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Port Jefferson Station

Carolyn Droscoski. Photo from Theatre Three

A cherished member of Theatre Three, and by extension the Port Jefferson community, was lost this month.

Carolyn Droscoski, 61, of Port Jefferson Station died suddenly of an aneurysm, according to her close friend Vivian Koutrakos, managing director at Theatre Three. She was a lifelong resident of Port Jefferson Station and a graduate of Comsewogue High School.

“Anyone that you spoke to would say the same thing — it was just her voice, her vocals,” Koutrakos said of what she would remember most about her close friend, along with her beautiful smile. Koutrakos said she’d heard Droscoski described as having “leather lungs,” a tribute to her booming, powerful singing voice. “She was a powerhouse, a powerful, powerful singer and performer.”

“She helped me foster a love of theatre and performing. I am forever grateful for her friendship and am feeling extremely sad to hear this news.”

— Debbie Schwartz McGinley

Droscoski had 40-years-worth of history at Theatre Three. She performed in dozens of productions, including memorable performances as Rose in “Gypsy,” Mother Abbess in “The Sound of Music,” Cass Elliot in “Dream a Little Dream,” and many incarnations of “Woodstockmania: Woodstock in Concert,” according to Theatre Three’s website.

Times Beacon Record News Media reviewed her 2013 performance in “Barnaby Saves Christmas” as Mrs. Claus: “Santa and Mrs. Claus, played by Stephen Doone and Carolyn Droscoski, are in numerous scenes and steal the show. Every appearance on stage had the children sitting up straight and pointing. During a recent Saturday show, many children cried when the lights came up for intermission, thinking the show was over and wanting to see Santa just one more time. Doone and Droscoski also double as Andrew and Sarah, the nice Jewish couple who teach Barnaby and Franklynne all about Hanukkah, and switch roles effortlessly. The musical numbers are terrific and are accompanied on piano by Quattrock, who also wrote all of the music and lyrics. ‘Still with the Ribbon on Top,’ sung by Hughes, reveals Barnaby’s struggle to fit in; ‘Miracles,’ sung beautifully by Droscoski as Sarah, will touch your heart and ‘S.B. Dombulbury’ will have you tapping your feet.”

Droscoski traveled the country in an off-Broadway production of “Nunsense,” a show in which she played five different roles. She also performed and toured with her band, Everyday People, which performed countless shows in Port Jefferson. She even appeared in promotional materials for the snack Cracker Jack.

“The only thing I could say is I loved her, and she made me happy,” her longtime partner Charlie Cacioppo said. He added she often affectionately referred to him as “Bubba” or Charles Francis.

“She was a powerhouse, a powerful, powerful singer and performer.”

— Vivian Koutrakos

She had two sisters and four brothers, as well as many nieces and nephews, according to her sister Barbara Cassidy.

“The most important thing in her life was her family,” Cassidy said. “She was the biggest cheerleader for her many beloved nieces and nephews.”

Upon Theatre Three sharing the news of her passing on its Facebook page — a post that was shared and commented on more than 50 times — admirers of her talents and friends posted condolences and memories of the beloved performer.

“She was kind, fun, caring and always treated me like a regular person — not just a kid,” a poster named Debbie Schwartz McGinley wrote, adding Droscoski had played her mother in a 1980 production of “A Christmas Carol.” “She helped me foster a love of theatre and performing. I am forever grateful for her friendship and am feeling extremely sad to hear this news. All my love to her family, friends, and especially my old school T3 family!”

Firefighters work on a blaze at a Port Jefferson Station home Feb. 5. Photo by Dennis Whittam

A fire at a home on Clematis Street in Port Jefferson Station at about 4 a.m. Feb. 5 required response from four local fire departments, according to Dennis Whittam of the Terryville Fire Department. With assistance from Port Jefferson, Setauket and Selden, Terryville Fire Department battled the blaze.

