Hundred of Long Islanders found their way to a line outside the doors of the Suffolk County office buildings in Hauppauge on Monday night, many not sure what to expect. Each stumbled in, looked around and was greeted with a 'Do you need help?' as they were handed a bag of food.
The Red Cross's fixed food distribution site in the H. Lee Dennison Building off Route 347 has been handing out food since Friday, giving out more than 4,000 meals a day to those suffering the impact of Hurricane Sandy.
"We are getting a couple hundred of people per meal that come in for themselves. We are also getting church groups and senior centers that come and we are giving them bulk distribution," said Thomas Triplett, Red Cross Disaster Management coordinator at the Hauppauge site.
Triplett, who has flown in from Bloomington, Ind., said the Red Cross is receiving two food shipments a day to Hauppauge. The first is a morning delivery for lunch, served from 11 a.m. - 1 p.m., and a second delivery for dinner, served from 4 p.m. - 6:30 p.m.
"As long as we have food, we don't shut down in between meals. People can come in and pick up food for themselves, they can get for other family members and their neighbors," said Laurie Haibeck, a Red Cross disaster mental health expert from Chicago.
Long Islanders are being encourage to take food for themselves, family members and any elderly or shut-in neighbors. There is no limit on how many people one person can pick up food for.
"We are trying to get the food into people's hands and we understand that many people don't have gas. They can get what they need, there's no rationing," Haibeck said.
On Monday night, teen volunteers helped the Red Cross pass out cold sandwiches, pretzels and bottled water or juices.
"There's a bunch of high school kids with us who have been here for several days now. They're amazing, we wouldn't be able to work without them," Triplett said. "There are only really three of us from the Red Cross - it could be just three of us trying to help."
The Red Cross feeding site is still awaiting the arrival of hot meals for distribution, meanwhile relying on passing out heater meals stocked up by local chapters of the organization.
The heater meals are very similar to military issued MREs, or meals ready to eat. The packets come with chemical heating agents to warm the food for those with no access to a working oven or stove.
For some waiting on line, the prospect of a hot meal was attractive despite the packaging.
"Folks simply can't afford to eat out every meal," Triplett said.
One woman, staying with friends and family in Deer Park after Hurricane Sandy, said that while temporarily staying with 14 other people without power any food or resource she could bring back and contribute would make life a little bit easier.
As Long Island prepares for a Nor'easter to strike Wednesday, the Red Cross workers said they are prepared for anything. Other fixed-location feeding sites exist in Mastic and Riverhead, while it continues to run "seek and feed" vans that drive the harder hit communities distributing meals.
For those who have food, but might be in need of someone to talk to, the Red Cross offers a 24-hour Mental Health Hotline at 1-800-985-5990.