Religion

Photo from Island Christian Church Demolition begins as workers clear out the old materials in the sanctuary of Island Christian Church. Photo from Island Christian Church

Construction is currently underway at Island Christian Church of East Northport for the total renovation of its sanctuary. The original building, now the youth center of the church, was built in 1965. In the mid-1980s, a major addition was undertaken, adding classrooms, offices and a 10,000-square-foot multipurpose auditorium, which is where Sunday services have been held since it opened in 1987. Since that time, another addition occurred in 2008, which increased lobby space, classrooms and offices. 

Over the last few years, it became apparent that the sanctuary space was in need of a face-lift, after 30-plus years of continual use. Called RENEW 2018, the project will entail new staging and lighting, wall covering, carpeting and HVAC. New audio, visual and lighting equipment will also be installed. 

“This is such an exciting time for Island Christian Church,” said senior pastor the Rev. Mike O’Connor, adding, “We have had so many milestones in this auditorium, including over 3,000 Sunday services, 759 baptisms, over 100 weddings almost 300 baby dedications. Now, we get to see it fully renovated for this and the next generation — for the next 30 years, the Lord willing.” 

“All the funds needed for this renovation were generously provided for by our congregation, so there is no debt,” he said.

Completion is expected sometime before Christmas 2018. In the meantime, Sunday services will be taking place in the church gymnasium, which served as the sanctuary in the original building. 

“We’ve come full circle it seems, but we are blessed to be able to have the space to accommodate our congregation during construction. In fact, the community is always welcome to check it out. Sunday service times will remain at 9 and 10:45 a.m.,” said O’Connor.

Island Christian Church is located 400 Elwood Road in East Northport. For further information, call 631-822-3000 or visit www.islandchristian.com.

Rabbi Aaron Benson of North Shore Jewish Center speaks during an interfaith prayer vigil June 24. Photo by Alex Petroski

Normally various religious leaders getting together at the same place and time sounds like the lead-in to a joke, but an event at North Shore Jewish Center in Port Jefferson Station June 24 was far from a laughing matter.

United States immigration policy, specifically the recently instituted “zero tolerance policy” by President Donald Trump (R) and his administration, which has resulted in the detention of several thousands of people and the separation of families attempting to cross the border together, was the topic of discussion during an interfaith vigil of prayer and unity at the Synagogue Sunday.

Reverend Richard Visconti of Stony Brook Community Church performs “Give Peace a Chance” with help from Haven Sellers at an interfaith prayer vigil regarding United States immigration policy June 24. Video by Alex Petroski

Rabbi Aaron Benson of NSJC, Reverend Richard Visconti of Caroline Church and Cemetery in East Setauket, Reverend Chuck Van Houten of Stony Brook Community Church, Irma Solis of Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Stony Brook, Yousuf Sayed of the Islamic Association of Long Island, Rabbi Steven Moss of B’nai Israel Reform Temple and Reverend Kate Jones Calone of Setauket Presbyterian Church were among the speakers collectively denouncing the policy at the event.

“The goal is to inspire our community to advocate for national border and immigration policies guided by a basic sense of human dignity and worth for all people involved,” a press release announcing the event said. “America should be a country leading the world in compassion and human rights. In this moment, where our country falls short of that, the religious community continues to lead with morals and hope that our followers will stand together for these families.”

Moss, who also serves as chairperson for the Suffolk County Human Rights Commission, said the leaders of the represented faiths — Christianity, Judaism and Islam — were brought to the event through the foundations of religious traditions.

“We must stand firm, together — stand tall against these laws and rules, orders and directives that fail to protect the poor, the needy, the homeless, the immigrant — both legal and illegal — and their children from being mistreated, demonized, dehumanized and brutalized,” Moss said. “A government that fails to protect all people is not a government at all.”

Jones Calone, in addressing the dozens gathered at NSJC, likened what she described as the rising tensions brought about by the political otherization of migrants seeking refuge at American borders to sitting in a tub of water gradually getting hotter, adding it’s finally reached a boiling point.

It seemed unbelievable at first, reports that read like bad dreams — desperate mothers and fathers; transports in the middle of the night; cages; warehoused, crying children.”