 

“Under the command of Chief of Department Tom Young, the fire, which had extended to the attic, was brought under control without incident,” Whittam said.

The fire is under investigation by the Brookhaven Town Fire Marshal’s Office and the Suffolk County Police Department’s Arson Unit.

This post was updated Feb. 5 to include video shot by Dawn Farrell Brown.

A fire burns at a Port Jefferson Station home Feb. 5. Photo by Dennis Whittam

File photo by Victoria Espinoza

Employees from Port Jefferson Station and Terryville gas stations were arrested Jan. 31 for allegedly selling alcohol to minors, according to the Suffolk County Police Department.

The arrests came as a result of New York State Liquor Authority inspections Jan. 31 in the Town of Brookhaven, police said. Due to numerous community complaints, 6th Precinct Crime Section officers conducted SLA inspections utilizing underage police agents, according to police. The police agents attempted to purchase alcoholic beverages from targeted businesses within the town. Employees at Sunoco gas stations located at 669 Old Town Road in Terryville and and 200 Route 112 in Port Jefferson Station allegedly sold an alcoholic beverage to an underage police agent.

Paresh Patel, 25, and Tirath Ram, 61, both of Port Jefferson Station, were charged with ABC Law 65.1 – Sale to Persons Under 21. They were issued Field Appearance Tickets and are scheduled to be arraigned at First District Court in Central Islip April 2, 2018.

The following businesses complied with the New York State Liquor Authority and refused to sell an alcoholic beverage to an underage police agent:

Robert Van Helden. Photo from SCPD

Suffolk County Police arrested a Rocky Point man who allegedly robbed a bank in Port Jefferson Station.

A man entered TD Bank, located at 86 Nesconset Highway, on Jan, 19 at 6:30 p.m. and presented a note demanding cash. The teller complied with the robber’s demands and the suspect fled on foot. Numerous officers and detectives from the 6th Precinct responded and located the suspect, Robert Van Helden, a short time later at the Home Depot in Selden.

Major Case detectives charged Van Helden, 32, with third-degree robbery. He is scheduled to be arraigned at First District Court in Central Islip Jan. 20.

Comsewogue Library Director Debbie Engelhardt, third from left, and Port Jefferson Free Library Director Tom Donlon, second left, with others, cut the ribbon on a Free Little Library in Miller Place. Photo by Kevin Redding

Steering a community institution as it crosses the half-century mark in its existence is an enormous responsibility. But when the institution has the inherent added degree of difficulty associated with morphing to meet the needs of a rapidly changing world, fulfilling that responsibility likely feels like threading a needle. As the third director in Comsewogue Public Library’s 50-year history, Debbie Engelhardt has gracefully and masterfully threaded that needle.

Engelhardt got her start in the library world as the director of Rogers Memorial Library in Southampton in the early 2000s. She was also the director of the Huntington Public Library from 2009 to 2012, before being selected as just the third director in the history of the Comsewogue Public Library.

The Comsewogue Public Library’s only three directors — Richard Lusak, Debra Engelhardt and Brandon Pantorno — in front of the newly dedicated Richard Lusak Community Room. Photo by Alex Petroski

In October 2017, Engelhardt played a vital role in planning, organizing and conducting a 50th anniversary celebration for the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville community staple. The day, according to many of her colleagues, had fingerprints of her enthusiasm, one-track community mindedness, and passion all over it, though that can be said about every day she’s spent at Comsewogue’s helm.

“Very rarely do you find anybody as dedicated to her profession and to her community like Debbie,” said Richard Lusak, Comsewogue Public Library’s first director from 1966 through 2002. The Oct. 14 anniversary celebration included the dedication of the building’s community room in Lusak’s honor, an initiative Engelhardt unsurprisingly also had a hand in.

“Those who come to know her quickly value her leadership ability and her insight into things,” he said. “She never says ‘no,’ she says, ‘Let me figure out how to do it.’”

