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North Shore Neighbors Breast Cancer Coalition

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By Bill Landon

The Miller Place Panthers girls volleyball team defeated the Shoreham-Wading River Wildcats Oct. 11 at home three sets to two, though everyone involved was a winner that day. The game was part of the annual Dig Pink initiative held during Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October in which the teams partner with the Sideout Foundation to to raise money to benefit the North Shore Neighbors Breast Cancer Coalition, a local nonprofit dedicated to helping families with someone battling the disease.

Tuscany Gourmet Market owners Rich Fink and Tommy O’Grady are known for helping families in the community, whether it be donating food and gift cards to a charitable event, or volunteering time to cater and serve at an event with company volunteers. Photo by Jennifer Brunet

By Desirée Keegan

Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name.

That’s what it’s like when entering Tuscany Gourmet Market. Customers step through the sliding doors of the 10-year-old establishment’s new location on 25A in Miller Place and are immediately greeted by staff members. Restaurant-quality foods, imported cheeses and fine meats are available everywhere the eye can see at the family owned fare. Owner Tommy O’Grady is even known to whip up specialty items if a customer can’t find exactly what they were looking for, and if they can’t do that, they’ll find a way to get it.

But that’s not even half of what Miller Place residents say makes the market so special. To many, it’s that the warm, welcoming atmosphere is coupled with sincere care for the community.

Tuscany Gourmet Market manager Rich Fink and owner Tommy O’Grady are known for helping families in the community, whether it be donating food and gift cards to a charitable event, or volunteering time to cater and serve at an event with company volunteers. Photo by Jennifer Brunet

Sound Beach resident Patti Kozlowski first visited Tuscany Market five years ago as a customer. She said right away, she knew it was a place she wanted to shop.

“It felt like family, like they were family,” she said of her first experience, which was at the business’ previous location closer to Mount Sinai. “It didn’t feel like a corporate place. It felt like a mom-and-pop shop where they knew everybody in the neighborhood and everyone in the neighborhood knew them.”

O’Grady gets to know each customer, his or her family and usual orders in what many consider a very tight-knit Miller Place community.

“They are consistently going above and beyond, and in many cases it’s unsolicited,” Kozlowski said. “I try to give them my business every opportunity that I have. I always recommend them. One, because I truly think that their service and their products are well above average — exceptional. And two, because I always think that their service to the community should be recognized.”

Kozlowski, who is also the founder of North Shore Neighbors Breast Cancer Coalition, a nonprofit that raises funds to provide support services for local families fighting cancer, approached the owner seeking donations as part of a fundraising effort for local boy Thomas Scully, who was fighting anaplastic ependymoma, a form of brain cancer.

O’Grady said he’s known Thomas since his mother was bringing him into the store in a bassinet.

“To hear this happening to someone in your community, it’s like it happened to your own family,” he said. “I immediately knew I wanted to do all I could.”

Jennifer Brunet, Thomas’ aunt, said there were two fundraisers held for her brother’s family — at the Miller Place Fire Department and at Napper Tandy’s Irish Pub in Miller Place, which is now Recipe 7. Brunet said at the second fundraiser, in 2015, O’Grady ran the show.

“They genuinely wanted to be there for Thomas,” she said. “Not only did they donate stuff, every staff member came and donated their time to help — brought food, brought raffle items — they did everything.”

Tuscany Gourmet Market owner Rich Tommy O’Grady is known for helping cater a myriad of fundraisers. Photo From Patti Kozlowski

The business kept raising money for the family until Thomas died in summer 2016 and continued to help amid the wake and funeral.

“When Thomas passed away they reached out to me immediately and said, ‘We want to take care of everything,’” Brunet recalled. “And they did. They could have very well shown up at my house with a hero, but when we came back from the first wake session with my entire family everything was set up — salads, entrées, vegetables; there were choices for kids to eat, everything. And when I came home from the second wake everything was wrapped up and the place was clean. I didn’t have to do a thing. They were unbelievable.”

Thomas’ mother Debbie Scully said the kind, giving, selfless nature of the Tuscany Market owner and employees moved her beyond words.

“We were busy doing what we needed to do to take care of our son and they were giving us gift cards to come get food and showed so much support,” she said. “Tom would never let us pay for anything when we’d go there, he’d say, ‘When you get back on your feet then you can pay, until then, no.’ And it was endless, because after Thomas passed away they continued to give. It was over three years of them taking care of us and not asking for a thing in return.”

Scully said the family started a foundation in Thomas’ memory to help other children with cancer, and Tuscany Market members wanted to remain involved.

“He goes, ‘All right, what can I do? Let me know when the next event is,’” she said of O’Grady. “When you go through what our family went through, you don’t know what you need, but you do need help. And to have somebody preempting that and just being there and being supportive, it made it a little bit easier for us. That’s priceless.”

That caring, community-centric, no-questions-asked attitude reverberates beyond Miller Place.

Jennifer Hunt works with Kozlowski for team Fight Like a Girl, which participates in the LI2Day Walk, a 13.1-mile walk that celebrates cancer survivors and raises funds for local Long Island families battling cancer. The team hosts its own fundraiser, a Chinese auction, for which Tuscany Market has provided gift cards and what Hunt referred to as “high end” baskets.