— Kate Jones Calone

“This is, appropriately, a confession, because if it takes the horror of hearing warehoused children crying to make many Christians uncomfortable with what is usual, then it has taken too long,” she said, turning to her bathtub comparison, and saying the temperature has continued to rise every time the nation is silently complicit with the demonization of certain religions, with limits or bans on certain people from certain places or with violence against people not in power. “’How awful,’ we say — a response I’ve said, heard, felt many times over the past weeks to stories that seem like bad dreams trickling out slowly at first and then printed in line after line, video segment after video segment. It seemed unbelievable at first, reports that read like bad dreams — desperate mothers and fathers; transports in the middle of the night; cages; warehoused, crying children.”

Benson and the leaders, many of whom are members of the Three Village Clergy Council, indicated on a pamphlet handed out at the event that there are ways to help, directing those in attendance to familiesbelong.org, hias.org/take-action among others. He said the group is also planning on holding future events.

Trump signed an executive order last week designed to end family separations as the national attention to the story reached a critical mass, though as of press time around 500 of 2,300 separated parents and children detained apart at the U.S.-Mexico border have since been reunited. The policy has been both denounced by members of the Trump administration as a holdover Obama-era procedure and publicly cited as a new strategy intentionally instituted to deter asylum seekers from trying to come to America.

Front row, from left, Leg. Susan Berland, Mikayla Shapiro, Beth Goldberg, Noah Rosenzweig, Councilwoman Jacqueline Gordon and Carol Nuzzi; back row, from left, Elijah Morrison, Justin Winawer, Sarah Strent and Justin Mintz. Photo by Shahron Sharifian

Last week seven Long Island teens were honored at the Annual CTeen West Suffolk Dinner at The Chai Center in Dix Hills, for their work and dedication to this vital youth community service organization.

Sarah Strent of Commack received the Leadership Award, Mikayla Shapiro of Commack and Justin Mintz of Plainview received the Rookies of the Year Awards, Noah Rosenzweig of East Northport and Justin Winawer of Plainview received the Chesed (Kindness) Awards, Beth Goldberg of West Babylon received the Dedication Award and Elijah Morrison of Melville was named Teen of the Year. The hosts for the evening were CTeen West Suffolk teen leaders, Carly Tamer and Hannah Sharifian, both of East Northport.

Beth Goldberg and Councilwoman Jacqueline Gordon. Photo by Photo by Shahron Sharifian

Town of Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci, Suffolk County Legislator Susan Berland, Carol Nuzzi representing Sen. John Flanagan and Councilwoman Jacqueline Gordon of the Town of Babylon all attended to personally congratulate the teens. Warm greetings and certificates were also sent from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Sen. Chuck Schumer.

Among this year’s activities, CTeen West Suffolk teens cooked for needy families, held a toy drive, packed holiday gifts for ill children, enjoyed a paint night with seniors at an assisted living facility, listened to the life stories of Holocaust survivors and attended three major conventions — a regional, national and international Shabbaton, where they represented Long Island.

“It was an inspiring and moving night,” commented Rabbi Dovid Weinbaum, the director of CTeen West Suffolk, which is based at The Chai Center. However, he explained, this is just the beginning. “We need to reach every Jewish teen and let them know they have a home at CTeen West Suffolk.”

 Sarah Strent, who was named the Leader of the Year, told the crowd, “One very significant message I took away from this year of CTeen is that everyone is a leader. You don’t need a title or a sweatshirt to prove that. I firmly believe every single one of you is capable of achieving anything you set out to do.” 

 With over 200 chapters globally and tens of thousands of members, CTeen, the fastest growing Jewish teen network in the world, inspires and facilitates teens who want to give back to their community and environment, with an emphasis on positive character development. The CTeen Network believes in the power of youth and transforming the teen years into a time of purpose and self-discovery. The goal is to turn youth into leaders. Under the direction of Rabbi Dovid Weinbaum of The Chai Center, the CTeen West Suffolk chapter has tripled in size to more than 60 members since its launch just four years ago. 