The director tried to sum up her feelings about the anniversary as it was still ongoing.

“The program says ‘celebrating our past, present and future,’ so that’s what we’re doing all in one day with the community,” she said in October.

The event featured games, a bounce house, farm animals, crafts, giveaways, snacks, face painting, balloon animals, music, a historical society photo gallery and tour, and a new gallery exhibit.

“We thought of it as a community thank you for the ongoing support that we’ve had since day one, across all three administrations,” the library director said.

Engelhardt’s vision has been a valuable resource in efforts to modernize the library and keep it vibrant, as Amazon Kindles and other similar technologies have infringed on what libraries used to be about for generations. As the times have changed, Engelhardt has shown a propensity to keep Comsewogue firmly positioned as a community hub.

“I think she’s done a superb job with respect to coordinating all of the interests of input from the community as to what services are being requested by the public, whether it’s the children’s section, the adult reference and the senior citizens, including all of the activities we offer and the different programs,” said Edward Wendol, vice president of the library’s board of trustees who has been on the board for about 40 years. He was the board’s president when Engelhardt was selected as director.

Wendol credited Engelhardt with spearheading efforts to obtain a Free Little Library not only for Comsewogue, but for several other area libraries. The program features a small, outdoor drop box where readers can take a book to read or leave a book for future visitors.

“Anybody can use it as much as they want and it’s always a mystery when you open that box — you never know what you’ll find,” Engelhardt said during its dedication over the summer. “There are no late fees, no guilt, no stress. If you want to keep a book, you can … we are pleased to partner with the historical society to bring this gem. The books inside will move you and teach you. We say that libraries change lives and, well, little free libraries can too.”

The Little Free Library, a free book exchange, is located near the playground, alongside the shack at Heritage Park in Mount Sinai. Photo by Fred Drewes

Wendol said she also played a huge role in reorganizing the interior structure of the library. Engelhardt has created reading areas on all levels, placed popular selections near the entrance of the building, and taken an overall hands-on approach to the look and feel of the library. He also lauded her role working together with the Suffolk Cooperative Library System, an organization dedicated to serving the 56 public libraries in the county and assisting them in sharing services, website designs, group purchases and other modernization efforts.

“She’s great at what she does and seems to be having a great amount of fun while she’s doing it, and it’s kind of infectious,” said Kevin Verbesey, director of the Suffolk Cooperative Library System and a friend of Engelhardt’s for more than 20 years. “She is one of the leaders in the county, not just in Port Jeff Station and Comsewogue, but somebody who other library directors turn to for advice and for leadership.”

Her community leadership efforts cannot be contained by Comsewogue Public Library’s four walls however. Engelhardt is a member and past president of the Port Jefferson Rotary Club; a member of the board of trustees at John T. Mather Memorial Hospital; and vice president of Decision Women in Commerce and Professions, a networking organization dedicated to fostering career aid and support, and generating beneficial community projects.

When she finds time in the day, she participates in events like the cleanup of Camp Pa-Qua-Tuck in Center Moriches, a facility for children with special needs. This past November she helped, among many others, clean up the camp with  husband, John, and son, Scott.

Joseph Higgins, owner of Tara Inn in Port Jeff, collects donations during a fundraiser Sept. 4 for Hurricane Harvey victims. Photo by Alex Petroski

By Alex Petroski

A national tragedy sprung Joseph Higgins to action in September, but the owner of Tara Inn pub hasn’t needed a special reason to demonstrate his ethos of above and beyond generosity in the 40 years he has owned the upper Port Jefferson watering hole.

When Higgins heard of the devastation in Houston and the surrounding region as a result of Hurricane Harvey in late August, he said it resonated with him in a way that left him feeling like action was required. The pub owner decided to hold a benefit Sept. 4, Labor Day, to raise money for people affected by the massive storm. In addition to the sale of raffle tickets and Harvey relief T-shirts donated by Port Jefferson Sporting Goods, Higgins gave away 100 percent of the bar’s food and beverage sales from the day to a group providing aid for victims in the region.

