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Mar 10, 2009 5:45 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

New group plans soup kitchen, help line

Mar 10, 2009 5:45 PM

Late last fall, East Hampton attorney Leonard Ackerman began getting phone calls from people he’d known throughout his life who’d had good jobs and lived good lives but suddenly found themselves in dire financial circumstances.

Distressed by the number and breadth of problems his friends and associates were facing, he met with Town Human Services director Edna Steck in an attempt to set up a community organization that could help residents who are facing problems ranging from home foreclosures to hunger to joblessness.

By mid-December, Help Now had been created. The organization is starting a hot line that will be staffed with volunteers and will be based in Mr. Ackerman’s office in East Hampton. It is also planning to start at least one soup kitchen and is compiling a database of volunteer lawyers, social workers and other professionals who can help residents with legal advice and counseling.

The organization is also looking for volunteers to help with fund-raising and is currently in the process of incorporating as a not-for-profit. Mr. Ackerman said that he plans to underwrite much of the work that Help Now does.

“I brought the group together and they hold meetings in my office, but I’m just pushing to move this along,” said Mr. Ackerman. “There’s been a tremendous community response.”

The group met last Wednesday, March 4, at The Palm restaurant for an event to salute social workers and encourage them to staff the hot line and offer counseling service.

“The call-in line will be the central location for networking, staffed with people who will be trained to dissect what the issue is,” he said. “If you call and you have an abusive spousal issue, they’d help you call The Retreat. If you need a place to sleep tonight, they’ll direct you somewhere else. There are so many agencies” and people in need “are not sure where to go.”

Mary Bromley, a therapist and counselor who helped found The Retreat, is screening volunteers for the help line and will help train volunteers. She said that she is ensuring that the people who answer the phones are cool-headed enough to help people who are dealing with emergencies.

“We’ll teach them how to deal with crisis calls, how to refer people to the correct place,” she said. She said she hopes to have the help line up and running by mid-April.

Ms. Steck, of the Human Resources Department, said that many of the group’s ideas are still being developed. Members of the whole group and its subcommittees usually meet on Thursday mornings and expect to have more news on their plans in the upcoming weeks.

She suggested that people who are interested in being volunteers call Diane Patrizio at the Human Resources Department at 329-6939.

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