Authors Posts by Kyle Barr

Kyle Barr

Kyle Barr
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Officials from the Port Jefferson village, chamber and BID joined Teachers Federal Credit Union and hospital heads to accept a $5,000 check allowing more meals to hospital workers. Photo by Kyle Barr

Port Jeff business organizations have gotten a helping hand from Teachers Federal Credit Union in their quest to bring meals to hospital workers on the front lines of the coronavirus, as well as support restaurants that have seen massive drops in sales since the start of the pandemic.

Mary Joy Pipe, the president of the Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce, and Inna Sprague, the chief experience officer of Teachers, joined together in offering a check to the chamber and BID’s program offering meals to hospital workers. Photo by Kyle Barr

Holding a large $5,000 novelty check in front of the PJ Lobster House, Mary Joy Pipe, the president of the Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce and Inna Sprague, the chief experience officer of Teachers,joined village and hospital officials in accepting the check. It was also a show of how people try to maintain social distancing even in such simple events like a press conference.

“Thank you for thinking of us as your hometown as all of our hometowns are suffering,” Pipe said.

For the past few weeks, Port Jefferson village, the chamber and the Business Improvement District have teamed up to have restaurants supply meals that are shipped to both John T. Mather and St. Charles hospitals. James Luciano, the owner of PJ Lobster House and the BID’s secretary, said they are sending 40 meals to hospital workers at a time on a rotating basis between businesses. Participating businesses include Slurp, Nantuckets, Prohibition Kitchen, Wave Seafood & Steak, Pasta Pasta, The Steam Room, Fifth Season, C’est Cheese, Saghar, The Pie, PJ Lobster House and Salsa Salsa.

The money raised is also partially to help businesses support some of their staff while there are a limited number of customers.

BID and chamber leaders said they have been holding constant meetings alongside village officials to try and keep on top of events.

“The BID and chamber are matching contributions from the restaurant association to help keep these meals moving along,” Mayor Margot Garant said. “We accept any support we can get from partners and our residents to help keep our businesses relevant and open to help feed the front line and also the people who are in need of supplies and meals.”

The chamber has established a Gofundme page at www.gofundme.com/f/help-port-jeff-restaurants-feed-hospital-workers. So far they have raised nearly $6,500.

“The restaurants and shops are the backbone of our community,” Roger Rutherford, the general manager of Roger’s Frigate and BID president said. “When we see partners such as Teachers stepping up it’s a really wonderful thing that helps us sustain and weather the storm.”

The idea of supporting hospitals during the crisis has spread to downtowns all throughout the Island. Sprague said Teachers originally caught on to what Port Jeff and other communities like Patchogue were doing through the Greater Long Island websites. Last week they donated $5,000 to the fundraising efforts in Patchogue. Later this week the credit union plans to donate another $5,000 to restaurants in Bayshore and Babylon.

“Our goal is to continue to support frontline staff who are deemed essential to our society, as well as keep our local businesses employed and functioning and operating,” she said.

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The cell tower has been proposed for the southwestern portion of the property. Photo from Google maps

The Terryville Fire District is moving ahead on plans for a cell tower at its main firehouse, one they say could make the difference in emergency situations. 

The fire district has proposed creating a 120-foot monopole cell tower at the southwest portion of the property. Steve Petras, the district manager, said they are working with East Patchogue-based tower construction company Elite-Towers LP, which on its website says it specializes in working with municipalities to build these towers in conjunction with cell service providers (www.elite-towers.com). While Petras said they have not yet confirmed which provider would be on the tower, he mentioned AT&T was currently at the top of the list.

The cell tower, which district officials called a “mobile communications tower,” will include apparatus to extend the reach of the fire department’s radio equipment. 

So far, the final engineering reports have yet to come in, according to Petras. At its last meeting, March 26, the Town of Brookhaven voted unanimously to waive the site plan requirements and building fees for the cell tower, due to the district being a nonprofit. The fire district would still need to bring such a plan before the Town Planning Board in public hearings.

In May of last year, residents living near the Terryville Fire Department’s Station 2 firehouse on Canal Road vehemently protested the proposed cell tower. That tower had been proposed for the rear of the property, closer to the trees on the north side of the facility. 

Residents had complained that it would be an eyesore and decrease their property values. Leaders of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association joined in the protest, saying the fire district had not properly advertised its intentions to residents.

District officials disputed that, saying they had placed a legal notice in the March 16, 2017, edition of The Port Times Record on proposals for a cell tower on Canal Road and Jayne Boulevard as well as broadcasted those plans on all the digital signs outside each firehouse.

“When we sat down at those meetings, nobody from the community came out,” Petras said.