The cover of Karol's book

By Donna Newman

One of the certainties of life is that, unless one departs first, sooner or later each of us will have to deal with the death of a loved one.

Among his many duties as a spiritual leader, Stephen Karol, now Rabbi Emeritus at Temple Isaiah in Stony Brook, has ministered to the bereaved. He has officiated at funerals, counseled families and helped people navigate the mourning period that begins upon a death and continues through memorial services throughout the ensuing years.

Rabbi Karol has gathered a series of memorial sermons into a book titled, “Finding Hope and Faith in the Face of Death” and subtitled, “Insights of a Rabbi and Mourner.”

Author Stephen Karol

What motivated you to write this book?

I decided to do it for a couple of reasons. First, I’ve gotten really good feedback on my Yizkor (memorial) sermons. People have asked for copies and that sort of thing. And, throughout my career officiating at funerals, I just think people need comforting, hopeful messages to help them cope with death. That’s what this book provides.

Is this a ‘Jewish’ book, or do you feel it has broader appeal?

The book is written primarily for Jews, but not exclusively. While I speak from a Jewish context, a lot of what I have to say in these messages can be applied to people who are Jewish or not, religious or not, whatever they may be.

Why publish it now?

As a congregational rabbi I was devoted to my congregants — and happily so — and didn’t have the time to write a book. Now, in retirement, I decided to share my words of comfort. And when I submitted my proposal to the publisher (Wipf and Stock), they loved my idea and enthusiastically agreed to publish it under their Cascade Books imprint.

What was the most challenging part of compiling the manuscript?

In creating the introduction to the book, I wanted to be honest. I had to confess that, despite my faith in life after death, I am afraid to die. So, I describe my fear and explain how it materialized at a particularly happy time in my life, shortly after my daughter’s birth. I tell about the ways I’ve learned to cope with it and describe how a combination of hope and faith have helped me not only as an individual but also as a rabbi. That’s why I think my words can be universal, because you don’t have to be a rabbi to believe what I believe, and to feel and think what I feel and think.

How did you choose the sermon that became Chapter 1?

The first chapter in the book was chosen because it dealt with a personal loss. I titled it, “Accompanying the Dead” and it begins: “My uncle Harry died last month.” I talk about the experience of being in my uncle’s hospital room with him when he died, and officiating — along with my brother who is also a rabbi — at his funeral. A good number of the chapters involve personal experiences.

The cover of Karol’s book.

Aside from your own personal losses over the years, did other experiences contribute to your understanding of life and death?

I suffered a heart attack in 1995 that gave me a greater sense of perspective. One of the messages in the book is that we need to value life and make every day count. We need to tell people that we love them whenever we can.

How long was this book in the making?

The book consists of 16 sermons that I have given both at Temple Isaiah and at Congregation Sha’aray Shalom in Hingham, Massachusetts, over the course of my tenures at both synagogues. So, when people ask me how long it took to write the book, tongue in cheek I say: 35 years.

“Finding Hope and Faith in the Face of Death” is currently available for purchase on Amazon, Kindle and Ingram. Meet Rabbi Karol at a book talk and signing on June 24 at Temple Isaiah, 1404 Stony Brook Road, Stony Brook from 5 to 7 p.m.; or at a book signing on June 28 at Barnes & Noble at the Smith Haven Mall in Lake Grove from 7 to 9 p.m.

Billii Roberti, a member on the Town of Huntington’s Advisory Committee on Energy Efficiency, Renewables and Sustainability, attends the meeting on solar prospects for churches and nonprofits. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr

A Huntington Station church recognizes that the Bible says God made light and it is good, now if only they could afford to reap the sun’s benefits.

Bethany Presbyterian Church is one of many houses of worship with an interest in harvesting solar energy, but many are finding the upfront costs are too high.

In 2017, the church financed an audit of its electric system and insulation in an effort to increase its energy  efficiency, Pastor James Rea Jr. said. While this helped reduced the congregation’s electrical bill by 20 percent, according to Rea, the  congregation is interested in taking it a step further.

We would do solar, but we just can’t afford it right now.”