Tuscany Gourmet Market workers volunteer time to help cater an event. Photo From Jennifer Hunt

“Without businesses like that, the money that we raise to help people in our neighborhood fighting cancer, it wouldn’t happen,” she said. “The fact that they’re willing to step up is tremendous. Not many people do as much as they do.”

Most recently, the owners stepped up to help Shoreham-Wading River freshman Alexa Boucher, who was diagnosed with orbital rhabdomyosarcoma, a cancer in the eye socket. A sold-out spaghetti fundraiser was held at the Wading River Fire Department, and Tuscany Market catered the event, donating food, paper goods and wait staff for a 150-person dinner.

“Originally, it was going to be a spaghetti dinner at the firehouse,” Hunt said. “But no one knew how it was going to run — it was a little overwhelming — so Tommy decided he would just do it and cater it from soup to nuts. I’m there shopping all the time because the food is so good and everyone is just so nice and helpful, but it’s also nice that they’re willing to step up in any way you ask them to.”

It’s said it takes a village, and O’Grady is said to emit so much joy doing what they’re doing to support their neighbors.

“Their kindness is alive and kicking in them,” Scully said. “It’s like you’re watching a movie of this little community where everyone comes out and supports each other and has each other’s back and looks out for each other. They are at the heart of that, they embody that. We’re very lucky to have them in our community.”

Tuscany Market helps provide for those that need it most, in a place where everybody knows your name.

This version was updated to correct that Tommy O’Grady is the owner of Tuscany Gourmet Market. Rich Fink is a manager there.

Tree decorated in honor of national Breast Cancer Awareness month

Sound Beach resident Patti Kozlowski, founder of the nonprofit North Shore Neighbors Breast Cancer Coalition, places a flag with her friend Camille's name under the Pink Tree for Hope at Mount Sinai's Heritage Park. Photo by Kevin Redding

Throughout October, a tree at Heritage Park in Mount Sinai will be pretty in pink in celebration of national Breast Cancer Awareness month.

Up to 5,000 lights on the Pink Tree for Hope, which sits in front of the Heritage Center on Mount Sinai-Coram Road and overlooks the park, burned bright during a ceremony Oct. 4 held by Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) and the nonprofit North Shore Neighbors Breast Cancer Coalition.

The Pink Tree for Hope glows pink at Heritage Park in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness month. Photo by Kevin Redding

The glowing tree will serve as a reminder to passersby of the importance of breast cancer prevention by way of early detection screenings and education. The names of local breast cancer survivors and those who lost their lives to the disease are displayed on little flags around the tree.

“There’s not one person I know that has not been affected by breast cancer in one way or another,” said Anker, whose grandmother passed away after a long fight with the disease. “I am honored to partner with the North Shore Neighbors Breast Cancer Coalition to raise awareness about the prevalence of breast cancer, honor our loved ones lost to breast cancer, and support survivors across Long Island.”

Anker encouraged residents to work together and support groups like the coalition to help find a cure for breast cancer. The North Shore Neighbors Breast Cancer Coalition, founded in 2001 by Sound Beach resident Patti Kozlowski, is a grassroots organization that raises funds to provide non-medical or support services for local families fighting breast, gynecological and other forms of cancer. If someone is out of work for a number of weeks during and after breast cancer treatment, it can be devastating financially, Kozlowski said.

“We need to help raise awareness and hopefully help people understand the magnitude of what we’re dealing with,” said Kozlowski, who will be collecting donations to support the nonprofit’s mission at the park throughout the month. “Treatment is incredibly important.”

Darlene Rastelli, assistant director at the Carol M. Baldwin Breast Care Center at Stony Brook Medicine, set up at a table during the ceremony to spread the word that “early detection is the best prevention.”

A flag placed in honor of a man’s wife, a breast cancer survivor, sits under the Pink Tree for Hope at Heritage Park. Photo by Kevin Redding

The American College of Radiology, Rastelli said, recommends women over the age of 40 have a breast screening once a year.

“It’s so important to screen not only in October, but throughout the year,” she said. “Breast cancer is not a death sentence anymore. If you get your screenings done early enough, it can be managed early and you can survive.”

Miller Place resident Felicia Lopez said she was scared when she was diagnosed in 2011, because she wasn’t educated and assumed the worst.

“I didn’t know anything about it, but the doctors comforted me and told me it was curable,” said Lopez, who is now cancer-free. “You have to be your own advocate. You have to check your own body regularly.”

Before the ceremony, Kozlowski, who started her nonproit as a way to inspire women to come together, wrote her friend Camille’s name on a flag.

“She’s a co-worker of mine who retired Aug. 31 and was diagnosed with breast cancer Sept. 1,” Kozlowski said before placing the flag under the tree. “I think this tree will give people a good feeling to know they’re not alone.”

The Pink Tree of Hope, adorned with lights donated and installed by Bob Koch of Koch Tree Services Inc., will be lit throughout October at 633 Mount Sinai-Coram Road in Mount Sinai.

Learn more about the North Shore Neighbors Breast Cancer Coalition at https://www.facebook.com/NSNBCC/.

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (fourth from left) with local community members around the Pink Tree for Hope at Mount Sinai’s Heritage Park. Photo by Kevin Redding