However, the new proposed location for the cell tower is enclosed, not by residential homes, but by retail businesses. 

Sal Pitti, the president of the civic, said he has not been contacted yet by the fire district, but the civic has not yet taken a stance on such a cell tower at the Jayne Boulevard location and would have to talk to the few people residing in the area, such as those living in the Fairfield Gardens on Terryville Road. 

However, of the three firehouses that could house a cell tower, “that’s the most desirable one,” he said.

The district manager said the fire district’s main justification in building a tower is two pronged. One is to eliminate dead zones within the district, while the other is to open up more potential revenue to the district to try and help keep taxes down.

The first point could mean the difference between a quick or slow response, or life and death.

“We’re having a hard time communicating with portable radios,” Petras said. “All our apparatus is outfitted with 4G, but we’re getting really bad reception in some areas — that’s a life safety issue for us … that’s unacceptable.”

The district manager said he did not yet know how much revenue the district would receive from the cell tower, and, depending on which service picks it up, the fire district would not have to spend time or money on building it or its maintenance.

The coronavirus has so far claimed seven lives in Suffolk County as of March 20. Image from CDC

A total of 93 confirmed coronavirus patients have been released from hospitals in Suffolk as County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said they have been cleared to go home. Meanwhile, however, Suffolk is trying to meet the hard task of staying ahead in the number of beds available before the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients reaches its apex. 

Bellone said there are 648 hospital beds and 43 Intensive Care Unit beds available, and Gregson Pigott, Suffolk County’s health commissioner, said those were spread out among hospitals, though even still he admitted, “that’s not a lot of beds.”

As counties all across New York fight to stay ahead of the number of patients, all have seen a significant lack of personal protective equipment, including gloves, masks and gowns. Ventilators, which can be lifesaving to critically ill patients, have also been in extreme short supply. Stony Brook University Hospital, for instance, has been looking to detail plans and designs that could put two patients on a single ventilator at a time. 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Friday morning he would be signing an executive order allowing the National Guard to go to facilities that are not currently using equipment like ventilators and bring them to places that need them.

“I understand they don’t want to give up their ventilators … the theory is if the government gets them they will never get that back, I understand that, but I don’t have an option,” Cuomo said. 

In that same press conference, the governor named several locations as COVID-19 “hotspots,” which included Stony Brook University Hospital. 

Cuomo added the city could start running out of ventilators by next week.

While Suffolk County has exhausted “all” its PPE equipment for health care facilities and has hosted equipment donation drives, Bellone said they have increasingly called on companies who were interested to retool any kind of production for purpose of making medical equipment. The first of these companies, Hauppauge-based 71 Visuals, a sign making company, has retooled its facility to making face shields for health care workers. So far the county has purchased 25,000 of said face shields. 

“When we can have local manufacturers, we can purchase which can be utilized in this fight to save lives,” Bellone said.

The county executive has called on any other company who is considering retooling their operations to reach out to them, saying those businesses will be worked with and compensated for their efforts.

The number of deaths due to the coronavirus continues to rise. There are now 10,149 confirmed cases, according to the county’s data tracking website. This past day saw nine new deaths, bringing the total fatalities in Suffolk to 93. 

Yesterday, The New York Times reported the navy ship USNS Comfort, which is docked inside New York Harbor, is not accepting coronavirus patients, instead being used as a place for overflow, non-COVID related patients. The vast majority of its 1,000 beds are currently unused, especially since non-coronavirus related sickness and injuries has severely decreased thanks to current stay-at-home orders.

Bellone criticized the fact the ship was not being used to field the flood of new daily coronavirus patients.

“Patients need to go where there is space available to help save lives,” Bellone said.

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Bob Strong, right, with his grandchildren Brittany and RJ. Photo from Robyn Strong

Former Port Jefferson mayor and longtime active member of the Port Jeff community Bob Strong passed March 15 after complications from lung cancer. He was 83 and died in the community he knew and loved.

Robert Strong with his two children, Robyn and Robert Jr. Photo from Robyn Strong

Strong was mayor for four years from 1995 to 1999, having been a trustee for four years prior to that. Though his stint as village head was relatively short, Strong would have long and lasting impacts on the village, namely his early help incorporating the easternmost part of the village, his creation of the Business Improvement District and him buying the property that would eventually become Harborfront Park. 

Strong was born June 16, 1936, in New York City, the son of Joseph A. and Pauline R. (Manger) Strong. He would attend SUNY Oswego and graduate in 1958. He was a member of the Beta Tau Epsilon fraternity, where he would meet his wife of nearly 50 years, Evelyn Ann (Repasky) Strong. They would have two children, Robyn and Robert Jr.

