Authors Posts by Rita J. Egan

Rita J. Egan

Rita J. Egan

Robert Van Zeyl. Photo from Suffolk County Police Department

A Suffolk County Police Department lieutenant is the first department member to lose the fight against the coronavirus.

According to a Jan. 20 press release from the SCPD, the department is mourning the loss of active duty member Robert Van Zeyl who died from COVID-19  Jan. 20.

The death is the first of an active duty sworn member of the SCPD due to the COVID-19 virus, and Van Zeyl will be honored with a line of duty funeral, arrangements of which are pending.

“It is with great sadness that we mourn the loss of an exceptional member of our law enforcement family, Lieutenant Robert Van Zeyl,” said Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone. “Lt. Van Zeyl’s more than three decades of exemplary service are a testament to his commitment to public service, and even in the midst of a global pandemic, he was on the frontlines every day helping residents in need. Our thoughts and prayers are with the entire Van Zeyl family during this difficult time.”

Van Zeyl, who was 60, tested positive for COVID-19 Jan. 3 and was hospitalized a week later.

“COVID-19 has impacted law enforcement agencies throughout the country and it is with deep sadness that the Suffolk County Police Department has lost its first member of service who contracted coronavirus earlier this month,” said Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart. “Lt. Van Zeyl served Suffolk County residents with distinction for nearly 36 years and his legacy will continue with the members of this department. We extend our deepest sympathies to his family.”

According to the press release, Van Zeyl joined the SCPD in February 1985 and served in the 5th Precinct upon graduation from the academy. Van Zeyl was promoted to Sergeant in 1994 and then Lieutenant in 2003. He served as the Commanding Officer of the Applicant Investigation Section and the Administrative Services Bureau before transferring to the 2nd Precinct in 2015 where he worked until his death.

“It is truly heartbreaking to lose a member of our department, doubly so personally given the fact that I have known Bob for my entire career,” said Suffolk County Police Chief of Department Stuart Cameron. “Thirty-six years ago, we were sworn in together and became Suffolk County Police officers; his entire adult life was dedicated to public safety. Bob’s passing exemplifies the multifaceted dangers that members of our department face every day to keep the residents of our county safe. Our department grieves his loss along with his family.”

During his more than three-decade career, Van Zeyl received more than a dozen recognitions for his contributions to the police department including two Cop of the Month honors and the Excellent Police Duty Award for amassing 12 or more self-initiated DWI arrests in a single year.

“Bob was a wonderful person, a dedicated member of our department, and a pleasure to know both personally and professionally,” said 2nd Precinct Commanding Officer Inspector William Scrima. “He was a person who genuinely enjoyed his work and was liked by people of all ranks who knew him and worked with him. He will be truly missed by this department and by the Second Precinct in particular.”

Van Zeyl is survived by his ex-wife Christine Zubrinic, his daughter Hailey and son Tyler, both 14.

“The Suffolk County Police Department has not only lost a great police officer, but we’ve lost a great boss, and more importantly, a great friend,” said Sergeant Jack Smithers, who worked with Van Zeyl in the 2nd Precinct. “He will be sorely missed by all.”

Students take a career DNA test before talking to professionals. From Three Village Central School District

The Three Village Industry Advisory Board didn’t let a pandemic get in the way of its annual career fair for secondary school students in the school district.

Business owners, such as Michael Ardolino of Team Ardolino/Realty Connect USA, answered students questions virtually during the annual career fair. Photo from Three Village Central School District

On Jan. 14, the board, a partnership between the district and local businesses, presented its third annual career fair. The event gave students the opportunity to talk to local professionals after they took a “career DNA” test analysis to discover their strengths. However, instead of stopping by tables set up by business representatives, the teenagers checked into Google Meet sessions to take part in 20-minute seminars where professionals presented a quick overview of what their careers entailed and then gave the students a chance to ask questions.

To help participants to choose which sessions to attend, the career DNA results assigned each student a color for various strengths and businesses were also assigned the colors.

Ilene Littman, 3V-IAB coordinator and Ward Melville High School business teacher, said the fair provided students in grades 7-12 an opportunity “to explore and learn about careers in a virtual format.” This year 308 students registered, and 21 businesses participated. Students had the opportunity to learn about banking, real estate, dentistry, the medical and financial fields and more.

