Covering 765 square miles from Riverhead to Wyandanch, a staff of nine full-time employees and hundreds of volunteers working at nine locations are by providing food, clothing, hope, and encouragement to the homeless and the needy on Long Island, helping them to overcome poverty and live productive, purpose-filled lives.
Lighthouse Mission began in 1992, when Elaine Bohrer, a resident of Patchogue with a desire to help hurting and hungry people around her, began handing out bologna and cheese sandwiches to the homeless and the needy in her community. Starting with ten sandwiches, each day she handed out a few more. Today, nearly twenty years later, Lighthouse Mission regularly feeds 3,000 people a week.
For sixteen years, Lighthouse Mission operated out of a facility owned by Claire Rose Inc. on Railroad Avenue in Patchogue, renting the building for $1 per year. As the ministry grew, it required a larger facility; and in 2009, the mission secured an abandoned, dilapidated building on Montauk Highway in Bellport. Following a year-long reconstruction project, Lighthouse Mission took occupancy of its new facility last year.
During a recent interview with Joanna Fruhauf, the Public Relations/Grant Administrator at Lighthouse Mission, she told me that among the many ministries at its new location, every Saturday Lighthouse Mission invites scores of children and youth to participate in group activities designed to build character, promote self-esteem, and encourage non-violence.
On the first and third Saturdays of each month, children from kindergarten through fourth grade attend “Sparks”, Lighthouse Mission’s Kids’ Club, and every second and fourth Saturday boys and girls in the fifth and sixth grades participate in “Fuel”, Lighthouse’s youth ministry. Last year Lighthouse Mission hosted upwards of 110 children on any given Saturday.
Amid a colorful hand-painted mural (including a lighthouse) spanning two walls in the mission’s cheerful, spacious community room, children who attend receive a warm meal (for some, their only meal), play games, make crafts, watch live shows, and participate in a host of other activities in a safe and nurturing environment. In addition, policemen, firemen, authors, and other guest speakers often volunteer their time to interact with the children.
On Tuesday afternoons, seventh through ninth graders are invited to “Ignite”, Lighthouse’s ministry geared toward students, where, along with many other activities, they receive help with their homework and reading.
All children are welcome; and many of them, Fruhauf pointed out, come from the homeless shelter in Yaphank. If they do not have transportation, she told me, Lighthouse Mission picks them up using the two 12-passenger vans that were generously donated to the mission by local businessmen.
Lighthouse Mission also offers the only weekly mobile food pantry on Long Island. “There are a few others, Fruhauf said, but they do not distribute food on a regularly-scheduled basis. There is no other ministry like ours.” She explained that most other organizations that are considered food pantries are small churches that are open one day per week; and the number of people they can serve is very limited. “We are mobile”, Fruhauf continued, “so we are able to go into the communities of greatest need and meet the people where they are at rather than have them come to us. It’s a unique ministry.”
Rain or shine, you can spot one of Lighthouse Mission’s three box trucks, each of which has been generously donated to the ministry, in Coram and Lake Ronkonkoma on Mondays; Wyandanch and Central Islip on Wednesdays; Port Jefferson Station, Shirley, and Bellport on Thursdays; and Patchogue and Riverhead on Fridays. “We want to make changes in individual hearts and undergird them, showing them that God loves and values each individual in very practical terms”, Fruhauf said. Lighthouse Mission feeds 3,000 people a week through its mobile food pantry.
The mission’s facility also includes an emergency food pantry “for those who come in off the street, for someone in great need”, Fruhauf commented, “or if the Red Cross refers someone to us, we can give them some food.”
All of the food that Lighthouse Mission distributes comes from donations, much of it from Long Island Cares and Island Harvest, the only two food banks on Long Island. Other generous donors include Costco Wholesale Corporation and Pepsico, along with retail chain stores, local grocery stores, and private individuals. Thanks also to the generosity of its supporters, the mission safely stores non-perishable food items for mass distribution in its approximately 3,000-square-foot main warehouse and perishable items in its walk-in refrigerator and walk-freezer, each measuring ten by twenty feet.
With Thanksgiving just around the corner, Lighthouse Mission is gearing up for its annual distribution of turkeys with all the fixings. Last year, the mission handed out close to 1,300 turkeys through its nine distribution sites. “We are doing that again this year”, Fruhauf told me, “but because the numbers are up 46 percent on the streets, we are assuming that rather than 1,300 turkeys we are going to need 2,000, trimmings and all.” Lighthouse Mission is also opening its doors to host a buffet-style dinner on Thanksgiving Day for approximately 100 people in the immediate neighborhood who may not have facilities to cook a meal or may be alone.
In addition, every Christmas Lighthouse Mission gives away hundreds of gifts through its Christ-A-Must gift-giving program where parents are invited to come and choose gifts to present to their children. The program is already underway. “Boxes are being set up at businesses, offices, and schools”, Fruhauf told me. “We have a lot of school districts in the area that conduct food and gift drives for us from now through January. It is a community effort”, she said. Last Christmas over 5,000 toys were given away by Lighthouse Mission.
Amid the myriad people that Lighthouse Mission serves, there is no shortage of testimonies about the positive, life-affirming impact that its ministry has had on them. During my interview with Fruhauf, I met Mario Rivera, a nineteen-year-old young man from North Bellport who has been coming to the mission since he was six years old when he lived with his mother and siblings in a shelter. The ministry at Lighthouse Mission has had such a profound impact on Mario’s life that he is now on staff there full time, attends Suffolk Community College, and plans to become a police officer.
In addition, Fruhauf told me that a woman recently came to Lighthouse Mission with a donation to say thank you for all of the help she had received. The woman explained that years ago she used to stand on the lines with her mother, but that now her mother was working in a private school; and they have had success in their lives. The woman came to give something back and to say thank you. “We get stories like that all the time”, Fruhauf commented.
When I asked her about ongoing financial support, Fruhauf explained that ninety-five percent of Lighthouse Mission’s funds come from private donations and the other five percent come from area churches that significantly help to undergird its projects and programs. “Funding”, she said, “is always a great need—charitable contributions—because even though we receive food, we still have to put gas in the trucks, pay LIPA, pay the staff, and pay the overhead. She added, “Our numbers on the street are 46 percent higher than they were last year. By the end of August of this year, we met the needs of the same amount of people as we did in all of 2010”.
For nineteen years, Lighthouse Mission has been strengthening communities on Long Island one person and one family at a time - sharing food, clothing, and the love of God with them, empowering them to overcome poverty and live productive, purpose-filled lives. “People in the community know that we are here for their benefit”, Fruhauf said, “They love and respect us for what we do.”
If you would like to learn more about the work of Lighthouse Mission and its ongoing needs—from baby wipes, paper plates, and bags of candy for the Kids’ Club, to basketball nets and computers for the youth, to a passenger van to pick up the many children living in shelters—or if you would like to volunteer your time, you can visit www.LighthouseMissison.net. You can also find them on Facebook. Lighthouse Mission is headquartered at 1543 Montauk Highway, Bellport, New York (631-758-7584) and is a non-profit 501(c)3 organization, registered with the IRS.
This Article was Written by Vickie Moller-Pepe.
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