(SUFFOLK COUNTY, N.Y.) -- The Thanksgiving holiday will be much brighter for some needy families, thanks to recruits from the Suffolk County Police Academy. The recruits organized a Thanksgiving food drive, collecting several hundred pounds' worth.
"There's enough food for a month," said recruit Keith Charley, who spearheaded the drive.
Charley and 131 other recruits, the first training class in Suffolk since 1996, will graduate in March.
"Everyone was excited about doing something for the community," Charley said.
Academy instructor Gary Kuhne praised the recruits for their efforts.
"It builds a nice rapport with the community," he said. "It shows the community that we're part of the community."
The recruits began the food drive a couple of weeks ago. They contacted the 3rd Precinct to get the name of a charitable organization. Precinct officers suggested Pronto of Long Island, a nonprofit group that runs a food pantry in Brentwood.
Pronto's Maria Pineda and a volunteer picked up the food Friday at the Police Academy, on the Brentwood campus of Suffolk Community College.
The recruits packed the food - cans of vegetables, packages of potatoes and bottles of juices and sodas - into five bins and loaded them onto the truck. They also donated new tablecloths and five $25 gift certificates for turkeys.
"This is wonderful," said Pineda. "It's very nice. It comes at a great time of need."
Pronto is one of the oldest charitable organizations on Long Island, geared primarily to serve the Latino population. It was founded 33 years ago in a small storefront on Fifth Ave. in the heart of Brentwood's Latino community.
Last year, Pronto prepared Thanksgiving baskets for 400 families, mostly in Brentwood and Bay Shore.
Pineda said Pronto volunteers are expecting to prepare a similar number of baskets this year.
The way it works is that families in need ask to be put on a list, and Pronto calls them when the baskets are ready.
Pronto began the distribution process yesterday at the food pantry. It will continue to distribute baskets until Wednesday afternoon.
"It's a nice, warm feeling to know we can assist so many," said Pineda.
She said the number of poor families in need of help is just as great this year, if not greater.
She cited two factors: new requirements that have reduced the food stamp rolls and an influx of people into the community who aren't eligible for any kind of assistance because they are undocumented aliens.
"Many times I have heard someone say, 'Do I pay the car insurance or do I eat?' " Pineda said.
The recruits say they are planning to do more.
"It's important," said recruit Madeline Cunningham. "When I was growing up, I always liked helping. I'd like to help as much as I can."
(iSyndicate; The Daily News (New York); Nov. 20, 2000) Terms and Conditions: Copyright 2000 LEXIS-NEXIS, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights Reserved.