People who knew them said the two were inseparable, and it was very rare to see one without the other standing by their side. Evelyn passed away in June 2006. 

Robyn Strong said her father was very gregarious, always there for local parties or events.

The couple moved to the Port Jefferson in 1968, where the family quickly ingratiated itself into the community. Though the area was not yet in the Village of Port Jefferson, Strong quickly became known as a leading voice for incorporation. 

About 90 acres on the eastern end of the village was, until the late 1970s, still not a part of the village. Advocates for integration looked to change that. Unlike the village’s original incorporation in 1963, which was formed out of a desire for home rule, this new incorporation came together through a desire for united identity, according to Larry Britt, a former trustee of 11 years who worked alongside Strong once he later became mayor. 

“There was the same school district — all their kids went to school with our kids — and it was a big section of the village that was left out,” he said.

Harold Sheprow, a former Port Jefferson mayor from 1977 to 1985 and again from 1987 to 1991, soon became fast friends, especially because of their shared advocacy to see the village extended out to Crystal Brook Hollow Road. Strong would spend his efforts knocking on doors, advertising for integration and discussing the prospect in meetings. 

Robert Strong was a mayor for 4 years, but had a lasting impact. Photo from Robyn Strong

“It was a big benefit to Port Jefferson,” Sheprow said. 

The village’s longest serving mayor of 12 years would appoint Strong to the Zoning Board of Appeals. Working up from trustee to deputy mayor to mayor, Strong would work on several major projects, two of which are most felt by village residents today, namely purchasing the land near the harbor that would later become Harborfront Park and the creation of the BID.

Back in time, what is now parkland was filled with oil terminals, with the last owned by Mobil, which merged with Exxon in 1999 to become ExxonMobil. Sheprow said he had worked on that project for years, but Strong was the man to finally get it done, having gained financial help from New York State Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson). Sheprow said the agreement also forced Mobil to clean up any contamination in the ground, which would help set the stage for what came next. 

Britt, who as trustee worked alongside Strong on the project, said the actions he and the board took involved participation from both local government and residents.

“It was a big focus of what we did,” he said. “I think the fact we had great resident participation was a big part of why it went through.”

The mayor to take up the job after Strong was Jeanne Garant, who would help transform the area into the rolling passive park residents and visitors enjoy today.

Caroline Savino, a former village clerk who would work under five separate mayors, said Strong and other past mayors were looking for ways to have the businesses themselves chip in for the betterment of other village storefronts. 

Britt said the creation of the BID has done much for the village, especially as seen in its current incarnation. Lately, BID members have been working with the Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce to get meals from restaurants to hospital workers.

“Who could have looked into the future and see what it is today?” Britt said.

Otherwise, those who worked for Strong in an official capacity knew he could be just as kind in and out of the office.

“Bob was a real gentleman easy to work for — really dedicated to the village,” Savino said. 

Not only did she work for him, but she and Strong were also neighbors, where she said they had originally become friends. Despite him becoming mayor, she said it wasn’t hard to work for him, as he was always so courteous. Even after she retired and moved to North Carolina, Strong wouldn’t hesitate to call her and catch up on things.

Strong was also described as religious, having been a principal of the Infant Jesus R.C. Church religious school for two years. Sheprow said Strong never missed a Mass.

When not traipsing around the village, Strong was a middle school social studies educator in the South Country Central School District. He joined the district in 1958 and remained a teacher until 1966 when he became an assistant principal at the middle school. He became chairman of the social studies department, a position he held from 1972 until 1991. Strong was also a student council adviser

Robert Strong was a mayor for 4 years, but had a lasting impact. Photo from Robyn Strong15

Steve Willner, a fellow teacher in the South Country school district knew Strong well, having worked with him for eight years, becoming friends with him in much the same way others have, thanks to his personable attitude.

“He was really highly regarded in the school by both students and faculty members as [someone who was as] professional and personable as possible,” Willner said. 

Friends who knew Strong all mentioned his love of history, both world and U.S., and his ability to talk about current events. Britt remembered having plenty of discussions on politics and world issues.

When one was friends with Strong, they knew it well. Willner said he would invite the man to his son’s wedding and daughter’s bar mitzvah. Even when Willner moved to Florida after retirement, Strong and he would still keep in touch, communicating together up until the time of his death.

When Strong’s wife Evelyn passed in 2006, friends said the former mayor took it hard. 

“He and his wife were very joined together at the hip and never went anywhere without each other,” said Sheprow. “They were very much attached to each other — he never got over when she passed.”

