Times of Middle Country

At center, Rebecca Sanin, president and CEO of the Health & Welfare Council of Long Island, speaks about WIC changes Jan. 10. Photo by David Luces

By David Luces

Suffolk County officials are working to partner with food pantries and nonprofits to help ensure low-income women and children keep access to basic food and health care in the months ahead as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children undergoes a major change in the months ahead. 

The county offices of the WIC program are closed Jan.14 for a week to upgrade to a debit card-based system, making the transition away from paper checks to electronic benefit transfer cards in accordance with New York State law. 

The facilities will reopen Jan. 22 in limited capacity only to allow time for employee training and EBT card distribution to clients. 

“WIC sites are not only providers, they also serve as powerful community centers.”

— Rebecca Sanin

Suffolk officials expect the WIC program to be back up and running in April, but many are concerned that its recipients should have ready access to food and health care during
the transition.

The officials viewed the new EBT system changes as necessary to modernize and streamline the program for its more than 12,000 Suffolk recipients.  

“I can’t think of no greater priority than making sure babies and children in their youngest years are well fed and never face nutritional insecurities,” Rebecca Sanin, president and CEO of Health & Welfare Council of Long Island, said during a Jan. 10 press conference. 

The council, Hauppauge-based Long Island Cares and Island Harvest of Bethpage have compiled a listing of food pantries in close proximity to WIC offices for families in need during the closure at www.hwcli.com/wic-closings. 

WIC provides more than food for low-income families, it also offers basic health care for children under age 5 including height, weight, blood tests and iron levels. The program provides women and children with access to nutritional counseling, breastfeeding support and peer counseling. 

“WIC sites are not only providers, they also serve as powerful community centers,” Sanin said. “Food security leads to lower infant mortality rates and safer pregnancies.” 

 Paule Pachter, president and CEO of nonprofit Long Island Cares, said he recognizes there are challenges ahead. 

“If the public doesn’t provide the food to the pantries, we don’t have them.”

— Paule Pachter

“When you are trying to provide food for mothers and babies, you are talking about some of the most expensive food on the market,” Patcher said. “Formula, baby food, diapers, specialized food — this stuff is not readily available at the local food pantries.” 

Many individuals rely on LI Cares and Island Harvest for these products. 

“If the public doesn’t provide the food to the pantries, we don’t have them,” he said. “We’ve been preparing for this day for quite some time.”

As part of the preparations for the months ahead, LI Cares has made sure that mothers can have access to these vital products at their satellite locations in Freeport, Lindenhurst and Huntington Station. 

The Hauppauge nonprofit also created mobile outreach units to go into the community to make residents aware of the ongoing closure and changes to the EBT system. They will be visiting Centereach, Bay Shore, Bohemia, Brentwood, Patchogue, Riverhead and Southampton.  

Sanin said WIC agencies have worked very hard to get in contact with clients to pick up  their checks in advance. 

In addition, part of the new system will include the launch of a new smartphone app, WIC2Go, that will let clients track their benefits, find vendors and items. 

“The new system will be much easier for clients,” Sanin said.

One of the best parts of our job is providing an outlet for readers to express their beliefs and passions on the Letters to the Editor page. Knowing what is on the minds of community members is always valuable to us and to the rest of our readers. This is a platform for releasing passions.

That’s why we’re hoping a few readers who called us last week will take pen to paper — or fingers to keyboard — and write us a letter. After the Jan. 10 editorial criticizing the extended government shutdown over a proposed wall on the U.S. and Mexican border, we received a few calls from readers who were unhappy with our opinion. Some went as far as to say they would no longer read our papers. Even though they want to end their relationships with us, we appreciate their calls. We wish they would have taken the time to write a Letter to the Editor, because that’s one of the purposes of the page — for a reader to let the newspaper staff and readers know that they don’t agree with an editorial or even an article.

We encourage and appreciate letters from all our readers no matter where they stand, even when it comes to politics. Also, we would love to see more letters from those who voted for and support President Donald Trump (R) as well as those who don’t. We want readers to tell us what they like and don’t like about the president — we appreciate hearing from all sides. We think our readers do too.