– Christopher Sellers

“We would do solar, but we just can’t afford it right now,” Christopher Sellers, an elder at Bethany Presbyterian, said, noting the church is still paying for the energy audit.

While renewable energy proponents point to community solar initiatives, where the output from a solar farm is shared among multiple buildings, there is still a large upfront cost and requires a significant amount of space to build the solar farm according to Ryan Madden, a sustainability organizer for Long Island Progressive Coalition.

“We need solutions like community solar,” Madden said. “Our version of community solar takes the form of bringing in multiple organizations at the same time to bring down cost and creating locally driven solar campaigns.

LIPC partnered with Massachusetts-based company Resonant Energy, which works with nonprofits to provide low-cost solar, to create the PowerUP Solar initiative. The initiative seeks to bring together nonprofits and churches for the intent of purchasing solar systems in bulk to help decrease the cost. PowerUP member organizations held a meeting with other interested groups June 13 at the Huntington Station church to advertise their plans.

Madden said nonprofits have a difficult time when it comes to getting a solar hookup simply because of the issue of affordability.

We’ve seen widespread adoption in single-family homes, but not so much in small commercial spaces.”

– Isaac Baker

“They are not usually looked at by solar developers because its more expensive, or there are multiple decision makers in those organizations that can stall a project,” he said.

Other than cost, Isaac Baker, the co-president of Resonant Energy, said the nonprofits also have to contend with a lack of incentives to get into solar, specifically that nonprofits are not eligible for the federal
solar tax credits that homeowners or for-profits can get. There are no current programs that financially help New York organizations transition from traditional electric to solar.

“We’ve seen widespread adoption in single-family homes, but not so much in small commercial spaces,” Baker said. “[A large amount] of rooftop is available in any state on small commercial buildings that are owned by nonprofits.”

Some religious organizations on Long  Island have already invested heavily in solar technology. The Sisters of St. Joseph in Brentwood made a big splash earlier this year when they unveiled their community solar system on their main campus. The 3,192 solar photovoltaic panels on their roof power 63 percent of the convent’s residential and office space on the 212-acre property.

Karen Burke, the coordinator of land initiatives for the Sisters of St. Joseph, said that her sisterhood was looking to make the switch at other facilities.

The town is really into getting into as much solar as possible, so this is a great untapped resource.”

– Billii Roberti

Baker said that if the PowerUP can bring together 10 different organizations, bulk pricing could bring the cost of solar panels down to $114,000 per building with 56 kilowatts of output. The initiative’s members were promised to save approximately $2,200 per year and a net savings of $212,000 in 25 years, according to Baker.

The time line for the PowerUP initiative would have the nonprofits and churches getting technical assessments by the end of July, having installation done in September and the systems up and running by October.

Billii Roberti, a member on the Town of Huntington’s Advisory Committee on Energy Efficiency, Renewables and Sustainability, said that Huntington should try to look to nonprofits to proliferate sustainable energy.

“[This initiative is] bringing in people who are otherwise unable to take advantage of solar, people who are disenfranchised in a sense,” Roberti said. “The town is really into getting into as much solar as possible, so this is a great untapped resource.”

On day 5 ... we visited the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem ... It was breathtaking.

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Greetings from Jerusalem, Israel! I am writing this column from the Notre Dame Hotel right outside the Jaffa Gate to the Old City of Jerusalem.

Twenty-three pilgrims from all over the metropolitan area made the commitment to journey together for eight days. We began our pilgrimage as strangers but are leaving as real friends who shared the journey of a lifetime.

Our pilgrimage began by landing in Tel Aviv where we boarded a bus that took us to the ancient seaport of Jaffa. From there we drove along the Mediterranean coast to the ruins of the ancient Roman capital of Caesarea built by Herod the Great in around 22 B.C.

We then went on to see the great Roman theater and the aqueduct in the Herodian port. From there we took a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. I celebrated Mass on the Mount of the Beatitudes. We then proceeded to Capernaum — the city of Jesus and St. Peter. After that we visited the famous biblical city of Caesarea Philippi.