Still people who knew him talked of how he would continue to call them or meet up, whether they were in the area or lived several states away. Robyn said her father and mother were both heavy travelers, having visited all 50 states and all continents, save Asia and Africa.

Robyn said her father was diagnosed with lung cancer 14 months before his death in March, but that he “was a fighter to the very end.” 

Because of the ongoing crisis, the family will not be holding any services at this point, though they are currently developing plans for a memorial in early summer.

Stock photo

Suffolk County has been managing to keep the number of beds available above the rate of hospitalizations due to the coronavirus pandemic, though cases continue to climb.

In his daily call with reporters April 2, County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said the number of cases in Suffolk County has breached 8,927, climbing well over 1,000 by yesterday’s count. This has been attributed to the greater amount of testing being done, with over 21,000 being completed to date in Suffolk alone.

Meanwhile, the county has been trying to meet Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) executive order to increase the number of available hospital beds by at least 50 percent, with the goal of reaching 100 percent increase. Bellone said Suffolk has increased its count of hospital beds to 2,831 beds countywide, with 438 Intensive Care Unit beds also available for the most severe cases. Currently, 472 hospital beds and 64 are vacant and available.

This is also while Cuomo said in this morning’s briefing he is becoming even more concerned with the limited number of ventilators for use during the crisis, now being down to about 2,200.

Healthcare workers on the front lines have struggled to deal with the number of cases now coming into hospitals. Bellone said the surge is still building, but the voices of health care workers are being heard.

“They’re operating in an incredibly difficult, stressful traumatic environment in which they are working overtime, double shifts, day after day after day, in a struggle to save peoples’ lives” Bellone said. “It is emotional, it is stressful and it is extraordinarily difficult.”

The number of deaths increased by 15 from the previous day. All had underlying health conditions. This includes eight individuals in their 80s, four in their 70s, and one in their 40s and 50s. One individual in his 60s died while in mandatory isolation at a local nursing home.

Currently, there are 1,323 cases in Brookhaven, 435 in Smithtown and 1,390 in Huntington townships. While close to 9,000 total cases are growing in Suffolk, New York State currently totals at more than 92,000.

The economic impact has also been felt far and wide, and Bellone said he is continuing to build out what the county can internally do to help businesses separately from the federal government’s response. So far, the county has been keeping a survey of businesses through their recently created Business Response Unit, and as of March 31, there were over 1,200 responses to said survey from businesses that employ more than 13,000 individuals, with over 7,000 responding they had lost their jobs or employment. The overall New York number, however, is much more staggering, with approximately 6.6 million filing for unemployment, a number not seen since the 1981 recession.

“Particularly our downtowns are facing tremendous hardships, and we will need a targeted effort there,” Bellone said. 

He added while some businesses have maintained some employees, “without assistance, they will not be able to keep that up much longer.”

The County Executive said he has spoken with financial institutions, who will be handling the disbursement of loans via the CARES Act, the federal financial assistance bill that promises loans to businesses to help keep people employed. The rollout of that has not been foolproof, however, with the federal Small Business Administration telling business owners they would need to reapply for their loans at https://covid19relief.sba.gov/#/

Anybody who previously applied via email, fax or snail mail will have to reapply.

Bellone said any difficulties that said financial institutions may have must be overcome if the region is to see any kind of recovery by the time the crisis begins to ebb. 

“The public wasn’t expecting this, we weren’t expecting this, but we have to deal with it,” he said. “We were on call with financial institutions and continue to convene with them.”

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Village Hires Deputy Village Attorney/Prosecutor

Port Jefferson Village Hall. File photo by Heidi Sutton

Despite the ongoing pandemic, Port Jefferson village is still moving ahead with its budget agenda, this year seeing a revenue decrease thanks in part to the LIPA settlement reducing the assessed value of the Port Jefferson Power Station.

The Port Jefferson village board held a budget hearing over the Internet, even including a live rendition of the national anthem by Port Jefferson student Nicholas Rodriguez, who played Oliver during the annual Charles Dickens Festival.

However, the new format did not allow for any public comment. This was in accordance with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) executive order suspending portions of the public meeting law due to the coronavirus crisis.

The proposed 2020-21 budget includes $9,992,565 in total appropriations, a 3.19 percent decrease from last year’s amount of $10,310,869. This takes into account a 3.5 percent Increase in the tax rate, a $111,088 decrease in assessed value of the Port Jefferson Power Station, as well as a $145,000 decrease in ambulance charges since that is now handled by the Town of Brookhaven.

“Cutting our budget by over $300,000 was not an easy task,” said Mayor Margot Garant. “In cutting that budget we were effective in consolidating some departments.”