Speaking of Trump and national issues, many have asked why they don’t see more letters about local topics. When we receive them, we gladly publish them. We would love to hear more about what our readership thinks of political decisions on the town and village levels as well as our local elected officials. 

These letters to the editor can create much-needed conversations, but a few readers have commented there’s too much back and forth between some individuals in some of our papers. We always do our best to give people an equal opportunity to respond to each other, but some of that back and forth would stop if we received more letters about a wider variety of topics.

So, if you’re reading this editorial right now, don’t be shy. We accept letters with opinions about local, state, national and international issues. Whatever is on your mind, we want to hear from you. Take action. Keep in mind that letters are edited for length, libel, style and good taste — the letters page is not a place for foul language or personal battles. Letters should be no longer than 400 words, and we don’t publish anonymous letters. All submissions must include an address and phone number for confirmation.

On a side note, here at TBR News Media we go by “The Associated Press Stylebook” to edit our articles, letters and editorials. One reader pointed out in last week’s edition we didn’t refer to Trump as president. But we did. In the first reference we wrote “President Donald Trump (R),” but following AP style, on subsequent references used only his last name. 

We hope this editorial gets you to write or email, leading to more diverse and productive conversations in the future —  waiting to hear from you at rita@tbrnewsmedia.com (Village Times Herald/Times of Middle Country), kyle@tbrnewsmedia.com (Port Times Record/Village Beacon Record), sara@tbrnewsmedia.com (Times of Huntington and Northport, Times of Smithtown). 

Former newspaper adviser Edward Wendell, center, is pictured with MCPL director Sophia Serlis-McPhillips and Comsewogue Public Library director Debbie Engelhardt.

By Karina Gerry

Middle Country Public Library librarians Stephanie Vecchio and Carol Gray look through issues of The Quadrangle from the 1970s. Photo from MCPL

A retired Newfield High School teacher’s forgotten files turned out to be a treasure for Middle Country Public Library.

Edward Wendol donated original issues of The Quadrangle to the library last month in hopes of preserving a unique piece of history. The Quadrangle, the Newfield High School paper, was supervised by Wendol during 1970-76. Wendol kept the papers all these years in a file in his attic, where he admits he forgot about them until he stumbled upon them one day.

“With the popularity of items being digitized today, I thought this would be the perfect item to be digitized at the Middle Country Public Library [in the district] where I worked,” Wendol said. “I thought it would be the most appropriate place to bring them.”

During his 27 years with the school district, Wendol worked as an English teacher and volunteered to serve as the adviser to The Quadrangle after having a positive experience at his own high school newspaper.

“I had students that were with me their entire high school career,” Wendol remembered fondly. “I think several of them may have even ventured into the journalism aspect.”

Wendol, who has served as a trustee on the Comsewogue Public Library board since 1972, Debbie Engelhardt, director of the Comsewogue library, and Sophia Serlis-McPhillips, director of MCPL, met in December at the Middle Country library so Wendol could hand over his original editions of the paper.

Copies of Newfield High School’s The Quadrangle, above, were donated to Middle Country Public Library in December by Edward Wendol.

“I thought it was absolutely incredible that Mr. Wendol kept all those papers from way back when,” Serlis-McPhillips said. “To have the foresight to do that and the fact that he wanted to give them to the library, I just thought was tremendous that he cared enough about working at Newfield and working at Middle Country school district.”

While the library’s website has a digitized photo collection of the old pictures they’ve received in recent years, this is the first time, in Serlis-McPhillips time at the library at least, that they have been given any type of periodical or newspaper.

“We’re just in the process of cataloging them and putting them on our website so that anyone can share them,” Serlis-McPhillips said. “You know it’s interesting to go back and look at the ads and the events that they were doing, and it kind of gives you a picture of history.”

With his donation, Wendol’s biggest hope is that past students are able to see their work.

“The reason why I brought it to Middle Country where the school district is located is to see if there are students who still live in the school district,” Wendol said. “If they have access to the public library and are willing to say, ‘Hey, let’s see what you have regarding my old high school newspaper at my old high school that I attended.’”