“There’s very few people in this world that when they get to the pearly gates they’re going to hear, ‘we were waiting for you.’’’

— Stephen Murray

Tara Inn amassed more than $15,200 in sales and donations that day, which were given to the storm victims through the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Higgins rounded up the donation to an even $16,000.

“Forty years ago I had eight kids, my wife and I didn’t have two nickels to rub together, and I said, ‘God, help me raise these kids,’ and he did,” the 87-year-old Higgins said during the event, while seated near the pub’s front door with a container for additional donations. “And I can’t thank God enough for all he has given me and that’s why we give back. I’ve had a great life, and I like to give back. There have been times in my life where I had an opportunity to do something good and I didn’t do it, and I always regret that. Every time something comes along that we can do for somebody else, I want to do it.”

In talking to his friends and family, Higgins’ assertion that he has missed opportunities to give back seems like a wholly disingenuous characterization of his life. For that reason, Higgins is a 2017 Times Beacon Record News Media Person of the Year.

“He’ll say that money doesn’t mean anything to him, and the only other people I’ve ever heard say that are millionaires,” said Kate Higgins, one of the pub owner’s eight children, reiterating he is not a millionaire.

For about 30 years, Tara Inn has hosted similar events to the Hurricane Harvey benefit every Jan. 1 for a wide range of causes. After a fire left Billie’s 1890 Saloon shuttered, the pub hosted a fundraiser for Billie’s employees. When Erik Halvorsen, the late owner of Norse Tree Service, died as a result of a tragic accident on the job in 2016, Higgins organized a fundraiser for Halvorsen’s family. Another New Year’s Day event raised money for an Iraq war veteran who had been paralyzed in the line of duty. Higgins himself is a U.S. Army Korean War veteran.

Every year, Higgins also donates vegetables to Infant Jesus church in Port Jeff for its Thanksgiving event. The pub also serves a free lunch to senior citizens around St. Patrick’s Day every year.

Kate Higgins estimated her father has donated somewhere in the ballpark of $200,000 in total from the New Year’s Day fundraisers, but that doesn’t account for a lifetime of random acts of kindness Higgins has done over the years.

According to Tom Meehan, a longtime friend of Higgins’ and the principal of Edna Louise Spear Elementary School, many years ago a couple came into the bar who had just gotten married at Port Jefferson Village Hall by the village justice. Meehan said they ended up at Tara Inn because they heard the prices were inexpensive, and they were looking to celebrate their marriage despite having very little money. Higgins caught wind, served the couple a free lobster dinner and then placed a call to Meehan, who owned a luxury van at the time. Higgins gave Meehan cash and instructed him to drive the couple to Danfords Hotel & Marina and pay for their stay for the night.

Despite all of his generosity, Higgins lives modestly, according to his daughters.

“At one point we had two picnic tables in the dining room for the 10 of us,” said Tara Higgins, whom the bar was named after. She added somehow Higgins and his wife of 65 years, Pat, managed to send her and her siblings to schools like Harvard, Boston College, Villanova and Providence to name a few. “With his grandchildren, like he is with everyone else, he has an ability to make you feel like you’re the most important person in the world.”

“He’ll say that money doesn’t mean anything to him, and the only other people I’ve ever heard say that are millionaires.”

— Kate Higgins

Her sister Kate tried to explain why her father has decided to spend his life giving so much.

“I don’t think he ever forgets where he came from,” she said. “He didn’t have it easy growing up. He lost his father when he was really young. He just never forgets that, I don’t think.”

Stories of Higgins’ generosity flow like draft beer inside Tara Inn’s four walls. Mindy Talasko, an employee of the bar since it opened, said during a Saturday afternoon interview at the pub, pointing to one of the tables, Higgins had instructed the staff years ago that a father eating lunch with his daughter were never to be charged for a meal or drink at Tara Inn. The daughter had been injured in an accident as an infant, and had difficulties and disabilities as a result.