One of the changes she referenced was moving one clerk typist into the position of a retiring typist, at a lower salary, without replacing the original with a new employee. 

As regards other village employees, the village assessor, who was on an hourly rate, has become salaried at $30,000, resulting in an increase of $26,019 from what he was getting paid this last year.

The board is also hiring a full-time internal deputy village attorney as a prosecutor, for a total expense to the village of $102,000. Garant said the board agreed this was needed to help prosecute offenses more effectively, also bringing in more revenue for the courts.

“We were just not getting any real effect as a board,” the mayor said. “We collectively agreed bringing on a staff full time will have more direction over individuals.

Village attorney Brian Egan said this will aid in prosecutions of village code infractions. He added that New York State’s new discovery laws, which require municipalities to present all evidence to the defense within a short time after being charged with a crime, have been difficult on small entities like Port Jeff. The new prosecutor will be in charge of handling that side of things.

“This is to really put an emphasis on our code enforcement to go out and aggressively prosecute code enforcement violations,” Egan said. “Having a full-time deputy village attorney … will benefit [the village] all the time.”

This year, the village is looking to raise $6,451,427 from taxes, a near $50,000 increase from last year.

“Because our LIPA assessment is frozen at a settlement … the assessed value shifts from the power plant to the shoulders of our residents,” Garant said.

In terms of capital projects, there are several on the horizon for the upcoming fiscal year, including building the $795,069 parking lot on Barnum Avenue. There are also plans to renovate the Highlands Boulevard retaining wall in the next two to three months using funds from the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York gained through state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson). Additionally, the village has gained Suffolk County grants to renovate the bathrooms by Rocketship Park and in the lower floor of Village Hall, to fix lingering issues, make them Americans with Disabilities Act compliant and heat the outside bathrooms so they can be used in the winter. Additionally, an $80,000 drainage project on Longfellow Drive is expected to start this year.

The village has also recently received permits from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation for securing the bluff on East Beach, which has been rapidly eroding over the past several years. The mayor had expected they would need to take out a small bond for that project. Another bonded project will most likely be the digitization of village records at both the building and planning department and the clerk’s department. Such a project may cost upward of $200,000. 

The village currently has a AA bond rating.

Libraries Make Difficult Decisions Regarding Budget Votes

The Suffolk County Library System offices in Bellport have been turned into a 3D printing farm for face shields. Photo from SCLS

Libraries across Suffolk County may be closed, but they are not done serving the community.

In fact, the entire county library system has pulled together using a unique resource to benefit healthcare workers at Stony Brook hospital. 

The Suffolk County Library System offices in Bellport have been turned into a 3D printing farm for face shields. Photo from SCLS

The Suffolk Cooperative Library System has pulled together well over 50 3D printers from libraries across its network into one auditorium — now a sort of 3D printing farm — at its headquarters in Bellport. Hourly, these printers are churning out plastic parts for face shields used by medical workers. 

By March 30, officials expect over 70 printers should be hooked up to the printing farm. While the first five printers were owned by the library system, a score of others have come courtesy of local public libraries. Those who did not even have one, asked the library system to order one on their behalf, saying they will own it once the coronavirus crisis has ended.

Hospital workers use to avoid the splash of fluids to their faces from sick patients, and the printing farm is creating the headband portion of the protective gear. Stony Brook University’s iCREATE lab, hosted by IT professional David Ecker, has been producing said face shields for the past several days. Once the batch of headbands is printed by SCLS, Ecker accepts the devices and finalizes construction. 

Ecker has also included instructions for people to make their own face shields at https://nyinnovate.com/2020/03/26/face-shields-icreate/

Roger Reyes, the assistant director at the SCLS, has been working long hours getting everything up and running. While originally with fewer printers they were doing 75 a day, he said with a bevy of more printers he expects an output of about 250 a day. Each batch is delivered to Stony Brook by appointment. Each component takes around 2 to 3 and ½ hours depending on the model of the printer, but with the mass of devices at the Bellport office, they have been able to supply Stony Brook with many, many more components than Ecker was able to produce on his few machines. He added that MakerBot, a company that produces 3D printers, has committed to donate plastic filament to the project.

The Suffolk County Library System offices in Bellport have been turned into a 3D printing farm for face shields. Photo from SCLS

He was surprised by the number of libraries who went out of their way to reach out and provide their printers once the call went out. He said it was amazing for even the libraries who didn’t have printers who reached out to tell them to purchase another printer on their dime.

“I know the libraries,”Reyes said.  “I’ve worked with the library system for 11 years — they were struggling to close their buildings.Normally, libraries are there in emergency situations. That’s where people go for refuge, help and information, so to close their doors is hard for them. This idea is a relief for them.”