Delegation members, above, with The Ward Melville Heritage Organization President Gloria Rocchio, front center, in front of the historic Stony Brook Post Office. Photo from WMHO

Mobile payment platforms have connected the Stony Brook Village Center to China.

The Ward Melville Heritage Organization, which operates the shopping center, recently hosted a government delegation from Anhui Province, China. The group consisted of government officials and higher education professionals who were in the United States to visit New York and Michigan State University. Their mission was to learn best practices in innovation and entrepreneurship.

Delegation leader Guang Hu, left, completing an Alipay transaction with Jeff Norwood, owner of Camera Concepts & Telescope Solutions

Last year, the Stony Brook Village Center became the first community on Long Island to adopt Alipay and WeChat Pay, which is estimated to have one billion users worldwide. The QR code point of sale terminal systems account for 90 percent of the Chinese mobile payment market, according to the WMHO. The platforms enable Stony Brook village merchants to serve travelers from China better by allowing consumers to purchase goods and services in yuan before then being settled in U.S. currency for merchants.

Gloria Rocchio, president of the WMHO, met with the delegates in her office and then took them on a tour of the village where they were able to shop and experience the mobile payment platforms firsthand. She said it was a whirlwind trip, but the visitors had the chance to shop in many stores including Chocolate Works, Madison’s Niche and Camera Concepts & Telescope Solutions.

“We were happy to host this delegation because they were sincerely impressed with our concern for Chinese customers who are accustomed to using Alipay and WeChat Pay,” Rocchio said.

Jeff Norwood, owner of Camera Concepts & Telescope Solutions, said when the delegates came to his store, one of them wanted to buy a pair of binoculars, but he decided to pay cash instead of Alipay. When he approached the store’s register, Norwood said he realized his point of sales system was offline, and he couldn’t open the register drawer to give the customer change. Another person came over and paid using Alipay, and Norwood said it took two seconds to complete the transaction. It was then that the delegate decided to use Alipay, too.

“I gave him back the fifty, and I said, ‘Look at that, you see, Alipay is easier than cash,’” Norwood said. “It was like the perfect commercial for it.”

The business owner said he’s only had the opportunity to use Alipay once before and said it’s easier to use than the store’s credit card machine. All he has to do is put in the amount, and then the customer has an app on the phone that comes up with a bar code. The sales associate scans the bar code and the store’s machine prints out a receipt.

Twelve government agencies, including the School of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, along with the Science, Technology and Intellectual Property Bureau, were represented.

Guang Hu, delegation leader and director of the Division of International Exchange and Cooperation, Anhui Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs, thanked the WMHO for hosting the visit in a statement.

“It is very impressive to know that Alipay and WeChat Pay has been implemented by the shops of the village,” Hu said. “Those two are widely used in China, and it shows the technology and innovation offered here. I believe there is great potential to work with [the] Ward Melville Heritage Organization on all levels of collaboration between Anhui and Stony Brook.”

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone delivers his State of the County address May 24 at Newfield High School in Selden. Photo by Alex Petroski

By David Luces

Suffolk County has been working toward reducing inmate populations through programs to give people who have been incarcerated a new lease on life.

On Jan. 2 county officials announced the completion of the Suffolk Fresh Start program which has helped assist more than 100 formerly incarcerated individuals find employment after their release.

Over the past two years, after receiving a $489,901 grant from the U.S. Department of Labor, the county’s Department of Labor has administered Suffolk’s Fresh Start program with the county’s Sheriff’s Office and Eastern Suffolk BOCES. Its main goal was to try and provide employable skills and vocational training to incarcerated individuals.

‘Having gainful employment is one of the factors that can reduce recidivism.’

— Errol Toulon

County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said in a press release the county has created a successful criminal justice model to reduce recidivism and protect taxpayers.

“This program is giving people a second chance to become productive members of society, strengthening families and saving Suffolk taxpayers millions,” he said.

More than 350 individuals were enrolled in the Fresh Start program where they were given resources and training to address any possible barriers to employment. They were also registered with the county’s One-Stop Employment Center in Hauppauge.

The employment center supplies job-seeking individuals with the tools necessary for a self-directed or staff-assisted job search. There they can receive help with creating or editing résumés, navigate the internet for potential jobs and be interviewed by prospective employers on-site.

