All about LI’s free general store, which just marked a year open in Mastic


“I never thought I would ever be in this state where I could not afford food or paper goods.”

“It helps a lot, especially with the increasing price of commodities.”

“It fed my family.”

So reads some examples of feedback from visitors to the Angels of Long Island general store in Mastic, where everything on the shelves is free.

Each visitor, after picking out their goods, is asked to fill out a survey, even offer suggestions on how to improve the place. There are hundreds to sift through, filled out in both English and Spanish.

“We ask for ways to improve and people will complain about the line, the wait to get in,” says Debbie Loesch, who co-founded the nonprofit group nine years ago with her daughter, Brittany.

Loesch can explain the long lines as of late, because she doesn’t only read the surveys; she gets to know the shoppers.

“Before the pandemic the majority of people who would use nonprofits like ours, they were dealing with addiction … or mental health issues,” she said. “But now, everything went up. Rent is $2,800 for an apartment. Car insurance, gas, groceries. So now we’re seeing more working families, where mom and dad are both working. Or senior citizens on a fixed income. They can’t supply basic needs for their families.”

“People can’t afford to live on Long Island,” she continued. “It’s actually breaking up the family unit. Grandparents can’t stick around. Young people who just got married and having kids are leaving their parents; they can’t afford it here.

“And the prices just keep going up.”

For Loesch, the lines keep getting longer.

The general store, which shares a building with the Angels of Long Island’s thrift shop location at 13 Herkimer Street, marked its first full year in operation on Wednesday.

During that time, the Angels group added a twice-weekly farmer’s market as well, which is also free to shop.

The farmer’s market opens at 10 a.m. The line starts forming around 8 a.m.

A line for the free farmer’s market at the Angels of Long Island Mastic location one morning this winter.

— courtesy photo

How it works

“This is not a typical food pantry where you’re handed a bag of food, hoping your kids will eat it, or that you know how to cook it,” Loesch said. “What we try to offer here is dignity and respect, and choices.”

To that end, everyone gets a shopping cart. The general store is divided into a cheese and dairy section, bread, beef, poultry, produce, prepackaged meals, frozen items and dry items such as cereals, snacks, condiments and non-perishables are also on offer.

There is a household essentials section stocked with cleaning supplies, baby formula and more.

They even have birthday cakes.

The general store is open every Tuesday and Wednesday, and sees between 60 and 120 shoppers each of those days.

Every person, couple or family is invited into the store with a guide who lets them know how many pieces of meat, or cartons of milk or eggs, or boxes of cereal are available for them — as the inventory needs to be rationed.

People are able to go through the store once a month.

“They always come out with about five full bags of groceries,” Loesch said.

Then twice a week, on Mondays and Thursdays, the farmer’s market opens, with a protocol similar to the general store.

The beef, poultry, produce and dairy gets shipped in regularly from big stores, namely Trader Joe’s, Costco and Aldi, along with other local nonprofits such as Long Island Cares and Island Harvest.

The meat gets frozen by the stores three days before the expiration date. It’s then shipped frozen, and stays frozen until it’s sent off with a shopper.

“People were complaining about expired meat,” Loesch said with a laugh. “So we had to put up signs saying the meat was frozen before the expiration date marked on its packaging.” From there the meat could stay frozen for months in someone’s household fridge.

Angels of Long Island members also donate goods, as do organizational supporters such as the Jane Guido Foundation, Patchogue Lions Club and veteran groups, to list just a few.

The household essentials are purchased by the Angels of Long Island using money from the adjoining thrift store.

“We need shoppers to the thrift stores, either Mastic or Patchogue,” Loesch said. “That’s very important.”

Help the Angels

The rent in Mastic and the Angels of Long Island thrift store and family outreach center in Patchogue is a lot to handle each month. Not only that, keeping the freezers and refrigerators running in Mastic costs upwards of $3,000 a month in electric bills. That includes a large walk-in fridge that just got delivered last month and was set up in the back lot.

Loesch is in the process of appealing to PSEG Long Island for residential rates, not commercial.

“We’re not making money here,” she said. But the staffers do have to get paid.

And the lines keep getting longer.

Click here to donate any amount to Angels of Long Island.

Top: An Angels of Long Island staffer pushes a cart to make it appear as if she’s shopping in the free Mastic general store. All photos by Michael White/Greater Long island, except where noted.

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