“Students navigated the virtual career fair based on their career DNA, which was matched up to businesses that shared similar traits to ensure those occupations/professions are uniquely suitable for each student,” Littman said. “Using this online platform to interact with business professionals was also excellent practice because it is most likely how today’s students will be screened in the initial stage of the interview process once they are ready to embark on their job searches to enter their chosen fields.”

Alan Baum, the school district’s executive director of Secondary Curriculum and Human Resources, said he was grateful for the work Littman put into organizing the event that he described as “tremendous.”

“Orchestrating such an event is difficult enough but bringing it to fruition during the pandemic and reimagining it as a virtual career fair was a herculean task,” he said.

Baum added he was also grateful for committee co-chair Michael Ardolino and all of the participating businesses that helped with the virtual career fair. Ardolino is also the founder and owner of Team Ardolino/Realty Connect USA.

“I am thrilled that we were able to provide our secondary students the opportunity to engage with a diverse representation of the business community in our continuing effort to help the students explore future career paths,” Baum said.

Ardolino said it was interesting to see the conversations that were going on in the different sessions and how well the virtual platform worked and could possibly lead to smaller presentations in the future such as a business owner talking about how to manage the company’s money and more.

Mike Lawton of Element Energy LLC noted there were more participants than he thought there would be, and the virtual format was perfect.

“I had some excellent questions from the students, and I enjoyed every minute of it,” he said.

A drone captures a photo of The Van Wyck-Lefferts Tide Mill in Lloyd Harbor. Photo from The Van Wyck-Lefferts Tide Mill Sanctuary

One of the oldest industrial buildings on Long Island is about to get an upgrade.

The Van Wyck-Lefferts Tide Mill Sanctuary recently announced in a press release that the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation awarded it a grant of more than $97,000. The matching grant will go toward the restoration of the 223-year-old Van Wyck-Lefferts Tide Mill in Lloyd Harbor and the dam where it is located.

The tide mill sanctuary is a nonprofit established to preserve and promote public access to the three and one-half story 18th-century tide gristmill. Both the timber-frame wood tide mill and the 400-foot long earthen dam are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

“The Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation’s mission is to advance Long Island’s regional history,” said Kathryn Curran, executive director of RDLGF. “All projects chosen to receive RDLGF funding each have their own individual impact, but mark a shared place in a larger story. The Van Wyck-Lefferts Mill is one of many local mills that dot this Island, each representing commerce, community devolvement and technology.”

According to the tide mill sanctuary, the grant will help to restore the earthen dam. The nonprofit will also be able to install a new roof on the mill building and do interior structural repairs. This work is expected to be completed in the middle of this year.

“The mill is considered one of the best preserved 18th-century tide mills in the United States and is one of only 10 surviving examples of tide mills in the northeast from Virginia to Maine,” said Robert Hughes, tide mill sanctuary board member and Town of Huntington historian. “The funding from the Gardiner Foundation will help to ensure the continued preservation of this remarkable structure, which was built in 1797 and continued to serve local farmers for the next three-quarters of a century.”

In the future, the nonprofit also hopes to shore up the bulkhead, which protects the mill’s stone foundation, and to restore the bridge over the spillway that connects the north and south sections of the dam.

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In 2020, Higher Ground was able to work on the roof of the Eato House on Christian Avenue. Photo from Higher Ground

The Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation is playing a part in helping to restore the historic Eato House on Christian Avenue in Setauket.

The foundation recently awarded the Setauket-based Higher Ground Inter-Cultural & Heritage Association, Inc. an Organizational Capacity Building Grant. Higher Ground, which works to preserve the culture, indigenous inhabitants and historic inventory of the Native and Afro-American community, is currently restoring the house.

According to RDLGF, this type of grant will enable Higher Ground to work with four professionals in the areas of governance, collections, site assessment and outreach as the foundation will pay for the services. Higher Ground has been working on the continued preservation of the Bethel Christian Ave., Laurel Hill Historic District, and currently, the organization co-owns the house with Bethel AME Church.

“The Higher Ground project speaks to a story of diversity,” said Kathryn Curran, executive director of RDLGF. “This association highlights this area’s role in establishing and recognizing that important cultural heritage.”

