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Setauket Presbyterian Church

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.”

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Cans with positive messages in Spanish spotted by Linda Obernauer when dropping off donations at Teatro Yerbabruja. Photo from Linda Obernauer

By Rita J. Egan

Members of a Setauket church are doing their part to help strangers more than 1,500 miles away.

After Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico Sept. 20 and left the majority of the more than 3.4 million residents without electricity and no easy access to food and supplies, Linda Obernauer, a church elder of Setauket Presbyterian Church, said she knew something had to be done.

Obernauer, chair of the church’s Peace and Justice Committee, began working with the Central Islip-based Teatro Yerbabruja to collect donations for the victims. The theater company is a grassroots organization that strives to inspire social changes through community, art and education.

The church elder said at first friends brought donations to her home before she set up a drop-off location at Setauket Presbyterian Church. The church is collecting ready-to-eat foods, instant coffee, baby wipes, adhesive bandages and powdered milk. Obernauer said the organization has plenty of diapers and bottled water.

Donations will be sent to Puerto Rico where many streets such as this one in San Juan were flooded after Hurricane Maria. Photo from Rafael Candelaria

She said the church is deeply involved in community outreach, especially in Port Jefferson Station with their furniture bank Open Door Exchange, and recently she has met many people whose families have been affected by the hurricane and the recent earthquake in Mexico. Obernauer said she feels collections such as this one are what the congregation’s faith calls them to do.

“This is all interconnected on how we honor our neighbors when they are in need,” she said.

Obernauer said she has already transported a pickup truck filled with donations to the Central Islip organization and plans on driving another truckload this week. She said she isn’t surprised by the congregation’s generosity, as they are always quick to donate.

“I think it’s a really good community effort,” she said. “When people reach out, they are getting heard and people are helping.”

Teatro Yerbabruja’s director Margarita Espada said the nonprofit will send donations via private freight. She said the theater is currently collaborating with Suffolk County Community College and working with a few organizations in Puerto Rico that are trying to get supplies to small towns, which have been difficult to reach due to debris in the roads. Another obstacle during the first week was the Jones Act, which President Donald Trump (R) temporarily lifted Sept. 28. The act requires all goods shipped between U.S. ports to be shipped by U.S. vessels and for them to be primarily operated by Americans.

Espada said she has worked on outreach projects with Obernauer in the past, and she’s grateful for her and the church members’ help.

“I think it’s great because they are showing support for Puerto Rico,” she said.

Obernauer said items can be dropped off at the church office until Oct. 10 between 9:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Setauket Presbyterian Church is located at 5 Caroline Ave., Setauket.

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The Setauket Presbyterian Church, pictured above after the turn of the 20th century. Photo from Beverly C. Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

The two churches at the Setauket Village Green are joining forces to present a joint country fair on the green June 3 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

For many years the Setauket Presbyterian Church and the Caroline Church of Brookhaven, who own the Setauket Village Green jointly, have coordinated their efforts to present individual fairs on separate weekends. This year the two churches have planned and worked together to bring a larger fair filling the entire village green with food, games, appropriate vendors and other activities designed to interest families, adults and children of all ages.

For more than a century there have been fairs on the Setauket Village Green. Just west of the village green, where Main Street turns south, was the general store belonging to Charles B. Tyler. In 1899, the store provided the Caroline Episcopal Church fair with two loaves of bread, four pounds of butter, ten pounds of sugar, 100 lemons, paper bags and one bunch of bananas at a total cost of $4.57. As the fair was in the heat of the summer, most likely Saturday, August 12, the lemonade was probably very popular. We can only guess what delicious treats they made with the bread, butter and bananas. So far we have not discovered what other food or activities were going on at the August fair.

Beverly Tyler is the Three Village Historical Society historian and author of books available from the society, 93 North Country Road, Setauket. For more information visit www.tvhs.org or call 631-751-3730.

Kate Calone checks out an end table at the organization’s warehouse in Port Jefferson Station. File photo by Susan Risoli

Furniture is a necessity. It allows a family to sit at a table and eat together. It gives children a place to do homework. It provides the opportunity to open one’s home to guests. It’s essential for a good night’s sleep.

People transitioning from homelessness, domestic violence shelters, military service or displacement following a disaster need more than just a roof over their heads.

Inspired by a youth mission trip to a furniture bank just outside Washington, D.C., Kate Calone wondered if such a service would fly on Long Island. For some, this might have been a daunting task, but Calone set about researching and planning. She organized a feasibility committee and piloted the group to take off.

The Open Door Exchange is rounding out its second year of operations, having served more than 300 Long Island families and individuals in need. Referred by social service agencies and nonprofits, people can “shop” with dignity, by appointment at the organization’s rented Port Jefferson Station warehouse, which is configured to resemble a furniture store. All pieces are free of charge.