Comsewogue Public Library’s 3D printer was one of the first hooked up to the system after the SCLS set up its own internal bank of five printers, according to Debbie Englehardt, the library’s director. She said the library also provided its filament, which is the plastic the printers heat up and use to print said objects.

“The library system is continuing to ask SBU Hospital how else we can assist, whether it’s with encouraging the public as to a particular cover for N95 masks or getting the info out as to what’s needed.”

Tom Donlon, the director of the Port Jefferson Free Library, said they donated two of their printers, one from reference and another from the teen center. Additionally, the library has purchased an additional three printers to use on the farm. These were devices the director said his library was already planning to purchase. Emma S. Clark Memorial Library in Setauket also announced it purchased a printer for use by the SCLS.

Libraries Look to Offer Services While Closed

Englehardt said it has been hard on the staff especially once it became clear the Comsewogue library had to close. Staff were nervous, but then something unique happened. One of her staff helped library workers through a staff Facebook group in guided meditation. The members  found it so successful, the library is now offering it on Facebook in periodic events for the general public.

Libraries all over have had to recreate its services online during the isolation of the coronavirus pandemic. 

“We feel during this time that people would like a familiar librarian face to chat with,” Donlon said, also chatting up several classes including tutorials for people looking to use GoToMeeting, tutorials for how to download ebooks on Kindle and an online Teen Center Meetup, scheduled for Tuesday at 4 p.m. The library has also installed a chat app on the website that is being monitored by librarians in shifts to answer in real time.

Comsewogue Public Library has tried to bring some of its demonstrations and activities normally held in the library space online, including chats with librarians through video and cooking demonstrations. Libraries have also expanded access to sites like Hoopla and Kanopy, which allows patrons to access books and movies from home.

“We’ve all had an interesting time of it — we’ve had to basically reinvent our service program in order to bring it online and to try and differentiate what we’re offering compared to what other outlets are offering,” Englehardt said. “People are working from home. It’s discombobulating and isolating with everyone working on crazy schedules. People are overstimulated, and it’s hard to force yourself to relax.”

Libraries all across Long Island have had to make hard choices, especially those who hold budget votes and board elections in the spring months. The Port Jefferson Free Library announced March 25 it would be not holding its budget vote as scheduled for April 7. Donlon said in a statement they were looking at possibly rescheduling for June. Similarly, with libraries mandated closed by New York State until April 19, Comsewogue will also not be able to hold a public budget vote, though it plans to go ahead with a budget and board election in June.

Though there is another option available to libraries — essentially not holding a public vote, which Englehardt said would mean reverting back to last year’s tax year numbers.

This could potentially mean a drop in tax revenue and potentially financial aid to those libraries who take this route. 

“Each library would have to evaluate and re approach the operating budget,” she said “It would mean changes — we don’t know how the situation could affect state aid.”

It could also mean a change in services if the library board decides to go that route.

“Would hope the public wouldn’t notice any changes to service programs,” Englehardt said. “We know people will need us more than ever.”

The North Shore Rail Trail from Mount Sinai to Wading River has leveled the land where the path is expected to go. Photo by Kyle Barr

The North Shore Rail Trail, formerly known as the Rails to Trails Recreational Path, is an approximately 10-mile recreational path and is currently under construction on the former Long Island Rail Road right of way, owned by the Long Island Power Authority. The trail runs from Crystal Brook Hollow Road in Mount Sinai to Wading River Manor Road in Wading River and parallels Route 25A. 

The North Shore Rail Trail from Mount Sinai to Wading River has leveled the land where the path is expected to go. Photo by Kyle Barr

In a release, Suffolk County Leg. Sarah Anker’s (D-Mount Sinai) office said that Suffolk County Department of Public Works and DF Stone Contracting have removed the topsoil from west to east along the trail path and will continue to grade the area and lay down the subbase within the upcoming months. DPW anticipates that it will begin laying down asphalt from west to east after April 15, weather permitting. Shrubbery has been removed to clear a handicap-accessible path at the Town of Brookhaven Rose Caracappa Senior Center in Mount Sinai. The trail is estimated to be completed in the fall of 2021.

The project was first suggested over 50 years ago by local civic members and was reintroduced in 2001 by advocates of bicycle organizations, the Setauket-Port Jefferson Station Greenway Trail and some community residents. The path is being funded by federal and state grants totaling close to $10 million, with a $500,000 match from Suffolk County. Suffolk County entered into a licensing agreement with LIPA to utilize the right of way for the trail. The engineering group NV5 was chosen by DPW to plan and design the trail.

