, “the poverty rate on Long Island is the highest it has been in more than 50 years. With approximately 197,000 people living below the national poverty line… [and] 268,000 additional households with incomes… that fall below the budget calculated to account for basic needs here.”
About five months ago, the Community Chest began conversing with The Nicholas Center about passing the program over to their control. The Nicholas Center took the opportunity to take the existing program to continue the work and expand.
“We’re combining the two populations, the in-need in our community with the disabled population who want to work and contribute to their community. It’s a win-win,” said Vetrone.
In a press release from The Nicholas Center, Co-founder and Executive Director of The Nicholas Center Nicole Sugrue explained that “Port Provides brings together Port Washington’s most vulnerable citizens. Our participants, who are all adults on the autism spectrum, are too often isolated from meaningful work and volunteer opportunities. But now, as they secure and deliver vital goods for their neighbors in need, they have developed immense pride in their work and deep connections to people in the community. The idea of raising each other up, with neighbor helping neighbor, is precisely the idea behind The Nicholas Center. There are no better solutions for our biggest challenges than those we find in our own backyards.”
The Port Provides’ team of volunteers procures food, diapers and wipes, feminine products and other household necessities and delivers them weekly to local food pantries and community organizations.
One of the pantries Port Provides will deliver to, The Lutheran Church, is lending The Nicholas Center space in their basement to create the donation bags to deliver.
“We get in all of the supplies and items, then we have to unbox them, and we set them up on tables so we can pack bags in an assembly line formation,” said Mellet. “Everything is laid out and labeled for the participant to pack in the bags. After the bags are packed, we have a spreadsheet that tells us how many bags go to which pantries and we deliver them. We do it all from beginning to end.”
To start, Port Provides delivers to six different local pantries, including (but not limited to) Our Lady of Fatima, The Littig House, the Community Action Council (CAC), St. Peters, The Parent Resource Center (PRC) and The Lutheran Church of Port Washington.
“Once we set up in Port Washington and we’re running like a well-oiled machine, we’d like to expand to neighboring communities because there’s no reason why we can’t do this in places like Great Neck and Manhasset,” said Vetrone.
While some of the young adults with autism at The Nicholas Center work at Spectrum Designs, Spectrum Suds, Spectrum Bakes and other jobs in the community, there is always time to volunteer with Port Provides.
“Everybody gets to work on this program at one point because their schedule switches every day,” said Mellet. “Ideally, everybody gets an opportunity to help out.”
“It’s just a simple program for all our individuals participating,” said Mellet. “They feel a sense of community and connection. Because they are dropping off the donation bags, they directly see what comes from their hard work and get to know the pantry staff.”
“And that’s the whole goal of The Nicholas Center,” added Vetrone.”The individuals we serve are folded into all aspects of life in their community, living and learning and working, and connecting with the people in the community.”
Port Provides is another way the individuals participating in The Nicholas Center are “living the mission,” as Mellet and her co-workers like to say.
Community participation is key in helping this program thrive and serve individuals, families, children and seniors in need. According to a press release from The Nicholas Center, “Port Provides has some items donated, but they purchase a good deal of the products needed, with costs running at approximately $25,000 a month.” Port Provides is seeking grants and other donations to offset the costs of this important program and to ensure that Port Provides for its own.
Port Provides, Powered by The Nicholas Center invites the community to participate by donating to GoFundMe www.gofundme.com/port-provides-powered-by-the-nicholas-center
They welcome mitzvah projects, food drives, and other community efforts to support this work. Please contact Brooke Mellet at 516-767 7177 ext. 412 to arrange deliveries of goods or to make donations other than through the GoFundMe Campaign. The Pantries working with Port Provides stock their pantries with certain necessities and give Port Provides a list of those specific needs. Monetary donations and drives organized in collaboration with Port Provides are the most encouraged way to help. When donating physical goods, remember that diapers in all sizes, wipes, personal care items like toothbrushes and toothpaste and cleaning supplies are the most needed items.
Visit TNCnewyork.org to learn more about The Nicholas Center and Port Provides.