We began day 5 with a visit to the ancient city of Magdala, the home of Mary Magdalene. We visited the ruins of this first-century town and its synagogue, where tradition tells us Jesus himself visited, taught and preached. In the afternoon, we visited the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem where tradition says the child Jesus was born. It was breathtaking.

On days 6, 7 and 8 we visited Masada, the fortress where Jewish zealots held off the armies of the Roman Empire — choosing suicide over surrender. We went to the Dead Sea where one floats and never sinks. It was 110°F that day and most of our trip. We visited a variety of other historical and religious sites outside of Jerusalem.

The rest of our pilgrimage was spent in the Old City. We prayed at the famous Western Wall, visited the room of the Last Supper as well as the Garden of Gethsemane. I had the privilege of saying Mass at the Church of All Nations, where Jesus prayed to be spared of the cross. After Mass, we had a panoramic view from the Mount of Olives overlooking the city of Jerusalem. We went into the Old City and visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and actually walked the Stations of the Cross — Jesus’ final walk to the cross and crucifixion.

Each day was a powerful reminder of history and faith. By the end of our journey, we had gone from being a band of strangers to a community of friends grateful for the journey. 

This is my third visit to Israel. Each time I feel more enriched when I return home. The Scripture becomes more real and alive because I’ve seen firsthand the places of which it speaks.

This trip was unique because we went to Israel prepared for a lot of upheaval because of the news reports here in the States. We saw some signs of a nation at war; however, I heard firsthand a very different account of the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

On my free day, I spent my time walking in the old and new city of Jerusalem talking to Jews, Muslims and Christians hearing their stories about life in Israel. Each person had the same hopes and expectations that we do — to live freely with respect, dignity and untapped possibilities to dream and make those dreams come true!

For every believer and/or lover of history, Israel should be on your bucket list. You will not be disappointed!

Fr. Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.

As members of the Mount Sinai Yacht Club in Cedar Beach came out June 10 for the 15th annual blessing of the fleet, most understood, as old of a tradition it is, the blessing is time-honored way to guarantee
a successful boating season.

“This is for the entire season to make sure [the club’s members] have a safe and fun boating season,” said Reverend Jerry Nedelka, Venerable Canon for the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island. He has conducted
the blessing of the fleet ceremony for nearly two decades. “This is a great opportunity for fellowship among friends and club members.”

This year Nedelka and Reverend Francis Lasrado of Infant Jesus R.C. Church in Port Jefferson, held up a cross and gave blessings to the many boats, both large and small, of the yacht club’s members as they crossed in front of the marina. The reverends even blessed the Town of Brookhaven’s pump out boat as it crawled its way across the harbor to the mouth of the Long Island Sound.

The blessing was attended by club trustee Bill Dick along with various local government officials including
Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) and Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point).

“This … shows our strong, community-focused mindset,” Dick said.

Anker said the club plays a big park protecting the local harbor front and environment, especially when it comes to the repair of the channel that travels from Mount Sinai Harbor into the Sound, which is constantly affected by erosion and storms.

“They are good stewards of our environment,” Anker said. “They are an anchor in the marina community, and
they have been instrumental in efforts to repair the channel.”

Matthew Seyfert, right, approached his pastor Chuck Van Houten about his Eagle Scout project, constructing blessing boxes, for local churches. Van Houten reached out to other pastors to see if other houses of worship would be interested in receiving one. Photo from Dave Seyfert

By Rita J. Egan

Blessings have been popping up more and more at churches in the Three Village area thanks to a Stony Brook Eagle Scout.

Matthew Seyfert recently achieved the rank right before his 18th birthday. The Ward Melville senior completed a project where he and other Scouts assembled seven wood structures like the Little Free Libraries found all over Long Island. Called a blessing box, Seyfert said the cabinets will provide spots at seven local churches where congregants can add an item that may be needed by others. The member of Setauket Troop 70 said he completed his project just in time, since boys have until they turn 18 to reach the pinnacle of the program.

Blessing boxes during assembly. Each Scout had a different job during the project including painting and drilling. Photo from Dave Seyfert

“It felt really good, because even though I was a little pressed for time when I started my project, I tried to pick a project that I really didn’t do as a requirement just for completion,” he said. “[It’s] something that would have a larger impact on my community. It meant a lot to me.”

