How one Port resident is using the fruits (and vegetables) of his labor to fight hunger

How one Port resident is using the fruits (and vegetables) of his labor to fight hunger
In 2010, Marvin Makofsky established Plant a Row for the Hungry. The group has given over 50,000 pounds of locally grown produce away to individuals in need. (Photo by Steven Keehner)

Marvin Makofsky approaches every day the same way: to accomplish something while being the best version of himself.

This way of thinking has guided his marketing career for half a century. If questioned, he will say that his job is to find simple solutions to complex problems.

Considering this, when he wanted to combat local hunger back in 2010, the solution seemed clear-cut.

Why not just grow more food?

Plant A Row for the Hungry seeks to feed hundreds of struggling families in Port Washington. They encourage residents to plant and donate some ‌of their harvests to those in need.

“I’m not sure exactly what the spark was that lit. But I decided ‌I wanted to ‌give back to the community,” said Makofsky. “I’ve always been active in the community. But I wanted to do something a little unique, something that I could start on my own.”

Plant a Row has donated over 50,000 pounds of produce since then. In his role as the Chief Vegetable Garden Executive, Makofsky, 78, has served as the roots of the nonprofit.

They also collaborate with institutions including the Port Washington Children’s Center, Residents Forward and the Port Washington Public Library to teach families how to produce their own veggies and share them with those in need. They have also created large-scale vegetable gardens with students at the Helen Keller National Center for Deaf-Blind Youth and Adults.

One garden of Plant a Row. They will give the food that is raised here out to feed the hungry. (Photo by Steven Keehner)

Through their Painted Pot Program, even those who have never heard of the organization have undoubtedly seen their colorful pots around town. 

Local artists have hand-painted the over 100 pots from the Art Guild, the Port Washington Adult Activities Center, the Schreiber High School Honors Art Society, the Helen Keller National Center and the Nicholas Center. They serve as an illustration of the community’s efforts to guarantee that everyone has access to fresh vegetables.

Businesses receive pre-filled painted pots with vegetable starters. The pot owner is to water the plant, harvest it and transport it to the Plant A Row Drop-off Center at Bayles Garden Center.

Approximately 218,000 Long Islanders, including 79,000 children, live in food insecurity. Children who are malnourished are more likely to have behavioral issues, difficulty establishing social skills, cognitive learning impairments and long-term brain damage.

Healthy food options are frequently lacking in Long Island food banks and soup kitchens. As a result, it frequently forces those who are hungry to eat unhealthy food that increases the chance of developing problems.

Much of the food grown by the group is given to Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church in Port Washington. Sister Kathy Somerville, who works closely with Plant a Row, explained how their produce benefits over 140 local families.

“He’s continued to evolve this and get many, many people involved — he’s into everything,” she said. “He’s going to be a legend. No two ways about it.”

According to Somerville, Makofsky’s commitment is hard to overlook. She said he even adjusts what he grows based on the preferences of the families.

“We’re just extremely thankful for Marvin and everything he does,” she said.

Like zucchini, tomatoes or peppers, Makofsky describes his work as a growing process. He’s always focused on how to do more and reach more people.

“We should get several thousand people that are contributing from their homes, not several hundred. The opportunities are endless,” he said. “And that’s what I like about it — it never gets boring.”

Thankfully for him, he hasn’t had to do this by himself. Local officials have also taken notice of it.

Government representatives, including North Hempstead Town Supervisor Jennifer DeSena and Town Councilwoman Mariann Dalimonte, attended the group’s latest garden launch at the Port Washington Adult Activity Center on June 27.

“Anyone that deals with Marv knows he crosses his t’s and dots his i’s about five times,” said Dalimonte. “For just this one garden, I probably have over 100 emails. And that’s not including the phone calls. What he has done for this community is beyond.”

According to Makofsky, Plant a Row’s success depends on cooperation. He emphasized that a big part of doing so was getting his story out there.

“I’m talking about hunger. How can you not listen to this? So I talk about it with a certain level of passion, which I know is who I am and the message gets delivered,” he said. “What they’re going to do with it is, well, they’ve got a million things that are pulling at them to get done. They’ve got to figure out what their priorities are going to be. But I’m on it.”

DeSena didn’t hold back while appreciating the teachings that Plant a Row had imparted to the community. Neither did Councilman Peter Zuckerman.

“This program is truly something special,” said Zuckerman. “Just hearing [Makofsky] talking about it, you can feel the love, we can feel in your heart, how much you’ve put into this and how much it means to you.”

The group of politicians gave Plant a Row a citation on behalf of the town.

“Helping is the best medicine that we have and that’s something that came out of the pandemic. Volunteering makes you feel better about helping someone else. Sure, it helps them, but it helps you too,” said DeSena. “We’ve all learned so much and I’m so honored to be here and see the fruits and vegetables of your labor.”

The Helen Keller National Center at Sands Point is home to one of Plant a Row’s gardens. (Photo by Steven Keehner)

Yet, citations and honors haven’t deterred Makofsky’s aim of trying to do something every day. According to him, helping others enriches everyone.

“Our primary focus for ourselves is feeding people. But I really believe in my heart and soul, that when you give of yourself to others, you are rewarding yourself and your self-esteem skyrockets,” he said. “And that’s where possibilities become reality.”

One of the group’s current goals is to embrace the next generation of volunteers. He recently had a breakthrough that showed him how he could be able to reach even more individuals.

Makofsky said that if everyone gave an hour of their time between five and six p.m., a significant amount of work could be accomplished. He said that respecting others’ time is crucial in this line of work.

“Everybody’s got an hour,” said Makofsky. “I don’t know anybody who doesn’t have an hour to spare.”

He’s uncertain how much longer he can contribute at his current pace. But that is not a concern for him today.

“It’s an endless process and I enjoy all of it. You know, the downside is the issues that pop up that are maybe obstacles. It could be volunteer issues, it could be anything,” said Makofsky. “As long as I’ve got a smile on my face, I keep doing this thing. And I see no reason why I shouldn’t.”

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