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The River Fund

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For those who live on Lefferts Boulevard in Richmond Hill, seeing the streets packed with hundreds of people every Saturday morning is not an unusual sight. The line is for the on-site pantry service, The River Fund. For over 23 years, Swami Durga Das, 68, uses his home as the center of the operations for this non-profit organization.

The River Fund, whose motto “feed everyone…no matter what”, gives out over 50,000 pounds of food each week, with men and women on line from all different backgrounds. With the line consisting of single parent households, senior citizens, or even working class people, they all have one thing in common: they depend on the assistance each week from The River Fund. Many line up for food and other supplies for their families as early as 2 am and in any sort of weather condition.

Saturday, April 25, 2015- Richmond Hill- For 22 years, Swami Durga Das continues to use his home as The River Fund's central location where more than 50,000 pounds of food is given out each week. Photo by: Amanda Banas.
Saturday, April 25, 2015- Richmond Hill- For 22 years, Swami Durga Das continues to use his home as The River Fund’s central location where more than 50,000 pounds of food is given out each week. Photo by: Amanda Banas.

Swami Durga Das smiles and chats with as many people on line as possible, even distributing food among the large line as he juggles the craziness of the early morning. He talks of his excitement to see one family in particular, stopping mid-sentence when the mother and son eventually come around the corner in order to pick up the two-year-old Jefferson. “This cute little guy right here—he’s my favorite.”

Saturday, April 25, 2015- Richmond Hill- Chief Executive Officer Swami Durga Das, holding 2-year-old Jefferson, believes the fight against poverty starts by taking it personally and understanding the needs each person on line. Photo by: Amanda Banas.
Saturday, April 25, 2015- Richmond Hill- Chief Executive Officer Swami Durga Das, holding 2-year-old Jefferson, believes the fight against poverty starts by taking it personally and understanding the needs each person on line. Photo by: Amanda Banas.

While passing out food, Das talks of his troubled days where he was heavily involved with drugs. At the same time, HIV and AIDS were impacting those around him, leading to his partner’s death in 1988. Das explains how the meeting of his Brooklyn-born spiritual teacher, Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavat, helped him see the world from a different perspective. She had founded The River Fund and other groups like it, with Das studying with her for more than 30 years before her passing.

Moving inside to a corner room and out of the cold, he smiles as he talks about Ma, “It’s all about the death of the ego; the death of the I. I mean—we all have to have an I, but not the I that’s all about me.” He looks down at his tattoo-covered hands, “She taught me how the fastest way to God, no matter what you believe in, is through service.”

Saturday, April 25, 2015- Richmond Hill- Volunteers work hard all morning to pass out food and break down boxes to continue the momentum for the day to succeed. Photo by: Amanda Banas

Durga quickly jumps from the story of his past to what the River Fund is all about, showing much enthusiasm for the new projects the non-profit has recently began. Das explains, “The River Fund is really a poverty front line center. The fight against poverty starts by taking it personally and understanding the needs of each person on the line outside.” The rumble of the TV from the living room is barely heard as those who currently wait inside to get warm laugh loudly.


Although food products are donated, Das strives himself on providing the best for people on line. Foods such as meat, chicken, fruits, and vegetables are passed out.

Das explains, “People shouldn’t be forced to eat something that they don’t need or want. I’m a vegetarian, but we serve meat. If I don’t eat meat, it doesn’t mean that someone else shouldn’t.”

Stella Loranca, next-door neighbor to Das, comes outside multiple times to watch as the crowd slowly dies down. “He truly is an incredible man. The least I can do to help is let them use my backyard to store empty, flat boxes the food was in until they’re done for the day.”


Saturday, April 30, 2015- Richmond Hill- Beyond food, The River Fund also provides nutritional education, supporting a healthy life style by providing vitamins and other supplements to those on line. Photo by: Amanda Banas
Saturday, April 25, 2015- Richmond Hill- Beyond food, The River Fund also provides nutritional education, supporting a healthy life style by providing vitamins and other supplements to those on line. Photo by: Amanda Banas



Diversity on line
Saturday, April 25, 2015- Richmond Hill- Men and women from different backgrounds come to The River Fund for assistance. Hundreds line up every Saturday for food and other supplies for their families, with some even starting to line up as early as 2 am in any sort of weather condition. Photo by: Amanda Banas

Once the busy morning died down, Swami Durga Das travelled to Hofstra University where he spoke at the Long Island Food Coalition. The daylong conference allows for an open discussion highlighting healthier food choices, innovative techniques for sustainable food, and programs around Long Island that have initiated sustainably grown foods into their communities.

His presentation to the crowded room focused on The River Fund’s work thus far on dealing with poverty. He said, “Our children’s future depends on us taking poverty and sustainable living much more serious so that we can provide them with a better and brighter future.”