For her compassion, determination and leadership in helping Long Islanders in need, Calone is one of Times Beacon Record News Media’s People of the Year for 2016.

A graduate of Yale University and Harvard Law School, Calone spent six years as an attorney before entering the Princeton Theological Seminary. When she and her husband Dave, who ran against Anna Throne-Holst in the 2016 Democratic primary for the 1st Congressional District and Suffolk County judge, returned to Long Island to raise their three children, Calone worked at the First Presbyterian Church in Northport before joining the Setauket Presbyterian Church as associate pastor, to work with the Youth Group.

Residents walked on the Greenway Trail to raise funds and awareness for Open Door Exchange. File photo by Susan Risoli

When she returned from D.C., she told retired Setauket businessman and church member Tom Kavazanjian her idea and asked if he’d be interested in helping. Having great respect for Calone and her worthwhile cause, he said yes.

“Kate’s leadership is unique,” he said. “She leads with a quiet confidence and is one of the most unassuming and selfless people I know. Everything she does, she does with such grace.”

With a lot of planning — and the help of a group of dedicated volunteers — Open Door Exchange was launched in January 2015, recounted Stony Brook resident and retired school teacher Diane Melidosian, who was also an early recruit.

“This was no easy undertaking,” she said. “Since there is no cost to the recipient, all costs associated with this program are handled through fundraising, grant writing and contributions.”

There were lots of logistics to be worked out and the committee used A Wider Circle, the furniture bank in the outskirts of D.C., as a model.

East Setauket resident Bonnie Schultz said being a part of the creation of Open Door Exchange energized her.

“I’d never been part of a startup,” she said. “It’s exciting. And [the organization] has grown by leaps and bounds. The amount of furniture that goes in and out of [the warehouse] is incredible.”

She said even some clients come back to volunteer.

Another member of the exploratory committee, Stony Brook therapist Linda Obernauer, said the youngsters who traveled on the mission played an important part in advancing the idea of a Long Island furniture bank.

“Kate got more interested as the kids got into it,” she said, adding that Calone has served as a role model to many of them. “People who are ‘of the fiber’ do the right thing. Kate doesn’t have to have accolades, she helps people because that’s who she is.”

Footsteps for Furniture walkers assemble on the Greenway Trail. Photo by Susan Risoli

By Susan Risoli

People who cannot afford furniture sleep on the floor, do homework on the kitchen counter, and dream of a day they might invite friends over.

Open Door Exchange is a one-year-old, Setauket-based organization that offers gently used furniture to those who need it. The group held a walkathon Sept. 24 to raise funds and awareness for its mission.

Founder of the Open Door Exchange in Setauket, Kate Calone, examines a piece of furniture. Photo by Susan Risoli
Founder of the Open Door Exchange in Setauket, Kate Calone, examines a piece of furniture. Photo by Susan Risoli

On a rainy morning, 40 people gathered to walk the Setauket-Port Jefferson Station Greenway Trail. Lake Grove resident Frank Miranda said he ventured out on the blustery fall day because “I’m a big fan of Open Door; all my friends are here’.”

As the event got underway, online pledges totaled $1,890 toward the walk’s fundraising goal of $2,500, said Open Door Exchange member Diane Melidosian of Stony Brook.

By the time walkers reached the trail’s end, the clouds cleared and sunlight filtered through the windows of the exchange’s nearby warehouse, behind Fun 4 All in Port Jefferson Station.

The all-volunteer group is an outreach of the Setauket Presbyterian Church. Founded last year by parishioner Kate Calone, the organization accepts donated furniture. Merchandise can either be dropped off at the warehouse, or volunteers will pick it up, by appointment.

Keeping furniture out of landfills is one of the group’s goals, and member Sheila Towers said volunteers have been known to pull over to the curb and scoop up perfectly good pieces placed outside with the trash.

The furniture is given free of charge. Calone said many of her clients are veterans, people transitioning to housing after being homeless or living in shelters, or families displaced by a disaster. After networking with social service agencies, Calone learned that providing furniture was often beyond their scope and their budgets.

“Other organizations were saying to us, ‘We’re just [giving furniture] piecemeal,’” Calone said. “So we said, ‘Okay, maybe that’s a gap we can fill.’”

“They get furniture, but we get just as much from doing this.”

—Sheila Towers

Open Door Exchange needs more dressers, small kitchen tables and chairs, and twin bed frames. Anyone looking for an alternative holiday gift idea is encouraged to donate to the “mattress fund,” Calone said, because she does not accept donated mattresses, but will purchase one if she or other volunteers find out someone is sleeping on the floor.