“The program has changed people’s lives,” said county spokesperson Derek Poppe.

Since 1999, New York State’s prison population has declined by 35 percent, according to a report from the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision released Jan. 1. The report said since 2011, the state has eliminated 5,500 prison beds and closed a total of 13 correctional facilities. The number of male inmates in maximum security prisons has been reduced from 24,151 in 2009 to 20,173 in 2019.

Suffolk has two jail facilities. One is the Riverhead facility which was intended to hold 529 inmates in maximum security cells and 240 in medium security cells, according to a 2008 county report. The facilities in Yaphank included a minimum-security jail that had cell space for 504 inmates, and a DWI Alternative facility for 54 inmates.

Since 2010 the county’s jail population has decreased drastically. Newsday’s data on Long Island’s jail population shows a fall from 1,609 in 2010 to 1,157 in 2016. The decrease has been mostly in inmates at the Riverhead facility.

Poppe said Bellone was against the construction of a new jail facility, and programs like Fresh Start work to keep inmates from committing further crimes.

“Many of these individuals were able to find work in the construction, manufacture and telemarketing field,” Bellone’s spokesperson said.

Even though the grant from the Department of the Labor expired in December 2018, Poppe said there are plans in place to continue the programs through internal county funds and possibly funds from the federal government.

‘This program is giving people a second chance to become productive members of society, strengthening families and saving Suffolk taxpayers millions.’

— Steve Bellone

The number of people in Suffolk’s jails is strained by a lack of corrections officers in both Riverhead and Yaphank. County Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. (D) told TBR News Media in July 2018 the county was dealing with a large amount of corrections officer vacancies, saying at the time there were 76 positions left unfilled with 30 new officers being added as early as August that same year.

The sheriff said in a press release that Fresh Start gives county inmates opportunity and hope following incarceration.

“Having gainful employment is one of the factors that can reduce recidivism, and we are fortunate to have Department of Labor staff working with us to improve outcomes for those transitioning from jail to our communities,” Toulon said.

By repurposing existing internal funds Poppe said the county plans on having Department of Labor staffers work in conjunction with the correctional facilities in future, adding, “We want to continue to run this
successful program.”

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Maggie Webber, 14, of Lake Grove, is crowned the 2018 Mid-Atlantic Regional Champion in Irish dancing. Photo by Debbie Lynch-Webber

By Karina Gerry

Lake Grove resident Maggie Webber has once again left her mark at the Irish dance regional championship.

The 14-year-old Centereach High School freshman was crowned the 2018 Mid-Atlantic Regional Champion in Irish dancing in the girls under-14 category, previously taking home the title in 2017 as well. The two-time champion is no stranger to the competition, having attended regionals every year since she was 5 years old.

My ultimate goal is just to continue to love dance and to enjoy performing, and to just have fun everywhere I go and with the people I’m with while at class or competitions.”

— Maggie Webber

“It’s definitely nerve racking at times,” Maggie said. “[Especially] right before you go on stage, because you want to make sure you remember all of the things you’ve practiced. But when you get on stage it’s really exciting to just perform and have a good time.”

Regionals, which are held every year in Philadelphia in November, saw Maggie score a perfect 500, with each judge granting her performance a score of 100. While the award is always appreciated, it’s not the main goal for her.

“My ultimate goal is just to continue to love dance and to enjoy performing, and to just have fun everywhere I go and with the people I’m with while at class or competitions,” she said.

In the Webber household, Irish dance is a family tradition. Maggie’s mom, Debbie Lynch-Webber, owns Mulvihill-Lynch School of Irish Dance in Lake Ronkonkoma and has herself been dancing since the age of 7, when her mother, an immigrant from Ireland, signed her up for classes. In the years since, she has passed her love for the sport onto her daughter.

“My daughter just lives and breathes for it,” Lynch-Webber said. “She loves it, so it was never my push or anything — she just absolutely had such a passion for it from when she was 3.”

Someone competing at Maggie’s elite level has to train seven days a week. When she’s not practicing at the studio, she’s doing cross training at Parisi Speed School at World Gym in Setauket.