Long Island Food Conference
Saturday, April 25, 2015- Richmond Hill- Swami Durga Das explains how The River Fund regards food “as the first line of defense in the battle against poverty”, while also providing income support and benefits enrollment services. Photo by: Amanda Banas

The River Fund goes much further than a food pantry. Since the office is open six days a week, they try to help their clients with benefits like Social Security and Medicaid. There are even young teenagers handing out vitamins, now that the River Fund provides nutritional education for those on line. Other programs include the community donating school supplies or clothing items to the pantry and even a new scholarship program for teenagers looking to continue their education but cannot afford to.

Das emphasizes the organization’s strength is due to the hard-working volunteers and employees who come in each day looking forward to making a change in the community.

Shirley Rice, COO of The River Fund, explains how she got in a car accident and had to use food pantry for all of her food and other services during her recovery. She says, “One day, I’m on line and Swami came up to me asking what I was doing. He asked me to work for him; I asked how long—like any reasonable person—and he said, ‘What do you mean how long? Until we’re all done!”

From the past to the present

“Altar with K eagle in black robe at a meeting of nearly 30,000 Ku Klux Klan members from Chicago and northern Illinois in 1920.” Photo by Underwood and Underwood found in Library of Congress.

Hate groups and other extremists, ranging from the Ku Klux Klan, the neo-Nazi movement, antigovernment militias, and even black separatists, date back nearly a half-century ago but have a strong enough foothold that their actions and effects are still felt throughout the world today. Terrorism, in the broad sense of the term, is considered any unlawful use of violence or intimidation with political or religious aims in mind. Entering into the 21st century, the United States has continued to see much involvement amongst these groups.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, a U.S. non-profit organization that monitors over 1,600 domestic hate groups and other extremists, recently reported that the number of hate groups that organize themselves against certain religious, racial, or sexual ideologies actually rose to 892 groups between 2014 and 2015, which is 784 more than the center reported the year prior.

Rory McVeigh, professor and chair of the Department of Sociology at the University of Notre Dame, focuses much of his research on the Ku Klux Klan.

Rory McVeigh

Does the Klan still have the same impact that it once did?

“I think it helps to put it into a historical perspective, there were times in the nation’s history when the Ku Klux Klan was quite large and quite violent and that’s varied over time. They were very violent in the aftermath of the Civil War, and quite violent duing the Civil Rights struggle in the 1960s. In  the 1920s, they were much larger than any other point in their history, and while they were still engaged in violence, there was much more focus on their opposition to Catholics and immigrants than they were to African Americans. In the historical perspective, it’s not very large, it doesn’t have the popular acceptance that it once had, but it certainly does still have the appeal towards a subset of the population.”

How has the KKK impacted politics?

“A couple colleagues and I actually published an article in the American Sociological Review in 2014 where we actually did look at communities in the South where the Klan was active in the 60s, and compared them to communities in the South were the Klan was not active. We looked at the long term differences in voting outcomes, after controlling for other things that might also effect voting outcomes. One of the things we did find was that in these areas where the Klan was active, they moved more strongly to the Republican party than was the case for Southern counties that didn’t have Klan activism during that time. It’s important to keep in mind that there was a time where the Democrats in the South were really the forces in white supremecy.

In the South, white voters were mostly behind the Democratic party, and the Democratic party in the South was very much committed to racial inequality, but that started to change in the 1950s into the 60s. Increasingly the Democratic party became connected with the civil rights movement and white voters in the South moved to the Republican party. One of the interesting things we found was that the presence or absence of the Klan made a difference in terms of the the changes in the voting patterns. We looked at over a span of over five decades, the Klan activism in the 1960s had an impact on voting outcomes that is still with us. “

The Southern Poverty Law Center recently reported a rise in extremist groups. What reason could you give to explain this?

“I think you have to be a little bit careful in assuming that a rise in place, it’s hard to get good numbers on that type of thing. I know the Southern Poverty Law Center does a really good job on trying to track racial hate groups in the country, and they’ll report a rise or decrease, but I don’t know for sure. I’m not that confident that there has been a rise, and if there has, it hasn’t been too significant as far as I can tell.

You’ll see that throughout history and in the contemporary time periods, groups will try to take advantage of opportunities when things are happening in the news to get some publicity and some attention. Elections provide those types of opportunties, as we saw different Klan organizations come out to show support for Donald Trump and that created some media attention for a while. I think any social movement, on the right or the left, will look for opportunities to capture public attention when they can, but I can’t say with any confidence that there really has been a rise.