The Eagle Scout said he was watching the news when he heard about a blessing box in Texas, and thought it was a good idea to create a cabinet for his own place of worship, Stony Brook Community Church, among others. The Scout said church members typically fill the cabinet with items like school supplies at the beginning of the academic year, and socks and gloves or nonperishables in the winter.

When he approached the Rev. Chuck Van Houten, Seyfert said the pastor of Stony Brook Community Church was enthusiastic about the project, and reached out to other church leaders through the Three Village Interfaith Clergy group to see who else would be interested in one.

Van Houten said he was impressed with Seyfert’s endeavor, but added he wasn’t surprised, noting how involved the high school senior has been in the church, and the leadership qualities he possesses.

“I thought it was a great idea, especially since one of the main missions or ministries of our church right now is feeding people in the local school district,” the pastor said.

“I thought it was a great idea, especially since one of the main missions or ministries of our church right now is feeding people in the local school district.”

— Rev. Chuck Van Houten

Once a month church members purchase food for a local food pantry, according to Van Houten, who said the Stony Brook Community Church box will mainly be used to house nonperishables. He said the best part is that people can drop off or pick up items every day, all day, unlike a pantry where dates and times can be limited. In the next few weeks, the Seyferts will join Van Houten in finding a place in front of the church for the blessing box, and he hopes that all community members will use it in the future.

Seyfert said while a few church councils were concerned maintaining a blessing Box may be a big responsibility, he explained it would be on a stand and easy to move, adding it’s up to the congregation what they want to fill them with and how often.

The Scout’s father, Dave, said he was proud of his son for coming up with the idea, especially because financial situations can change dramatically with sickness or job loss, and said the need is greater than many would think in the Three Village area. The pair put together a prototype back in November before moving forward.

“I thought it was a well thought out project and well executed,” David Seyfert said.

The Rev. Gregory Leonard of Bethel AME Church in Setauket stands in front of the church’s blessing box. Photo from Dave Seyfert

Matthew Seyfert said future Eagle Scouts need to supervise the projects more than build them, so he got together some fellow Scouts and gave each boy a job based on age. While some did prep-work, others painted and others drilled. His father said local businesses Ace Hardware in Setauket, Riverhead Building Supply, Home Depot, Lowe’s and Omega Moulding Company donated supplies. Seyfert decided they would have roofs in colors that matched each church, after Setauket Presbyterian Church asked what color the boxes would be.

They’ve been placed at six locations so far, including Stony Brook Community Church, Setauket Presbyterian, Bethel AME Church, Caroline Church of Brookhaven, All Souls Episcopal Church and Setauket United Methodist Church. The Scout said he hopes to find a home for the seventh one in the near future. He said he has mixed feelings about the project being over.

“It was a relief, but it was also kind of sad because we were working on it for so long, that it was weird to not be focused on it,” Seyfert said. “But it felt really good to now finally implement them.”

The Eagle Scout project has left him with some advice for other boys looking to achieve the feat.

“Choose something you’re interested in so it’s not as much work,” Seyfert said. “Also, start early. It’s a lot of planning. You really can’t start without planning.”

By Rita J. Egan

William Shakespeare once compared a good deed to a candle’s beam, writing it shined in a weary world.

The power of a good dead is something members of Temple Isaiah’s Social Action Committee have known for decades. For the last 20 years, they have organized a cleanup at West Meadow Beach in Setauket, according to Iris Schiff, the committee’s chairwoman.

Once calling the volunteer opportunity “Mitzvah Day,” the group has now dubbed it “Good Deeds Day” occurred April 15. But the Stony Brook temple usually celebrates it later in the month when days are a bit warmer. Schiff said this year the Stony Brook temple invited congregants of Setauket Presbyterian Church to join them. On April 29, after a communal brunch at the synagogue, a handful of volunteers headed to the beach.

“We are hoping that other faiths will join with us in the future.”

— Barbara Curtis

Barbara Curtis, a member of Setauket Presbyterian who organized church volunteers, was on hand with bag in hand.