“As a dancer it is still extremely important to train and work on power strength and speed,” said Ryan Whitley, Parisi program director. “As an Irish step dancer, Maggie needs to have excellent body coordination, balance and speed. While we might not be actually dancing in classes here, she is still becoming a better dancer and athlete with everything she does in class.”

‘Dance is definitely one of the most important parts of my life.’

— Maggie Webber

Despite her busy schedule, Maggie has made sure to make time for other things, like hanging with her friends and playing on the Centereach varsity field hockey team, but nothing has replaced her love for dance.

“Dance is definitely one of the most important parts of my life,” Maggie said. “It’s always been with me ever since I was born, so I can’t imagine my life without it.”

Down the road, Maggie hopes to follow in the footsteps of her mom and receive her teaching certificate. In terms of the near future, she hopes to continue to dance her best and maintain a similar placement as the year before. With the World Irish Dancing Championships coming up in April, she would like to come in near last year’s fifth-place finish.

“Each year that I dance, whether the placement shows it or not, I do feel I mature and I improve as a dancer and as a competitor,” Maggie said.

County Executive Steve Bellone, center, SCPD Commissioner Geraldine Hart, left, and Chief of Department Stuart Cameron, right, present common phone scams.

By David Luces

Suffolk County police and elected representatives are saying if you think the person on the other end of a phone call may be a scam, hang up as quickly as possible and call the authorities.

According to Suffolk County officials, 2018 has seen a steady increase of telephone and digital scams, especially those targeting the elderly and non-English speakers. In 2018, there were 68 incidents reported, and the largest amount of money taken was $800,000 between 2017 and 2018. Of the 68 victims, 40 were elderly. 

“Simply put, this is the 21st century definition of highway robbery.”

— Steve Bellone

In 2019, nearly half of all calls to mobile phones will be scammers looking to fraudulent gain access to financial information, according to a report from telecommunications firm First Orion.

At a press conference Jan. 4, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said the trend is alarming.

“Simply put, this is the 21st century definition of highway robbery,” Bellone said. “These scammers are targeting a vulnerable group of people.”

According to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, the median loss people experienced from a phone-based scam in 2017 was $720. 

Bellone said thieves will sometimes call victims using an automated message to demand money or threaten to call the local authorities. 

“Our message to the public is to not give personal financial information when someone is calling you over the phone,” Bellone said. 

Suffolk County Police Department chief  Stuart Cameron said these scammers call threatening to stop certain utilities, claiming bills were unpaid. With tax season close by, Cameron cautioned the public to be on the lookout for scams mentioning the IRS as well.  

“They also call claiming a relative is seriously injured or in danger,” the chief said.

It is difficult to hold these scammers accountable because most are either out of state or out of the country and are using technology to mask their identity. 

Cameron said payment is usually requested through gift cards. 

“No government agencies are going to ask for gift cards,” Cameron said. “If you get a call like this, call law enforcement.”

Bellone mentioned that many of these crimes go unreported because victims feel embarrassed or simply ignore the calls. 

“We are trying to do everything we can to protect residents from these scams,” the county executive said. 

“In every case we are going to tell people if they are utilizing an app like LetGo to please do it in a public place, meet in daylight hours and don’t go by yourself.”

— Geraldine Hart

At the press conference Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart also informed the public on five robberies — one as recent as New Year’s Eve — involving the LetGo app, a digital marketplace that allows users to buy and sells items locally on their phones. 

Four out of the five robberies involved meeting up to purchase an iPhone, according to Hart. 

“In every case we are going to tell people if they are utilizing an app like LetGo to please do it in a public place, meet in daylight hours and don’t go by yourself,” Hart said. “Make sure you can verify the seller.”

A majority of the robberies occurred in the Mastic Beach area beginning in August 2018. During that month, a victim arranged to sell a cellphone to someone outside a home in Mastic Beach at 10 p.m. The suspect took the phone and told the victim he would return. The suspect fled into the backyard and never returned with the money.

On Nov. 30, a suspect and a victim agreed to meet to sell an iPhone. The suspect showed an iPhone in a box and the victim gave him $400. The suspect told the victim he had to get a SIM card and fled through a backyard and onto an adjacent street. 