Robert Lewis, president of Higher Ground, said the first stage of the Eato House’s restoration was completed Dec. 1. He added that the first stage of work focused on preventing water from penetrating the structure. To accomplish the goal, existing roof rafters were fortified and a new roof was insulated. New gutters and leaders were also added to match the 1900 architecture and the

A future second stage of work will focus on the foundation of the structure and interior stabilization.

“The second stage is obviously dependent on funding availability,” Lewis said. “The prospects for acquiring additional funding in the future will be much brighter when the RDL Gardiner Capacity Building Project is completed.”

The grant from the RDLGF grant will enable members of the Eato House Restoration Committee to be trained “to pursue and manage historic preservation activities; manage projects, and to adequately fulfill standard requirements for State registered non-profits,” according to Lewis. The grant will also introduce the organization to promotional activities, marketing strategies and high technology processing.

“Participation in the OCB project will increase the competency of Higher Ground to protect structures, documented history, environmental history; to preserve artwork, oral history and archaeological documentation,” Lewis said.

While RDLGF is known for helping to preserve Suffolk County’s history, other works of the foundation aren’t as well known.

“Less known, but equally successful, are the efforts of the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation to identify, and engage with small, relatively hidden areas of valuable, Native, and Afro-American history being lost in minority communities where small preservation organizations labor to survive,” Lewis said.

In a 2017 interview with TBR News Media, Bethel AME historian, Carlton “Hub” Edwards, said the Eato House was once home to the Rev. David Eato, one of the church’s first pastors, and his wife Mary Baker, a freed slave.

Baker moved to the North after being freed from slavery and settled in Port Washington where she was an organist at a church. It was there that she met Eato and, after marrying, the couple moved to Setauket, and the reverend became one of the first ministers of Setauket’s Bethel AME in the early 1900s. Mary took on the role of superintendent of the Sunday school and held the position until the late 1930s.

Edwards said the members of the Eato family owned the house until the church purchased it a few years ago.

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Three Village Civic Association president and school district board trustee Jonathan Kornreich announced he is running for Brookhaven Town Council in a special election in March. Photo from candidate

One of the names on the ballot for a special election in Brookhaven March 23 is a familiar one to many Three Village residents.

Kornreich, left, with former Councilwoman Valerie Cartright and town Supervisor Ed Romaine at a 2017 press conference. Photo by Rita J. Egan

With the Town of Brookhaven Council District 1 seat vacant, after Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) won her run as a judge for the Supreme Court of the State of New York, the town called for a special election. While the Republican candidate has not yet been officially named, Jonathan Kornreich has been announced as the Democrat in the race. Kornreich has been a Three Village Central School District trustee for more than a dozen years and is president of the Three Village Civic Association.

When he first heard Cartright was vacating the seat, he said he didn’t even think of running.

“A few people contacted me, and they were like, ‘What are you doing?’ Kornreich said. “So, I agreed to think it over.”

He added the argument many made to him was that it would allow him to continue doing the work he has been doing through the years, but more effectively. Although he had considered a run for the seat in the past, it had been many years since he had considered entering politics.

“I just have been focused on doing the work,” he said.

Kornreich said he feels his experience as both a board of education trustee and a civic president will be an asset to the position as he regularly interacts with residents and listens to their concerns.

“Over the years, having been a civic president for so many years and being involved in the community as a school board member, I’ve just learned how to serve the public, and how to listen, so it’s not going to be a hard adjustment for me,” he said. “I’m used to hearing from people.”

The 51-year-old, who lives in Stony Brook with his wife, Linda, and his two daughters, first became involved with school boards when his children attended the North Shore Montessori School in Stony Brook.

“It was important for me to be involved in their education so I got very active in their school, and eventually I joined the board of the Montessori school,” he said. “Soon after that I became the president of that board, and that’s where I really got my start in civic involvement.”

When his children left to attend school in the Three Village district, Kornreich said he decided to run for its school board in 2008. While he will take a leave of absence from his role in the Three Village Civic Association, he plans to continue with the school board.

A lifetime Long Islander, he grew up in Hauppauge and graduated from the local high school in 1987. He went on to study at SUNY Albany where he majored in English and minored in philosophy. After graduating from college, he developed an entrepreneurial spirit and started up a pool business that he ran for 20 years before selling it. He then transitioned into construction and real estate. Through the years, in addition to the pool business, he has started a computer company, an importing company and has invested in a restaurant in Thailand and a farm in Cambodia.