The Southern Poverty Law Center tries really hard to track these organizations but it’s really hard to get a clear sense of whether there has been a true increase or whether some of these groups have been more active in trying to get attention for themselves. It’s been really different than in previous moments in American history where there are a few people. There was a time, just in the state of Indiana in the 1920s, where rougly every one out of three white men were members of the Ku Klux Klan. Now, clearly, being associated with the KKK is not mainstream by any stretch of the imagination.

There are certainly still people out there who are still attracted to the message that these groups offer and there probably will be for quite some time.”

“Southern Heritage Confederate Flag Rally demonstrators, en route to Upper Senate Park, on Delaware Avenue at D Street, NE, Washington DC on Saturday morning, 5 September 2015.” Photo by Elvert Barnes

Found inside Pulse Magazine at

Long Island’s Battle with Heroin


The looming dark cloud only seems to be growing as Long Islanders continue to battle the epidemic that is heroin. Heroin, also known as H or Smack, is a highly addictive drug not to be experimented with. Once someone starts, it’s hard to stop without treatment. Although awareness of its potency only seems to be growing, officials and statistics only prove that Long Island is still dealing with the problem.

Heroin is a depressant drug that sends warm sensations through the body, reduces anxiety, and releases a strong feeling of euphoria. Heroin can be injected, smoked, or even inhaled by snorting or sniffing, delivering the drug to the brain very rapidly. Injection is the most common method of usage for heroin addicts, where the drug is first dissolved in water and then heated.

In the past, it was easier for people to find narcotic drugs on the street, as doctors would write prescriptions for patients who were in pain. This was all before New York State passed some of the toughest laws on doctors to make sure patients who “Doctor Shop” weren’t getting too many drugs from an array of doctors. Dr. Jay Weiss, a Pain Management Physician based in Jericho, said, “The pendulum just swung the other way and people said doctors were too liberal with prescriptions and were creating patients addicted to all of these prescription drugs.”

Those abusing prescription drugs, and now no longer getting them from their doctor, found it harder to get the drugs they needed. Weiss said, “Doctors stop writing prescriptions, so the street pricing on these narcotics, like Oxycodone or Percocet, went up. People realized then it was cheaper to get heroin than Percocet.”

Withdrawal symptoms for heroin addicts include nausea and vomiting, chills, hypothermia, and even clouded mental functioning. One result is tolerance, where users feel they need more of the drug to achieve the same intensity of their original use. Users can even show signs of dependence, where continued use of heroin is needed to avoid withdrawal symptoms. Weiss said, “Heroin gives a pain relieving effect and requires higher doses to get the euphoric effect, so after a while, the body responds far less to the effects and doesn’t give the high that addicts are looking for.” Long-term effects, for those who have sought and undergone treatment, include the weakening of the immune system, breathing illnesses, muscular weakness, and even insomnia.

As a respiratory depressant, abusing higher doses of heroin can cause an overdose to the user. For residents on Long Island, there have been nearly double the fatal heroin overdoses in Nassau County through August 31st compared to the same period last year. Detective Vincent Garcia of the Nassau County Police Department’s Public Information Office said, “Combating heroin is a top priority in Nassau County, and as of August 31, we have made 443 heroin related arrests.” Garcia said that there have been 53 overdose deaths and sixty-five nonfatal deaths thanks to the administration of NARCAN, in 2014.

NARCAN is used to prevent or reverse the effects of opioids on the body, including slowed or stopped breathing related to cases of overdosing. Lisa Ganz, Clinical Program Supervisor for Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (LICADD), said, “The heroin problem on Long Island is a lot bigger than people would think. We lose about a person a day to overdoses.” She continued, “Heroin is a substance disorder, but NARCAN gives a second chance for recovery. Fatal overdoses went down last year thanks to the NARCAN antidote.”

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, fatal heroin-related overdoses increased about 75 percent between 2007 and 2011 on Long Island. 242 Long Islanders have been reported dead between 2012 and 2013. The number of heroin users, and even deaths related to overdosing, steadily increases on Long Island, with the most rapid growth within the population of young adults under the age of 21.

Recently, Hofstra University has even dealt with the epidemic after the death of student, Olivia McClellan, in her dorm on campus in April. “It’s scary to think that people my age still experiment with heroin,” said Hofstra University sophomore student, Breyanna Weimer. “You would just think by now people would know how addictive it is, ya know?”

In Hofstra University’s Annual Security and Fire Safety Report for 2015, the department of Public Safety reported two drug law arrests on campus for 2014. The campus safety department also reported seventy-four cases of drug law violations referred for disciplinary action on campus for 2014, as well. This number has decreased since the previous years, with 121 violations reported in 2013 and 106 in 2012. It should be made clear, however, that the drugs listed under these categories have not been defined.

The case for McClellan was not cut and dry, as her fellow student and boyfriend, Joseph Joudah, was charged with manslaughter on October 30th after injecting McClellan with heroin and waiting for over 17 hours before calling for help to campus safety anonymously.