“He’s just a wonderful, kindhearted man,” Talasko said. “He would do anything for anyone and he’s done so much for me over the years. I probably wouldn’t be where I am if it wasn’t for Joe and Tara Inn and Mrs. Higgins.”

Talasko said she had three kids during the years she worked with Higgins. Years ago, she said she would regularly have car troubles, and eventually went to lease a new car to be able to travel back and forth to work. When she arrived to sign the paperwork she was informed she needed to come up with about $800 to pay for the insurance, which she didn’t have. She said she asked Higgins, who gave her the money. The next day she arrived at the bar ready to talk about how she would pay him back. Higgins asked how long the loan was for, and when Talasko responded four years, he told her, “In four years come back and talk to me.”

Up until recently, Tara Inn’s menu featured a hamburger for $1, a Higgins idea.

“He always said he wanted to keep it low so if anybody only had a dollar or two they could come in and get something to eat,” John Koehnlein, another old friend of the bar owner said.

The price has gone up with the changing times. A hamburger at Tara Inn now costs $2.

“His generosity is unmatched,” friend Stephen Murray said. “I can’t imagine anybody out there who does more than he does for people in need.”

Kate Higgins offered a theory to explain how Tara Inn has stayed in business for so long.

“I think his basic business model is ‘Make everybody feel at home, make everybody feel welcome,’” she said. “He doesn’t care what your background is. He doesn’t care if you’re head of one of the hospitals or the homeless guy up the street.”

Murray summed up the character of Tara Inn’s longtime owner, a man his daughters described as very religious.

“There’s very few people in this world that when they get to the pearly gates they’re going to hear, ‘We were waiting for you,’” Murray said.

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About 100 small dogs were rescued by Save-A-Pet in Port Jeff Station from an upstate home over the weekend and now up for adoption. Photo by Alex Petroski

More than 100 four-legged, furry friends are looking for a new home.

Save-A-Pet Animal Rescue and Adoption Center in Port Jefferson Station assisted in a rescue at a home in upstate New York Dec. 16 and 17, and as a result, the facility all at once has taken in more than 100 dogs, which are now up for adoption. The center was founded by Dori Scofield in 1994, who said this was by far the largest one-time influx of dogs it has ever had to deal with. She said about once a year Save-A-Pet is asked to assist in large-scale rescues, but this occurrence is “totally out of the ordinary.”

“Luckily we didn’t have that many [animals currently] but I had already set up three transports, so now I can’t say no to the ones I already committed to, so I have 16 more dogs coming, and they’re big,” Scofield said.

About 100 small dogs were rescued by Save-A-Pet in Port Jeff Station from an upstate home over the weekend and now up for adoption. Photo by Alex Petroski

The dogs from the upstate home are small, mixed breeds and overall they are in good health, according to Save-A-Pet Vice President Lynne Schoepfer.

“Stop in, meet them,” she said. “One is sweeter than the next. They all need homes. We’d love to have them all in homes by Christmas. They’re just really, really nice dogs.”

Schoepfer said the home was in “deplorable” condition when they arrived over the weekend. The rescue required two trips back and forth to get all the animals to the Port Jeff Station center. The owner of the home reached out to another group to help her, according to Schoepfer, which contacted Save-A-Pet asking if it could get involved.

“Unfortunately what happens is people think they’re doing good, and they don’t spay and neuter, and they just keep on taking in and then all of the sudden you have over 100 dogs in your house,” she said. “The woman was overwhelmed to say the least.”

In the short term, the facility is in need of money to feed the dogs and administer medical care, garbage bags, paper towels and rubber bath mats to help house the dogs until their adoption. A fundraiser will be held Dec. 23 at 7 p.m. at Portside Bar & Grill to help Save-A-Pet deal with its new tenants. Those interested in adopting can visit saveapetny.org to fill out an application, and can see photos of all of the available dogs on the Save-A-Pet Facebook page. Donations can also be sent through the website.