Kornreich said during his years of community involvement he has worked with Cartright regularly.

“What I admire was her ability to bring stakeholders together, and just make sure that everyone was heard,” Kornreich said. “Even if she didn’t agree with them, she always made sure that everyone felt heard.”

He added he never wants constituents to be frustrated with their representation, and he feels it’s important for all residents to be given the opportunity to be heard as Cartright did.

“I think that a lot of the issues that we face in the town, there’s no Republican or Democrat way to conduct town business. And I think that a lot of those national issues don’t really come into play — they don’t apply.”

— Jonathan Kornreich

“It’s time consuming and it can be difficult, but you have to go slowly and give people a chance to weigh in on things,” he said.

Kornreich said it’s important to continue the work that Cartright started including making sure the ideas gathered from area residents a few years ago for the Route 25A Three Village Area Visioning Report are implemented, and a similar study for redeveloping Upper Port Jefferson is continued. He said planning is important for the future of the district, especially regarding keeping each area’s personality.

“To maintain that sense of place is a result of planning,” he said. “In the Three Village area, for example, the 25A area is clearly in need of redevelopment. It’s not all that it could be, and I think it doesn’t have the kind of amenities that people in this community expect.”

He gave the example of the East Setauket Pond Park area, which once was a traditional waterfront where residents could see boats.

“But now it’s all overgrown with weeds, and in that park, you can’t really see out,” he said. “There’s buildings there that are vacant and have been vacant for years, and that’s an area that really needs to be redeveloped. And, I don’t mean to build buildings, I mean that’s a good place for public spaces, for parks, for preservation.”

He said Upper Port, with access to Route 347 and having a Long Island Rail Road station, is an example of where a vibrant, walkable downtown area can be developed.

“That’s a place where it’s OK to build buildings and have a nice walkable downtown area with affordable housing,” he said. “A place where young people can live and seniors, and have shops and that feeling of being in a place. There’s a lot of opportunities for that in the Upper Port Jefferson Station area.”

If elected, Kornreich — as with Cartright — will be the only Democrat on the Town Board, but he said with his work with the civic and school district, he has worked with elected officials from different parties.

“I think that a lot of the issues that we face in the town, there’s no Republican or Democrat way to conduct town business,” he said. “And I think that a lot of those national issues don’t really come into play — they don’t apply.”

He said he’s worked frequently with town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), and he admires Romaine’s respect for the environment.

“From what I’ve seen of the other people on the Town Council, their hearts are in the right place,” the candidate said.

In addition to working with those on the town level through the years, Kornreich has worked with elected officials on the county, state and federal levels, and said he has a good working relationship with many of them. He said when residents come into an elected official’s office, many don’t know if the issue falls under town, county or state jurisdiction.

“They don’t need to, because as an elected official, if someone has a problem with their road or with this or that, they don’t care,” Kornreich said. … “They want to know: ‘Who do I talk to, how do I get this problem fixed?’ … So, having those relationships — I just want to be able to help people solve problems.”

Huntington Town Supervisor Chad Lupinacci, above at podium, speaks at a Jan. 8 press conference at the archaeological dig at the Peter Crippen House. Photo by Lina Weingarten

On Jan. 8, Town of Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R), Councilwoman Joan Cergol (D) and Councilman Ed Smyth (R) were joined by Dr. Harvey Manes of the Manes Peace Prize Foundation, archaeologist Allison McGovern of VHB Engineering who is overseeing the dig, town officials and members of the community during the second day of the archaeological dig taking place at the Peter Crippen House, 61 Creek Road, Halesite, a site significant to the town’s African American history. 

Peter Crippen House. Photo by Lina Weingarten

“The long-term plan is to relocate the restored structure, if it is feasible to do so, to a more suitable site to serve as a museum or use any salvageable timbers in some educational capacity dedicated to Huntington’s African American history,” Lupinacci said.

The supervisor’s office has been working closely with the Town Historian Robert Hughes, Engineering Department and the Town’s African American Historic Designation Council to ensure that the Peter Crippen House, which is in severe disrepair and is set to be demolished, can be properly preserved, as the site is integral to Huntington’s African American history. The supervisor said there will be a follow-up regarding what is found during the dig.