Acting District Attorney Madeline Singas comments on the reason behind the charge saying Joudah should have called for help right away. “That young woman should not have been left alone in her room for 17 hours to die when she was in the obvious distress that she was in, no matter what his condition, no matter what his relationship, no matter what his age.”

Junior student at Hofstra University, Valentina Corasaniti, said, “I didn’t know Olivia but when I heard about the story, it was just so surreal. Drugs shouldn’t be a person’s go-to for help. There are always parents or friends or therapists who are there for us to talk to.”

The road to recovery is hard for those addicted, and if you or someone you know needs help or to talk, centers like LICADD are available for a person to call at (516)-747-2606.

Nassau Police brace for biggest security challenge in decades


Campus Public safety, Nassau County Police Department, and the Secret Service will safeguard the presidential debate on Monday, September 26, at Hofstra University. However, these departments prefer to keep their security measures under wraps until after the debate.

Detective Vincent Garcia of the Nassau County Police Department said, “Obviously our main concern is public safety. We have done this twice before and will have adequate manpower to protect the attendees, the media covering the event, the protestors and the public.” He explained that a “substantial” amount of officers will work to protect the debate, but how he is unable to disclose the actual number of officers at this time. Garcia said, “NCPD will be prepared to handle however many [people] show up.”

“This is arguably the most significant security event in the last 30 years in Nassau County,” said acting Nassau Police Commissioner, Thomas Krumpter, at a press conference at the university on Tuesday.

He expressed how his department has been preparing for the debate for months by building security fences around the campus and along Hempstead Turnpike. This is after officials stated to expect 10,000 protestors at this year’s debate.

As of now, the Nassau County Police Department provided the public with one detailed security measure – street closings: The closing of Hempstead Turnpike between Eisenhower Park and Oak street from noon to midnight and of Earl Ovington Boulevard and Charles Lindbergh Boulevard between 5 A.M to midnight, as well as several residential streets becoming only one way.

Secret Service Agent, Joseph Muscatello, explained how TV personal, large public crowds, and politicians tend to bring out chaos, but could not speak further on the security for the debate.

Both the Secret Service and Hofstra Public Safety declined to discuss any details on the security protocols their departments have taken to prepare for the debate.

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Where has conversation gone–thoughts

This scenario is probably very common to us: sitting down to lunch with friends, excited to talk about our day, gossip, or even boast about our favorite sports team winning the game last night. Conversations can be endless when we surround ourselves with friends. But the question stands: do we still listen? With our smart phones, it has become easy to divert our attention to the latest text or email, completely ignoring the world around us.

Sitting inside Hofstra University’s Au Bon Pain for just a few minutes, students busily hurry in and out, trying to grab a quick snack between classes or to meet up with friends to eat together. It’s always chaotic inside as people try not to step on each other’s toes while waiting for workers to yell out their names once their sandwiches are ready.

As friends sit at tables and begin to bite into their food, something becomes quite apparent; no one is talking. Sure, there is conversation at first, but soon enough, most are too engrossed in their laptops or smart phones that the conversations quickly die out. A group of friends together and no one is speaking. What’s the point of sitting together then?

The advancements in technology allow us to be more connected to anyone in the world than ever before, but these developments have come at a cost. It seems that technology may have killed our basic communication skills. This is due to the ease that technology has created to check the latest text, tweet, or picture posted on Instagram than to what the person next to you is saying.

Dominique Calabro, a junior at Hofstra University, sits with friends at a table for lunch and explains how she too is guilty when it comes to her cell phone use saying, “I don’t know—I think it’s just completely normal now to give half of your attention to a friend when they speak, but the other half goes to my other friends I’m texting”.

A friend sitting with Dominique, Alexandra Cardinal, quickly looks up from her phone laughing to chime in, “Dom, you don’t know how to multi-task like that. She actually can’t text and talk at the same time. I have to repeat myself all the time”.

It seems that it has become a tradition to only give half of our attention to someone since we’re always busy texting. Hanging out with friends doesn’t require conversation anymore when we have our phones to occupy ourselves with.

Most people in Au Bon Pain seem to go through the same motions, speaking and waiting for friends to respond after sending out their text message first. Will basic conversational skills keep declining as technology only continues to improve? Will we begin to notice the obvious strain it puts on our relationships before it’s too late?

A Loss of History in Astoria, Queens

Much of the current talk about Astoria, Queens, has been around the loss of historical sites in the area. In 2014, the Steinway Mansion sold for 2.6 million dollars to private owners who promised to keep the mansion as a historical landmark. Due to current construction in the area, local residents are worried for what this means for the future of the mansion and its long history. Many hope for the mansion to turn into a museum or cultural center for future generations to use.