“We’re all about saving the animals and getting the animals in a safe environment, getting them re-homed into some place that’s going to love them and take care of them and do the right thing by them,” Schoepfer said.

In November, state Sen. Ken LaValle gave his blessing to a feasibility study for the electrification of the Port Jefferson LIRR line east of Huntington. File photo

A technological upgrade in Port Jefferson almost four decades in the making got a jolt of life this month.

The Port Jefferson Long Island Rail Road line was electrified as far east as Huntington in 1970, and despite calls ever since, electrification of the line further east to Port Jeff has yet to take place. State Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) met with Metropolitan Transportation Authority board member Mitchell Pally during November, wherein the sides agreed to pursue a feasibility study to determine the potential cost and impact of electrifying the line out to Port Jeff. Trains used on the line east of Huntington currently run on diesel fuel.

“I believe it’s something we could get done,” LaValle said of electrification during a phone interview. “I think it’s critically important that we can demonstrate to communities with specificity where electric substations are going. Communities need to know that before we make that decision. I’m supporting electrification that starts in Port Jeff but also goes through Smithtown and Huntington.”

The feasibility study would be conducted by the LIRR and MTA, according to LaValle, and he said he’s not sure what the study would cost.

“Conducting a feasibility study makes a great deal of sense,” LIRR spokesperson Aaron Donovan said in a statement. “Additional electrification has long been part of the discussion for future improvements. We look forward to working with Senator LaValle about the possibility of obtaining funding for such a study.”

In November, state Sen. Ken LaValle gave his blessing to a feasibility study for the electrification of the Port Jefferson LIRR line east of Huntington. File photo

Calls and initiatives to electrify the line east of Huntington go back to at least the 1980s. According to an article by researcher Derek Stadler published by the Long Island History Journal in 2016 entitled “The Modernization of the Long Island Rail Road,” in 1984, electrification of the branch was included in a nearly $600 million MTA spending package that was meant to serve as a five-year plan for LIRR improvements. However, the plans were postponed indefinitely just two years later due to a budget gap.

The establishment of a one-seat ride from Port Jefferson to Penn Station has long been a goal for elected officials and LIRR riders as well, though that would require electrification as diesel engines cannot travel to the Manhattan station. In the mid-90s, a brief pilot program was tested on the Port Jeff line using dual-mode locomotive cars that could run using both diesel engines and third-rail electrification. According to Stadler’s research, in 2000 it was estimated that electrification east of Huntington could cost as much as $500 million.

Stadler said in an email he considered the feasibility study “a big step forward,” and said he’s optimistic it could get the ball rolling. However, he added the discussion has heated and cooled in the past as well.

Port Jefferson Village Mayor Margot Garant said during a Nov. 20 board of trustees meeting she and Deputy Mayor Larry LaPointe recently met with LaValle, and the topic of electrification of the Port Jeff line came up as well.

“It would be critical to electrify the North Shore line,” Garant said during the meeting. The village is in the process of examining transportation improvements that could among other benefits, increase LIRR ridership and better coordinate the schedules of the railroad, Suffolk County buses and the Bridgeport-Port Jefferson ferry.

LaValle said the process of obtaining money to actually complete the electrification work wouldn’t be done prior to the feasibility study, though he said he believes funding could be attainable.

“We want to move people as quickly as possible east to west and build the same rate of success as Ronkonkoma is enjoying in terms of availability of trains into not only New York City, but west,” he said. “Before we do that we need to know with specificity — communities need to know what it means for their community.”

The state senator also mentioned discussions with the MTA concerning the possible usage of Lawrence Aviation Industries Superfund site in Port Jefferson Station as a possible LIRR rail yard.

Both LaValle and Donovan declined to share specifics about the timetable of a feasibility study.