The most recent incident occurred at the Mastic-Shirley train station. The victim gave the suspect money and was pushed to the ground. When the victim attempted to follow the suspect, a second man threatened to shoot him.  

 “Thankfully no one was seriously injured,” Hart said. 

The suspects involved appear to be connected to all five robberies and got away with several thousand dollars. 

Officials said if residents have information on phone scams and the robberies to call 800-220-TIPS (8477). 

By Bill Landon

Centereach boys basketball held off the charging Bulls of Smithtown East for a 50-45 victory, notching back-to-back wins on the road Jan. 3.

Matt Robbert had the hot hand for the Cougars, leading his team in scoring with 13 followed by Ryan DeCoursey who netted 11.

Smithtown East senior guard Marcin Termena banked three triples and a pair of field goals for the Bulls, leading the way with 13.

The win propels the Cougars to 2-3 in League III, 3-6 overall.

Susan Delgado and her husband, John, stand in front of St. Cuthbert’s food pantry in Selden. Photo from Tracy LaStella

One woman’s passion for helping others has benefited many who are in need.

For the past 15 years, Susan Delgado has headed up the food pantry at St. Cuthbert’s Episcopal Church in Selden, and at 79 years old, she has no plans for slowing down.

The Delgados with their children, Paul, David, Tracy and Dan, who they raised in Selden after moving to the area 50 years ago. Photo from Tracy LaStella

Christina Rundberg, the church’s vestry clerk, said when the church decided to offer a food pantry, Delgado soon took over as coordinator.

“The food pantry has become her pride and joy and her baby,” Rundberg said.

Delgado and her husband John can be found working in the food pantry a few times a week, according to Rundberg. Susan Delgado coordinates pickups with drivers from the food banks Long Island Cares and Island Harvest, picks up food with her husband at various locations including Bethel Hobbs Community Farm in Centereach and ShopRite in Selden and stocks the shelves.

“I don’t know where she gets the energy,” Rundberg said.

The pantry that was initially opened only Fridays from 6 to 7 p.m. is now open on the same day from 10 a.m. to 12:15 p.m as well. Rundberg said the additional hours were added when Delgado was worried about people walking and riding bikes at night, especially during the winter months, and she decided it would be helpful to open it to the public on Friday mornings, too.

Rundberg, who volunteers in the pantry Friday nights, said it’s open to anyone in need, not just to congregants. When it comes to holidays, the vestry clerk said Delgado always ensures there are enough food items, so clients can have a Thanksgiving, Christmas or Easter dinner. She also helps to raise funds and items for a local battered women’s shelter, coordinates an adopt-a-family program during the winter holidays to buy families in need gifts and helps to collect backpacks filled with school supplies for children in need before the school year starts.

Father Charles Schnabel, a retired priest who helps with church services, said he’s always impressed when laypeople keep a church going, and Delgado is no exception. He said there’s hardly a time he doesn’t see her there working.

“She is very well focused on this area of ministry, and it’s so needed today.”

— Father Charles Schnabel

“What I see in Sue is a woman of great faith and dedication, and it’s rooted, I think, in her faith and membership at St. Cuthbert’s,” he said, adding she’s emblematic of the church’s congregants.

He described Delgado as a quiet, unassuming person, who at the same time isn’t afraid to stand up and speak at services to inform church members about what is needed at the pantry, whether it be food, toiletries and even toilet paper. The priest said she sees those who stop by the pantry as more than clients, and he remembered one time when she made a plea to the church members and was near tears.

“She is very well focused on this area of ministry, and it’s so needed today,” he said.

Delgado’s daughter, Tracy LaStella, said in addition to volunteering at the pantry, her mother works full time for a local IRS office in its mail room. The pantry, the daughter said, on average serves 342 households and 274 individuals per week.

“Every time I go there I can’t even believe how many people need the help and that [the church is] able to help them and give them food,” LaStella said.

She said she always thought of food pantries as only having canned foods, and she’s amazed at the quality and variety of foods that are available at the St. Cuthbert’s food pantry.

She said her mother has also partnered with Middle Country Public Library, where LaStella serves as assistant director for youth services. Members of the teen advisory council there have helped stock the shelves of the pantry before Thanksgiving and make tote bags for the families to use to pick up food.

