As the busy holiday season gets underway, the headquarters and kitchen of an East Farmingdale hunger relief charity was destroyed Sunday in a fire that Suffolk police said appeared to be intentionally set.
Witnesses describe a heartbreaking scene: the stench of smoke filled the offices. Water poured from a huge hole in the ceiling. Burned cups and cans covered the floor. Rotting food filled six freezers.
"The whole kitchen is pretty shot," lamented Diane Dunne, who bowed her head in despair as she scanned the burnt remains of her life's work as founder of the Farmingdale food pantry known as Hope for the Future Ministries.
"And all right after we stocked all our shelves for Thanksgiving."
Dunne and others came to assess the damage this day after a fire that ripped through the building that has been a source of food and help for the needy for close to two decades.
Suffolk county police believe the fire was set deliberately. So far, there have been no arrests in the case.
"Our clients are in tears," said volunteer board member Deborah Mitchell. The food pantry serves about a hundred thousand meals a year and also provides toys to children around Christmas. A number of such gifts were also destroyed in the fire.
"It was a very vicious, cruel, premeditated act and I pity anybody that could do this," said Dunne, who believes her insurance won't be able to cover all the losses.
She doesn't know who might have targeted her but insists it was someone familiar with her operation.
"Hopefully, we'll recover," she added.
"Hopefully we'll make it back."
Help is on the way. Food and other aid is expected to be provided by Stop and Shop and the food bank, Island Harvest tomorrow. In addition, business neighbors and strangers came forward offering everything from office space to cash.
Every dollar or can will be needed, both at Hope for the Future Ministries and at food pantries and soup kitchens across the tri-state area.
Island Harvest president Randi Shubin Dresner estimates that the 600 entities supplied by her food bank will need in excess of 25-000 turkeys to meet the rising demand this Thanksgiving.
"That's a thirty percent increase from just a year ago," Shubin Dresner adds.
"The need is the greatest we have ever seen. Workers at soup kitchens are telling us they are seeing people show up for help in business suits and ties. It's that bad."
Shubin Dresner urges New Yorkers who can help to visit Island Harvest's website to donate needed food or cash.
Last week, one man wrote the food bank a check for $5000.