North Brookhaven Chamber of Commerce is was in charge of the historic train car on the corner of Route 347 and Route 112. The Port Jefferson Station-Terryville Chamber of Commerce will take over responsibility of it. File photo by Elana Glowatz

By Desirée Keegan

Plans for the future of businesses formerly joined under the North Brookhaven Chamber of Commerce are coming into focus in the wake of the organization’s dissolution.

The North Brookhaven chamber is disbanding, leaving behind smaller chambers for area communities, an idea that already existed before the formation of the now dissolved chamber. Wading River, Shoreham, Rocky Point, Miller Place, Sound Beach, Mount Sinai, Port Jefferson Station and Terryville originally had businesses forming smaller chambers before the lack of membership forced the groups to consolidate.

Many point to Port Jefferson Station business owner Jennifer Dzvonar as the reason the nine year North Brookhaven chamber has remained afloat. Dzvonar will head up the Port Jefferson Station-Terryville Chamber of Commerce.

“We were losing membership because we were too spread out and some of our members were concerned,” said Carol Genua of Coach Realtors in Mount Sinai. “What Jen did is phenomenal and for her to do it that long I can’t even comprehend how much time she had to put in, and her husband and kids were even helping out.”

Barbara Ransome, president of Brookhaven Chambers of Commerce Coalition, which represents almost 20 town chambers who is also director of operations for the Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce in the village, said she thinks the group made the right decision to reorganize its efforts.

“We all sat around the table saying, ‘OK, what’s the next move?’” she said. “There was a strong consensus that there needed to be some level of consolidation. I’m very happy that Jen is not dropping out. She’s trying her very best, she’s the glue that’s keeping it together right now.”

Ransome said smaller membership will mean less money, so the chambers will have to be frugal in their operating budgets.

“People will volunteer when it is beneficial to them and their business, which, often times, will be within their direct surrounding area town,” Dzvonar said in an email. “Many are just too busy trying to keep their local business alive. Chain stores, big box stores, online shopping and outsourcing are what is killing local businesses. However, the small local businesses are the ones supporting the communities and donating to the fundraisers in the schools and other local organizations, with minimal loyalty from the consumers.”

Some are concerned the same issues may arise with the new arrangement as the ones that plagued the larger chamber.

“What happens is a lot of merchants join, but don’t take part in the work that needs to be done — people don’t realize it,” said Millie Thomas, of Landmark Realty in Wading River, who used to belong to the Rocky Point chamber when she owned a business there before joining the Wading River-Shoreham Chamber of Commerce prior to it combining with the North Brookhaven chamber. “What happens is a lot of people want to join the chamber, they pay their dues and they get their name out on the brochures, but when it comes time to do all the work it seems the same specific people do it every year and it gets overwhelming, because we’re all running businesses and trying to do all of these things too.”

Thomas used the example of Wading River’s Duck Pond Day to make her point.

The realtor said putting together the event, which started as a wetlands coastline cleanup effort at the pond and has grown into a picnic following the cleanup with vendors, a parade and a 5K walk/run, takes a lot of time. She has to go to the town and fill out paperwork and pay fees for permits when needed, contact two different police departments to close off the roads, gather vendors, organize everyone involved in the parade and get sponsors whose names go on T-shirts.

“Someone needs to get involved to make all of these things happen — they don’t happen by themselves,” Thomas said.

Genua, who will be working with Donna Boeckel of Awsomotive Car Care to start up the Mount Sinai chamber, which may include Miller Place businesses, agreed that part of the problem was trying to support everything from Port Jefferson Station to Wading River. She’s hoping the step back in time will help regrow a better base of home businesses in hopes of recharging that community connection.

Genua is currently working on creating a list of all of the businesses in the area to make contact with, and already has reached out to local fish markets, restaurants, cleaners and the new Heritage Pharmacy drug store to generate more interest and enrollment. She said she is hoping to bring in local parent teacher organizations and even Heritage Park to create a chamber more entrenched in the community.