In September 2020, Lupinacci and Hughes were able to secure an $8,500 donation from the Manes Peace Prize Foundation to conduct an archaeological study on-site before any demolition occurs at the Crippen House.

“African-Americans made an important contribution to the history of Huntington which needs to be recognized,” Mane said.

One of the items discovered during the dig was a Vaseline jar dating back to the turn of the last century. Photo by Lina Weingarten

The town also applied for $4,000 in Preservation League of New York State grant funding for a structural assessment of the house to determine to what extent the building, or its timbers, can be preserved for reconstruction at another site, the location of which has yet to be determined. In November 2020, the State Historic Preservation Office determined that the house is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, which makes the property eligible for state grant funds. The town is currently awaiting for the decision on the grant funding.

According to the town, the north wing of the Peter Crippen House is believed to be Huntington’s first mill building built in 1658. In 1864, the home was purchased by Peter Crippen, an African American who was born a free person in 1809 on a plantation in Virginia and came to Huntington in the 1830s. Crippen was a prominent member of Huntington’s African American community, and in 1843, he was a founding member of the African Methodist Ebenezer Church in Huntington (currently the Bethel AME Church).

McGovern at the Jan. 8 press conference, said some of her early findings at the site included pieces of ceramics and glass, including a glass Vaseline jar dating back to the turn of the last century.

The archaeological study resumed Jan. 13, and pending weather conditions, will last approximately 4-5 days total, according to the town.

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Photo from Suffolk County Police Department

Suffolk County Crime Stoppers and Suffolk County Police 4th Precinct Crime Section officers are seeking the public’s help to identify and locate two people who allegedly stole from a Commack store in November.

A man and a woman entered Walmart, located at 85 Crooked Hill Road, at approximately 7:40 p.m. Nov. 15 and allegedly stole assorted household items before fleeing the scene in a maroon colored Nissan Murano.

Suffolk County Crime Stoppers offers a cash reward for information that leads to an arrest. Anyone with information about these incidents can contact Suffolk County Crime Stoppers to submit an anonymous tip by calling 1-800-220-TIPS, utilizing a mobile app which can be downloaded through the App Store or Google Play by searching P3 Tips, or online at All calls, text messages and emails will be kept confidential.

File photo

On a call with reporters Jan. 6, U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-NY3) said he was in the chambers of the Capitol when it was breached by Trump supporters who stormed the building. He said he and others were ushered to a safe place.

The congressman said he was more saddened than scared by the siege.

Suozzi said there was a Republican congress member objecting to the certification of the electoral results, when the representatives were notified the building had been breached. They were told to reach under their chairs and get the gas masks that were under them. According to the congressman, tear gas at the point already had been used in areas of the building.

“And then there started to be some people banging at the doors,” he said. “Capitol Police drew their weapons.”

Suozzi added that something broke through the main door, and he heard a popping noise.

He said he was up in the gallery with other members of Congress. At one point, there were concerns they couldn’t exit and 30 were still remaining, waiting to see if protesters would break through the doors. After determining what door to use to leave, they finally were able to exit the chambers.

He said when he left the room, there were several protesters on the floor surrounded by Capitol Police.

“I feel very strongly that we have to get back to the chambers, and we have to certify this election,” he said. “And we have to deem Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, President, Vice President, of the United States of America.

Suozzi said he disagreed with his colleagues who are objecting.

“But it was a debate on the floor and that’s what we do in our country — we debate,” he said. “Outside there were protests and protests are okay, too, but not violent protests and this violence that we’re seeing is completely unacceptable.”

He said the president and others fomented the protests.

“This is completely lawless, irresponsible,” Suozzi said. “We must get back to the chambers, and we must certify this election as fast as possible, and show the country and the world that our democracy will continue to thrive and survive and thrive. Even in the midst of this lawlessness, we can always rely on our values, and we have to stick with our values.”

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R, NY-1) released a statement denouncing the protesters’ actions.

“This should never be the scene at the US Capitol,” Zeldin said in the statement. “This is not the America we all love. We can debate and we can disagree, even on a Jan. 6 following a presidential election. We can all passionately love our country, but in our republic we elect people to represent us to voice our objections in the House and Senate on this day. Additionally, there must be zero tolerance for violence in any form! It is very important now for everyone to please cooperate with Capitol Police who need to gain control of this situation immediately.”

