Marge Tumilowic, president of Welcome Inn, a soup kitchen located in Port Jefferson, came to the village board meeting on Jan. 9 to talk about the plight of locals who are hungry and poor and to ask that the village continue to use money from a grant towards the nonprofit’s work serving free hot meals in area churches five days a week.
“It’s not a lot of money but it is a lot of money,” said Tumilowic of the grant.
Last year, the village appropriated a total of $12,400 for the organization with $3,400 going towards the operation of the soup kitchen and $9,000 for transportation costs, according to Tumilowic. That money was 20 percent of Welcome Inn’s budget.
Coming right after a board member from faced about the population of people the organization houses and its effect on crime in upper Port Jefferson, Tumilowic stressed that the people Welcome Inn serves are not necessarily homeless but members of the community who need help meeting their basic needs.
“This is not a homeless population,” she said. “We serve many, many people. Some of them you’d be very surprised to know.”
She also said that Welcome Inn has served many more meals than in the past, some families coming for the first time in their lives.
“They can’t afford their rents and mortgages,” Tumilowic said.
She took the opportunity to call on the audience that night for assistance, saying that if there was anyone they knew who could not bring themselves to go to a soup kitchen but needed the help, to give her a call.
“We can give some meals on the side,” she said.
Welcome Inn is currently serving a minimum of 50 to 60 people a night but they’ve served up to 100 people in one night. John Leopold, a volunteer at Welcome Inn said that that evening he knew of 16 veterans served, highlighting another aspect to the problem as many veterans find themselves in dire straights.
During the meeting, Mayor Margot Garant asked if the transportation piece of their service was critical.
Tumilowic said it was because many people they serve do not have cars.
Money from the village went toward the cost of two vans that the Welcome Inn uses to transport clients from a designated location in the village to the various kitchens. A third van takes people from outside of the area. Tumilowic said that although the clients they serve are not required to take the van back to their original location afterwards, most of them do and that number is tabulated for their records.
She said that the money has come from the village for the last few years but did not have specific numbers or amounts.
Welcome Inn has operated in Port Jefferson and Port Jefferson Station since 1989. Tumilowic called it Port Jefferson tradition and that it was very dignified. She also said that it doesn’t matter who comes to the soup kitchens or where they are from.
“All we know is that you’re hungry,” she said.
A vote on the funds is expected at the next village board meeting on Jan. 23. Mayor Garant expects that the board will “make the same proportionate distribution of funds” but did not go over exact amounts.