In 2019, DPW approved DF Stone Contracting to construct the trail, reducing the cost of construction by approximately $2 million through the request-for-proposal process. The release said the county will work with the Town of Brookhaven Highway Department and New York State Department of Transportation for trail signage and lighting installation at road intersections. Maintenance of the trail will involve a partnership with not-for-profit organizations and Suffolk County Department of Parks. Suffolk County police and SCDP will provide law enforcement oversight for the trail.

People looking for more information can contact Anker’s office at 631-854-1600.

Cole Swensen, a Boy Scout in Miller Place Troop 204. created a bench and concrete pads along the Setauket-Port Jefferson Station Greenway Trail. Photo by Kyle Barr

With the weather warming, and with more people available to take walks while home from work and school (maintaining social distancing, of course), one local Boy Scout’s Eagle Scout Service Project has made a lasting impact.

Port Jefferson resident Cole Swensen, a member of Miller Place Boy Scout Troop 204, installed a bench, along with concrete pads on the Setauket-Port Jefferson Station Greenway Trail earlier this month. 

“I’m happy with the finished product,” Swensen said.

Swensen, a senior at Earl L. Vandermeulen High School in Port Jefferson, said he and his dad use the trail often for running and biking and saw there was a need for a new bench, made from wood composite, at the top of the hill just after the westernmost trail entrance in Setauket. The young man also installed three concrete pads on the trail, one at his new bench and two more at existing benches.

“These pads not only clean up the look of the benches and trail, but they also prevent the area in front of the benches from getting muddy,” Swensen said. “It also is a place for strollers to easily get off the main trail.”

Charlie McAteer, the chair of the Friends of the Greenway, said Troop 204 has been a huge boon to the trail, having done five projects with the Greenway, with one more still in the planning phase. This new project comes just as the Greenway is getting increased usage thanks to more people looking to spend time outdoors while maintaining a distance from others.

“This is a remarkable commitment to the Setauket to Port Jeff Station Greenway Trail,” McAteer said. “The community will be enjoying these for decades.”

The high school senior said he had been working on the project since before last summer but had to put it on pause after a severe bike accident led to a concussion. He conducted his fundraising last month, just as things with the coronavirus crisis were starting to close in. Still, he managed to raise about $1,000 toward the project. The build was over a three-day period with the bulk of the work centered on installing the new bench and making sure the concrete pads were leveled against the slope of the hill.

Swensen said he is still waiting on the finalized paperwork for his Eagle Scout application, since all offices are closed everything now has to be mailed.

After graduating high school, Swensen expects to attend SUNY Maritime to study naval architecture, involved in designing the hulls of boats and ships. 

Swensen’s father, Eric, said his son has been interested in boats and sailing since he was young.

Inside the Long Island Cares food bank. Photo by Donna Deddy

By Leah Chiappino

In the wake of COVID-19, local food banks and pantries are struggling to keep up with increased demands, and in some cases decreasing volunteers and inventory.

For instance, Hauppauge-based Long Island Cares, a food bank that operates six distribution centers and has several mobile distribution events, has seen the closure of 44 out of the 349 food pantries to which it distributes. While their donations are down 23 percent, LIC holds more than a million pounds of food in inventory, and anticipates receiving an additional 375,000 pounds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Long Island Cares CEO, Paule Pachter, said the problem does not stem from lack of inventory, but public hysteria. 

“With having to limit volunteers, it becomes hard for us to do mass distribution events when you have people in a panic yelling at our volunteers and staff demanding more food.”

— Paule Pachter

“People are starting to panic,” he said. “When you have people hoarding toilet paper, and coming to multiple distribution events, it becomes hard to handle. There are [some] 300 food pantries open that people can access. With having to limit volunteers, it becomes hard for us to do mass distribution events when you have people in a panic yelling at our volunteers and staff demanding more food.” 

He added he is confident that school districts mostly have the resources to provide meals themselves, and only need limited help from outside sources. The food bank has responded to almost 650 COVID-19 related calls, and is operating a 24/7 hotline for those in need of assistance. LIC is continuing mobile distributions while practicing social distancing and leaving home delivery donations outside people’s doors.

Island Harvest Food Bank, also from Hauppauge, is seeing a dramatic influx of need, too, due to COVID-19, with donations down about 40 percent, according to Randi Shubin Dresner, the organization’s president and CEO.

The food bank started an emergency response plan about two weeks ago, while trying to still deliver food to local food pantries and community organizations. As more and more places closed, Dresner said the organization began to pursue other avenues to ensure those who are in need still have access to food. 