Many North Shore businesses made and donated face shields to help health care workers in the beginning of the pandemic when PPE supplies were low. Photo from Dr. John Folan

North Shore businesses found themselves turning into chameleons during the pandemic, having to adapt to new hampering COVID-19 regulations and restrictions.

But many of these small shops and companies took the extra time the mandatory state shutdowns created by using their resources to reach out to their communities to lend a helping hand. While some made face shields, others sewed masks, helped those short on cash keep their living spaces and workplaces clean, among many other aids and services.

Beyond that help, in a time of rampant unemployment and job loss, many of these small businesses focused on keeping busy and keeping people employed, even in these difficult times.

Zaro’s Cafe

Members of the Huntington Community First Aid Squad pick up face shields at Zaro’s Cafe earlier this year. Photo from Zaro’s Cafe

The lack of face shields for frontline workers in hospitals and first responders was an issue identified as soon as the infection rates for the coronavirus climbed. Several business owners who own 3D printers were ready to make whatever their local health care facilities, fire departments and more needed for battle.

While a restaurant may seem like an unlikely spot for making face shields, it wasn’t for Edmund Zarou, owner of Zaro’s Cafe on Jericho Turnpike in Huntington Station. On the side, he sells nightlights using 3D printers along with his cousin Alex Solounias.

In March, Zarou said he was going a bit stir crazy during the afternoon hours. With restaurants prohibited from indoor dining at the time and restricted to providing curbside service, he said many diners were not coming in for lunch and there was a lull until dinnertime. He and his employees were there for hours just prepping and cleaning.

“I’m not a person that likes to be stagnant, I always like to be doing something,” he said.

When he heard there was a need for face shields in the community, he turned Zaro Cafe’s dining room into a face shield production center using the 3D printers he had. He said through word of mouth and Facebook postings, he would get about 20 phone calls a day with people asking for at least five or 10 shields for fire departments, EMTs and nursing homes.

Zarou said he was busy making masks until about mid-May when production chains began to catch up and the restaurant businesses also started to pick up with the warmer weather and more people venturing out.

He ended up making close to 1,000 shields, and still can’t understand how the pandemic created such a need.

“I couldn’t believe these big companies or hospitals, that they would run out of that,” he said.

He added he was happy to help though.

“It was so easy for me to do it, because I had the know-how, machines and equipment,” he said. “So, once I was able to do it, I just did it.”

Railex Corporation

Railex Corp. in Copiaque went from producing conveyor systems to making face shields to donate to health care workers during the pandemic. Photo from Railex

At the same time Zarou learned of the need for face shields, so did Setauket resident Richard Sobel, who along with Old Field Village trustee Steve Shybunko, owns the conveyor system company Railex Corporation in Copiague.

Sobel first heard of the need when faculty and students at The Stony Brook School, where his son Owen attends, were using 3D printers to make face shields for Stony Brook University Hospital. When he heard of the need, he knew Railex could help and even produce more for them.

Four days after the business shut down due to state mandates, Sobel was able to reopen again and keep employees working. After the company produced 5,000 shields to donate to SBUH, they went on to make another 20,000 over the next five to six weeks.

Like Zarou, he said once the supply chain caught up, and businesses were able to open up again, he found they were able to go back to producing conveyor systems.

The philanthropic opportunity also brought two new ventures for the company. First they sold some shields to local doctors’ offices, and they also began creating mobile area guard partitions with polycarbonate shields that many places, including courthouses, are using to separate people and enforce virus restrictions.

Sobel said it would have been difficult to tell employees they were shutting down for a few months. As a manufacturing company, there aren’t many opportunities to work from home.

“It was a huge deal to be able to do that, keep the business open,” he said. “I would say that our mantra was work safely and stay a little bit paranoid.”

While they navigated new waters in working during a pandemic, that mantra worked as no one in the company came down with COVID-19.

He said he was impressed with the donations facilitated from The Stony Brook School from stores such as Home Depot, Lowe’s and P.C. Richard & Son.

“You would call them up, and they would say ‘yes,’ right away,” he said.

71 Visuals

Craig Geiger, CEO of 71 Visuals in Hauppauge and a Stony Brook resident, also rose to the occasion when he heard health care workers and first responders were in need of face shields.