Even in this gritty industrial park, volunteers make the warehouse cheerful. A vase of dried flowers adds a splash of color to a furniture display. Visitors are greeted with snacks. Dignity is given to clients who come to pick out furniture. Calone said that was one of her intentions in starting the program.

“When any of us go to the furniture store to shop, we get to think about what we would like, and what would look nice in our home,” she said. This is no jumble of discarded stuff, but a space carefully set up so people can browse.

Volunteers of all abilities and ages are welcome, for one time — or on a continuing basis — as an individual or with a group. 

Open Door Exchange needs help with a variety of tasks, from driving a truck and picking up furniture, to greeting clients and doing an intake, to dusting the furniture.

Sheila Towers said the name of the organization reflects the exchange that flows between clients and volunteers. “They get furniture, but we get just as much from doing this,” she said. “Seeing the people take their furniture home and how happy they become, it’s a great feeling.”

To reach Open Door Exchange, call 631-751-0176 or visit www.opendoorexchange.org.

Gen. George Washington (John Galla) with his headquarter’s flag. Photo by Heidi Sutton
Gen. Benedict Arnold (Brian Cea). Photo by Heidi Sutton
Gen. Benedict Arnold (Brian Cea). Photo by Heidi Sutton

The chilly 45-degree weather did not deter almost 300 brave souls who came out for a special walk through local history last Saturday night as the Three Village Historical Society held its 21st annual Spirits Tour, “The Culper Spy Ring: From Secrecy to Victory.”

“The Culper Spy Ring has really been making news lately,” Carolyn Benson, one of the tour guides, said. This tour shows “how many people from this area were involved.”

The host of the tour, Emma S. Clark, whose name graces the library in Setauket and was portrayed by Karin Lynch, set the scene for what was to come.

“The Culper Spy Ring was a group of men known as the Secret Six who helped George Washington win the war. … Their identity was so secretive that Gen. Washington never knew their true identity. Their messages were written in code and their letters were in invisible ink,” she said. “Tonight you will meet with these patriots and some loyalists who will share their stories with you about what it was like during and after the war.”

Helen ‘Morningstar’ Sells and Nellie Edwards of the Setalcott Nation. Photo by Heidi Sutton
Helen ‘Morningstar’ Sells and Nellie Edwards of the Setalcott Nation. Photo by Heidi Sutton

The 1.5-hour tours ran throughout the evening, beginning with the Young Historian tours. Each group, carrying flashlights and lanterns, was led through the cemeteries of the Setauket Presbyterian Church [established in the late 17th century] and the Caroline Church of Brookhaven [established in 1729].

All the key players were present, from the ring’s most active operatives — Maj. Benjamin Tallmadge, Caleb Brewster, Austin Roe, Anna Smith Strong, James Rivington and Robert Townsend — to Gen. George Washington and Abraham Woodhull, the leader of the Culper Spy Ring, to Gen. Benedict Arnold, the infamous traitor. Woodhull, portrayed by Dennis O’Connor, appeared at the foot of his own grave in the Presbyterian cemetery during the tour.

Lesser-known community spirits made appearances as well, including Bette Harmon, born into slavery to the Strong family; Maj. John Andre, a British spy whose capture exposed Benedict Arnold as a traitor; loyalist Col. Benjamin Floyd; patriot Rev. Zachariah Greene; and a special appearance by  Setalcott Nation members Helen “Morning Star” Sells and Nellie Edwards. In total, 20 spirits were conjured to provide an insight into their lives during the Revolutionary War. The period costumes, provided by Nan Guzzetta, gave the entire event an eerily authentic feel.

Private David Williams (George Monez), Major John Andre (Pat DiVisconti), Private Isaac Van Wart (Sage Hardy). Photo by Heidi Sutton
Private David Williams (George Monez), Major John Andre (Pat DiVisconti), Private Isaac Van Wart (Sage Hardy). Photo by Heidi Sutton

At each stop, the spirits gave out secret codes that, when compiled and decoded, formed a secret letter for Gen. Washington, who was the last stop of the night.

Nine-year-old Alex Perrone, of Stony Brook, was experiencing the tour for the first time with his mother, Lauren, but came well prepared.

“My mom and I read a book called ‘Redcoats and Petticoats,’” he said.

Alex enjoyed the tour, especially meeting Washington and learning about the Setalcott tribe and their longhouses, and said he would definitely do it again. His mom agreed, adding, “I just thought it was really informative and I thought the actors were wonderful and I think it was a great way to learn about local history and this special place.”

In all, the 21st annual Spirits Tour was a rare historical treat. For more information, visit the historical society at www.tvhs.org.

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