“We want to try a new way to get businesses involved,” she said. “We all still have to support each other. My husband had his own business for a while and it’s hard to compete with the big box companies. We want to keep our money local instead of it going out of state. We’re also neighbors. The people who live here, work here, or a lot of them.”

Marie Stewart of Brooklyn Bagels will be pushing forward with her already in existence Rocky Point local business owners group and is welcoming chamber members from Rocky Point and Sound Beach. Dzvonar will lead the Port Jefferson Station-Terryville chamber with help from Sheila Wieber of Bethpage Federal Credit Union and Diane Jensen of Teachers Federal Credit Union. Thomas will be reforming the Shoreham-Wading River chamber once again. All of which will take place in the new year.

“If you have the heart of a volunteer, it’s well worth it,” Thomas said. “Helping to adopt a family and provide relief to a single mom with four kids, or to see children and their families getting excited when Santa is coming down the street on the fire truck, it’s very rewarding. It is a lot of work, but sometimes people get caught up with their daily routine and don’t want to volunteer, and that’s the problem.”

Alex Petroski contributed reporting

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A coat drive at Comsewogue High School resulted in about 50 coats being distributed to needy people in the Port Jefferson Station area. Photo by Alex Petroski

Residents in the Port Jefferson Station area and beyond need not be left out in the cold this winter.

A somewhat spontaneous winter coat drive sprung up in Port Jefferson Station last week thanks to the efforts of a pair of old friends: a business owner in Nassau County and an employee in the Comsewogue School District. David Jacobson, founding executive director of Collector Car Showcase in Oyster Bay started Layers of Love NY with his longtime friend John Worobey, who provides technology support at Comsewogue, working in the district for 17 years. The organization, which is referred to on its website as a movement, was the byproduct of a brief conversation between the friends earlier this year.

“I went into a classroom last year and there was a child hanging a coat out the window in the middle of the winter,” Worobey recalled during the Oct. 28 coat drive in the Comsewogue High School cafeteria. “I asked the teacher ‘what’s going on? Why is he hanging a coat out the window?’ She said that a lot of the kids in the class didn’t have coats and people donated coats, and his happened to smell like cigarettes. So he was hanging it out the window to air out.”

Worobey said when he told Jacobson about what he had observed his friend was equally taken aback.

“During a casual conversation he said to me some kids come to school with no coats on in the middle of the winter,” Jacobson said. “I was like ‘that’s not okay.’”

Jacobson said they decided they would host a coat drive later in the year and began collecting coats through a variety of avenues. He said they placed Layers of Love NY collection boxes at car dealerships around Long Island; and at The Hoffman Center in Muttontown, a museum named after Maximilian Hoffman, an Austrian-born racecar driver and importer of luxury automobiles in the 1950s; among other locations. On Oct. 1 the museum hosted an event called Driven to America, at which the organization collected even more coats. Jacobson said he heard stories from people showing up to the event who had purchased as many as 10 brand new coats to contribute for the drive.

By the time the event began at Comsewogue, about 250 coats were laid out across the cafeteria tables available for anyone who walked in to look through and pick the perfect fit.

“Whatever we give away today we’re happy,” Jacobson said. The event resulted in the distribution of about 50 coats, with families with multiple children arriving throughout the morning to bundle up ahead of winter. The co-founders of the event each indicated they planned to learn from the 2017 incarnation of their vision and use the information to improve it in years to come.

“It’s a stepping stone, something we’re going to build upon,” Jacobson said.

Worobey said he thought Comsewogue was the perfect location for a coat drive like this because of the community’s inherent nature of giving.

“That makes you feel good,” Worobey said, waving to a group that had just collected several coats and were heading on their way.

Jacobson said the organization will begin collecting coats for a 2018 drive next July. Anyone interested in learning more about Layers of Love NY should visit www.layersofloveny.com.

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