“There were people pulling up that were literally crying, saying, ‘You have no idea how important this is to me.'” — Craig Geiger

The business usually provides signage products including light boxes, trade show booths, LED signs and stages, banners, posters, counter wrap, window tinting and wall graphics, with most of their customers in retail. With industrial machines, Geiger said he knew his company could meet the demand for face shields quickly.

Like Sobel, the CEO said that the company was not only able to help health care workers and fire departments but also keep approximately 25 to 30 employees working. He also took on an additional 60 employees, many of whom were friends with his nephew, a senior at Commack High School.

The company also started a GoFundMe page where Geiger said they were overwhelmed by the generous donations. The company got to a point where they were making 8,000 shields a day.

The CEO said he was surprised by the need and the number of calls he received from hospitals and surgeons including St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center in Smithtown and Stony Brook University Hospital, and even medical facilities outside of Long Island.

“I remember reading that Stony Brook was excited that they were able to use some of the equipment they had on their premises for the college to make face shields, and I think they were able to do like 50 or 60 a day like it was,” he said.

After learning about the need at SBUH, 71 Visuals created 5,000 shields for the hospital.

Over the months, the company made more than 400,000 shields. In addition to keeping its employees at work, additional projects came out of the philanthropic act as they then began making and selling acrylic barriers for hospitals and small three-sided acrylic barriers to about two dozen school districts. The barriers are used at students’ desks and are portable.

While Geiger is grateful for keeping his company open, he said one day when they arranged a curbside pickup to fulfill requests for shields, he was amazed when there was a line down the street and traffic police had to manage the flow of cars.

He said it was an emotional day.

“There were people pulling up that were literally crying, saying, ‘You have no idea how important this is to me,’” he said.


SERVPRO of Port Jefferson was recently recognized by the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Chamber of Commerce. The company provides services to customers in Port Jefferson as well as the surrounding areas in the field of handling fire, water and mold cleanup as well as restoration.

The chamber thanked the company for cleaning its historic train car for free. Owner Risa Kluger said they also have done some free cleanings for fire departments as well as regular customers who were unable to pay their bills.

With many worrying if they could catch COVID-19 from surfaces, the company’s signature microbial misting, air-duct and air-scrubber commercial cleaning service provided peace of mind to many.

When regular customers, who needed a general cleaning for their business or a specific one for their home due to a COVID-19 reason, mentioned being short on cash, Kluger said they were happy to provide a free service.

“If there’s a repeat customer or someone who has a situation where they are in need, we always listen and try to help,” she said.

She also credits being able to assist free of charge to some due to her business being considered essential during the pandemic as she was able to stay open and keep employees working.

“Sometimes people choose to clean up things themselves a little more often, but we didn’t take as big of a hit as others,” she said.

Health care workers at Stony Brook University Hospital received meals delivered by Stony Brook Village Center restaurants. Photo from Ward Melville Heritage Organization

During the pandemic, helping to feed those with food insecurities came not only from expected organizations such as food banks and church pantries but also restaurants across the North Shore. Several stepped up to the plate to help out as their dining rooms remained empty due to mandatory state shutdowns.

Whether it was the Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce working with small businesses to donate food to local hospitals or nonprofits like Island Harvest facilitating meals for those who needed it, here are just a few examples of those who went above and beyond.

Long Island Cares

“We are seeing a lot of people for the first time, and I think that a lot of it’s due to unemployment, job loss, furloughs.” — Claire Fratello

Long Island Cares, the Hauppauge-based food bank, is in the business of making sure residents in Suffolk and Nassau counties don’t go hungry. According to Claire Fratello, LIC’s assistant to the CEO for administration and media relations, the nonprofit, which regularly has 374 member pantries and six satellite locations, established during the pandemic 18 emergency pop-up food distribution sites, a food-box packing center in Hauppauge to make up emergency food boxes, and a consumer-choice pantry in Bethpage, modeled after a supermarket..

From March to November, LI Cares has assisted more than 220,000 people all across Long Island, and the number of new people receiving emergency food assistance due to COVID-19 has increased to 146,919. Food insecurity is up 58% compared to 2019.

LI Cares collected enough food items to give out nearly 12 million meals throughout the pandemic.

“We are seeing a lot of people for the first time, and I think that a lot of it’s due to unemployment, job loss, furloughs,” she said.