“We have a long list of people waiting to get food from us,” Dresner said. “Every day there is hunger on Long Island, even in normal times. When you couple that with a pandemic, things become very difficult.” 

Normally 90 percent of Island Harvest’s inventory is donated, but recently it had to make a $450,000 purchase of food supplies, an amount Dresner said is likely to double in the future. A large portion of the purchases are “family boxes” of food, enough to feed a family of four for four days. Others are individual meals and meals for seniors. 

“There are tens of thousands of people that are homebound, and we can’t get to them all,” Dresner said. “We’re going to do as much as we can, and hopefully some of our partner organizations will be able to accomplish what we can’t. These are uncertain times and unchartered waters that we’re dealing with. People are scared, and we want to be responsive to as many people as we can, which is what we always do.”

A food pantry donation. File photo by Elana Glowatz

The organization is working to deliver food to homebound seniors and veterans. It is also partnering with school districts such as William Floyd, Copiague, Brentwood and Wyandanch to help supplement the meals the districts are providing and ensure there is enough to bring home to entire families, not just children. 

Dresner said Island Harvest is committed to keeping safe practices. Employees are rotating working from home and going into the office, and field and office workers are separated.

The organization also employs what it calls community resource navigators, to help people apply for food stamps or referrals to other services. Dietitians are on staff to help with nutrition needs. 

Dresner said the food bank has not had a problem attracting volunteers, as people who have to stay at home want to find a way to help out. 

The CEO added Island Harvest is accepting prepared and unprepared food from various restaurants, caterers and country clubs.

The organization prefers monetary donations over food donations, as the organization specifically can buy bulk food at a discounted price. Monetary donations can be made on the organization’s website at www.islandharvest.org/covid. Those in need should email info@islandharvest.org or call the headquarters at 516-294-8528.28

Some local food pantries seem to be operating at a reduced level. The Ecumenical Lay Council Pantry in Northport, whose staple is allowing people to come in and feel as though they are shopping, is still operating during normal hours but by a drive-through process. 

The Smithtown Emergency Food Pantry, which normally operates from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. five days a week, is only open Tuesday through Thursday this week, and is leaving bags of supplies at the rear entrance for people to pick up, according to its voicemail. It asks that only one person at a time goes into the location, completely eliminating contact. The pantry will continue to update its policies as time progresses.

Lighthouse Mission, a faith-based mobile food pantry, is also suffering from dwindling volunteers and donations. 

“People are afraid,” Pastor Jim Ryan, president of the mission, said. “People are uncertain about their own future and are not thinking about donating. They are making an effort to practice social distancing by keeping people 8 feet away from each other at outreaches and are looking to pre-bag food to limit contact.”

Still, twice a day, Lighthouse Mission’s box trucks cart food, clothing and basic necessities for volunteers to set up in public parking lots, including in Port Jefferson Station and Rocky Point, and give to those in need. For those who choose to listen, a volunteer will give a gospel message and pray with the attendees who ask. The organization, which was started 28 years ago, serves 10 different locations throughout
Suffolk County.

Ryan, who was a 2012 Times Beacon Record Person of the Year, has now begun a program in which volunteers will deliver food to elderly residents at their homes. 

“These are people who always come out,” Ryan said. “They may be in a wheelchair or holding an oxygen mask, but they are always there. Now they just can’t come out because they cannot get this virus.” The pastor added that volunteers will leave the items at the door to mitigate contact.

“We will keep operating as long as there’s food to give.”

— Jim Ryan

The mission, which is not publicly funded and runs solely on donations, is urgently in need of food, clothing and supplies. According to its website, it accepts nonperishable food items (canned goods, pasta, cereal, bottled water, etc.); meats (hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken, turkeys, etc.); dairy products, fresh fruits and vegetables. It does not take cooked meals. 

Ryan said that paper items, especially plastic bags, would be helpful. Donations can be dropped off at Lighthouse Mission’s office at 1543 Montauk Highway in Bellport. Monetary donations would be appreciated, as the organization recently had a truck break down and is lacking the funds to fix it. 

“I am confident God will send blessings our way,” Ryan said. “We will keep operating as long as there’s food to give.”

Those in need can attend Lighthouse Mission outreaches on Thursdays from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. at 499 Main St., Port Jefferson Station, in the commuter parking lot at the corner of Hallock Road and Route 112; on Wednesdays from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. at 683 Route 25A in Rocky Point at the Knights of Columbus front parking lot; or on Fridays from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. at 2150 Middle Country Road, Centereach in the parking lot near Ocean State Job Lot, on the south side of Route 25.

Those that are elderly and would like food delivered to their homes, as well as people looking to volunteer to deliver the food, can call the office at 631-758-7584.