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Nonprofit helps feed hundreds of New York families each week as need soars

On the frontlines with America's largest vegetarian hunger relief program
On the frontlines with America's largest vegetarian hunger relief program 03:22

HUNTINGTON STATION, N.Y. -- America's largest vegetarian hunger relief program is right here in our area. 

For years, the nonprofit Community Solidarity has been helping families in both Long Island and New York City, and now organizers say the program is needed more than ever.  

"People are working 80 hours a week and they still have provide for their families unfortunately," said Jon Stepanian, founder and CEO of Community Solidarity.  

Stepanian told CBS 2's John Dias inflation has caused a record number of people to ask for help.

Grocery prices have risen 12% so far this year, and the cost to feed a family of four a healthy diet each week costs, on average, up to $289, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

"Nobody should feel any shame in getting food," Stepanian said.  

He founded the non-profit back in 2006.  

"I was by myself with a table, out in the cold giving out groceries," said Stepanian. "People would think I was a werido for offering free food."   

Now, he has around 7,000 volunteers who help him pass out food at five different locations on Long Island and Brooklyn. One is set up each night of the week. 

"We get hundreds and hundreds of people every week who need food and really rely on us," volunteer Kim Lopez said. 

"People will wait in line for hours, out in the cold, any type of weather, just to get a box of food," volunteer Kimberly Moffatt added.

People wait on foot and in lines of cars, which are often miles long and wrap around parking lots.  

"We are so happy with everything we get,"  said Milton Ramos of Huntington, who admits the food donated to him will help feed his two kids.  

 Last year, Community Solidarity gave out more than 27 million pounds of groceries. Most of the food is organic and rescued from grocery stores and farms before being thrown away.  

 "Vast majority of this is actually surplus, they ordered too much cranberry sauce that day, too many brussels sprouts," Stepanian said.

Each person gets a 50 pound box of food, which could last about a week.  

Stepanian says most recipients work one or two job but still need help putting food on the table. His organization doesn't require you to show proof you need assistance. 

CLICK HERE for more on how you can help.

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