“A good deeds day brings our faith communities together in the very best way,” Curtis said. “We are hoping that other faiths will join with us in the future.”

Rev. Mary Barrett Speers, pastor of Setauket Presbyterian Church, said in an email the beach was the perfect spot for the joint community project.

“I personally love the idea because all God’s children share God’s earth,” Barrett Speers said. “We all love West Meadow Beach, and right after Earth Day, what better way is there to celebrate our beach than by caring for it?”

Schiff said the beach was in excellent condition, and after a couple of hours of cleaning up, they only had about a half a dozen bags filled with bottle tops, balloons, cans and random pieces of plastic.

She said the cleanup wasn’t the only good deed of the day. In the morning, children from the temple painted and decorated wood crates and donated them to Setauket Presbyterian Church’s Open Door Exchange, an outreach program which redistributes furniture to those in need. A few families also volunteered with Great Strides Long Island, Inc.at Saddle Rock Ranch in Middle Island, a nonprofit organization that helps developmentally disabled children ride horses.

After the beach cleanup, Schiff said she felt good about the day.

“Everybody was just right on the same page and feeling the same way,” she said. “I’m really hoping that next year we’re able to expand this and bring in some of the other faith communities.”

Volunteers at St. James R.C. Church, above, pack up baked goods to be included in care packages for parishioners away at college. Photo from Mary Arasi

Nowadays texts and social media comments may be the trend, but a Setauket church is keeping a cherished form of reaching out alive.

Care packages sent to former parishioners of St. James R.C. Church include snacks and a copy of The Village Times Herald.” Photo from Mary Arasi

Recently, 107 students from the Three Village area attending college away from home received care packages in the mail thanks to 10 parishioners from St. James R.C. Church in Setauket. On April 13, the group filled boxes with goodies, including baked goods from 18 volunteer bakers. Once they sealed the packages, they delivered the boxes to the April 15, 6 p.m. Sunday Mass for service attendees to volunteer to take home and mail to the recipients.

For more than two decades, Mary Arasi has organized a group of volunteers in the spring and fall to create care packages for parishioners who are attending college away from home. Through the years the group has consisted of a variety of congregation members, from children to senior citizens, filling boxes with baked goods, snacks, a religious article and even copies of The Village Times Herald.

Arasi said she writes a note to be photocopied and included in each box and then asks the volunteers to add a postscript. She said she requests the senders to write something on the outside of the box, too. In the past, holiday greetings and shout-outs for local teams have been added to the notes and boxes.

“I feel that it’s really important the students know another person touched the box,” Arasi said.

Congregant Arlene Collins, a teacher at Sts. Philip and James School in St. James, said she has volunteered from time to time to fill boxes since 1997 when Arasi called her to ask for her oldest son’s college address. When her friend explained what she was doing, Collins decided to volunteer. She said she has known Arasi since their children were in nursery school, and the assembling of packages is the perfect time for the two to catch up with each other and others they have met through the years at the church.

“Every time I received a care package I had a moment of feeling really grateful that someone was thinking about me enough to send me something in the mail.”

— Kerri Farrell

Collins said all three of her children received packages during their college years until her youngest graduated in 2008, and they always looked forward to the packages’ arrivals.

“They were getting ready for finals, and a package would come, and they were so happy, especially with the baked goods,” Collins said.

During the last package assembly, the teacher said she was delighted to see the names of a couple of former students and included a note to say hello and wish them well.

Kerri Farrell remembered helping to assemble boxes when she was a teenager and receiving the care packages from the church when she attended college, starting with the 2004-05 school year. She said she was touched to receive them, especially during the first two years when she was feeling homesick.

“Sometimes when you’re in a new place and feeling overwhelmed, you forget nice little things like that because you’re caught up in the day-to-day stuff,” Farrell said. “Every time I received a care package I had a moment of feeling really grateful that someone was thinking about me enough to send me something in the mail.”

College students feeling overwhelmed or homesick is why Arasi said she keeps the care packages coming.

“If one of those boxes gets to a kid on a really bad day, and it made a difference that their church family cares about them, then it’s all worth it,” she said.