LaStella said people come up to her in the library all the time and tell her about her mother — and father as well.

“It just warms my heart that they’re doing such great work for the community that they live in, and we all grew up in, too,” she said, adding her mother has four children and seven grandchildren.

The daughter said talking about her mother’s good deeds makes her teary-eyed.

“From what I can remember as a child, she was always helping neighbors,” LaStella said. “She was always helping her sisters. If she grew up in this day and age, she probably would have been a social worker. She has a really big heart. She would give her coat off her back for somebody.”

Linda Johnson presents a check to support Stony Brook Cancer Center to registered dietitian Jennifer Fitzgibbon. Photo by Terri Quinn

By Susan Risoli

Thanks to Linda Johnson, the Three Village Artisan and Farmers Market has become a place of healthy healing, not only through its fresh produce but because of the fellowship and friendship it offers. For her hard work and dedication to reinventing the market, TBR News Media names Johnson one of the People of the Year.

Linda Johnson helps a customer at the Three Village Market. Photo by Terri Quinn

The Three Village Market — as it is colloquially known — sets up shop on the North Country Road grounds of the Three Village Historical Society. This year Johnson stepped up to manage it and ran the event every Friday from June through October. She is scheduled to manage it again in 2019.

Those who shopped at the market say Johnson infused it with the same spirit that flavors her family-run chocolate business, Chocology Unlimited in Stony Brook.

“Linda’s business is about the whole experience of chocolate, and philanthropy, and building relationships in the community,” said Sandy White, Three Village Historical Society office manager.

Johnson turned the market into an opportunity to support survivorship programs at the Stony Brook Cancer Center. She also made it a relaxed gathering spot, where neighbors brought their dogs and kids and enjoyed live music.

The Three Village Market features locally grown and crafted wares, with an emphasis on the freshest of foods. Jennifer Fitzgibbon, a Cancer Center registered dietitian who specializes in oncology nutrition, found the market to be an ally in educating her patients and raising funds to support the Cancer Center. She said Johnson donated a percentage of sales from the farmers market, as well as a percentage of sales from her chocolate business, to purchase exercise equipment and yoga mats for cancer patients and survivors to use.

As part of the Cancer Center’s Healthy Forks program, Fitzgibbon takes people to grocery stores to show them how to shop healthy without spending a lot of money. So taking them on tours of the Three Village Market was a great addition to Healthy Forks, she said. Fitzgibbon said she and her patients appreciated Johnson’s efforts to establish “an uplifting and beautiful experience. It’s just a healthy atmosphere.”

For one vendor, working with Johnson turned into a homecoming. Ann Marie’s Farm Stand, a beloved Three Village mainstay, was for many years headquartered right up the road from the farmers market. Although they’re doing well at their new location in Port Jefferson Station, many in the Three Village community mourned their absence. So Johnson brought Ann Marie’s back, by inviting them to sell their produce at the market every week.

“She was sort of our guardian angel,” said Ann Marie’s owner Mary Ann Deriso. “We saw our old customers again, and that was great for us.”

“She has a lot of positive energy. She always has so many ideas.”

— Jennifer Fitzgibbon

Deriso praised Johnson’s people skills.

“It’s not easy positioning the vendors in their spots and making them happy where they are,” Deriso said. “She’s very good at it. She made us all feel comfortable and welcome.”

Above all, “Linda is down to earth,” Deriso said. “She’s likable and real.”

Fitzgibbon said Johnson created a diverse marketplace that was more than just vegetables.

“She has a lot of positive energy,” Fitzgibbon said. “She always has so many ideas.”

The nutritionist said one example was “at the market there was a bread person, a gluten-free dessert person, a pasta vendor and even a lady who knits.”

Fitzgibbon called Johnson “the heart and the soul and the nucleus of the farmers market.”

Besides setting up the vendor tables every week, “she was literally going through the neighborhood, getting people to come over there and shop.”

White said Johnson put together a farmers market that filled a void.

“Yes, there are other farmers markets in other areas, but we needed one here,” she said. “The market is successful, and we’re happy that Linda took it over.”

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