Fratello added that LI Cares has tried something new with virtual food drives, and they have seen an approximate 33% increase in donations compared to last year.

“I think the generosity has been kind of fueled by the fact that there are people out there who know that others are struggling,” she said.

In September, LI Cares started creating food boxes for workers of a few Long Island restaurants. The owner of the restaurants expressed concern for his employees who were working less than usual and receiving fewer tips. Each week the workers have been able to pick up food boxes at LI Cares’ Huntington and Hauppauge locations.

Axis Food Pantry

Among the food pantries providing help to local residents is a new one established by Axis Church. Pastor Kara Bocchino said the church has members from all over and three locations, Port Jefferson, Medford and Patchogue, and the new food pantry operates out of the main building in Medford.

“We were sitting home thinking how we can’t just sit home when we’re an outreach-focused church,” she said.

Committed to doing something, the church members called the Patchogue-Medford school district in April, and discovered there were several families in need. Congregants donated a large amount of food and would drop off donations on Sundays. The collected food was delivered to 60 families a week and about another 60 families would pick food up at the church every Saturday.

After the school year ended, church members continued to deliver to the families. However, when the need died down, it inspired the church to start a food pantry. Bocchino said she began receiving calls from the New York State Department of Health asking if they could help deliver food to nearby residents who were quarantined. While they mostly bring food to those who live up and down the Route 112 corridor, they have also helped out those in areas surrounding Port Jefferson.

Bocchino said when she can’t deliver to a person due to distance, she connects the DOH with a church that can.

One family she delivered to was in Rocky Point. She said the drive was worth it when she learned the woman in the household was a foster mom to five children. Bocchino added that the chain Chick-fil-A donated a tray of food to the family.

After food was dropped off for a family in Selden, Bocchino found out the parents needed help buying their children Christmas presents and purchasing oil to heat their house. She said church members quickly stepped up to the plate to help them.

The pastor hasn’t been surprised by the generosity she’s witnessed from congregants and businesses.

“What happens is when people hear of a need, they’re willing to fill it,” she said. “When they don’t hear of the need, they can’t do it.”

La Famiglia, Smithtown

Teresa LaRosa leaves La Famiglia in Smithtown with food for a family member who was furloughed early on during the pandemic. The restaurant began donating meals to community members back in March. Photo by Rita J. Egan

During the pandemic, many restaurants took the lead in offering free food to seniors in their communities and delivering meals to health care workers at local hospitals.

As soon as restaurants were prohibited to provide indoor dining, La Famiglia in Smithtown posted on its Facebook page that the restaurant would donate 50 meals a day to any senior who wanted them over two days. The word spread fast, and soon regulars were stopping by to donate money, which allowed co-owner John Cracchiolo and manager Giovanni Divella to donate 150 meals that weekend.

But the donations didn’t stop there, Divella said, and the restaurant has continued giving away free meals throughout the pandemic, delivering them to St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center and Suffolk County Police Department’s 4th Precinct among other locations to say “thank you” to health care workers and law enforcement.

Divella said there was no question about helping out in the community during difficult times. The restaurant has stood on the corner of Jericho Turnpike and Brooksite Drive in Smithtown for 20 years.

“This community is by far the most tight-knit community I’ve ever met,” he said. “And not just Smithtown, but all the surrounding areas: St. James, Kings Park, Commack and Hauppauge.”

Divella said he and Cracchiolo didn’t think the pandemic would last this long but feel fortunate to have been able to stay open during the pandemic, even with the changes in capacity, increased cleaning and mask mandates.

“We’re learning every day to reinvent ourselves,” Divella said. “We’re learning every day to kind of go with the curve.”

Stony Brook Village Center

Thanking the health care workers at Stony Brook University Hospital took a village, as restaurants in Stony Brook Village Center banded together to put together meals for health care workers during the pandemic.

Gloria Rocchio, president of The Ward Melville Heritage Organization which manages the village center, said the Three Village Inn, Fratelli’s, Crazy Beans and Sweet Mama’s all took part in delivering meals to the medical professionals at Stony Brook University Hospital. In addition, The Crushed Olive, Village Coffee Market, Chocolate Works, Premiere Pastry, Brew Cheese and Penney’s Car Care delivered a variety of snacks, cheeses, pastries, cookies, drinks and much more. More than 11,000 meals and breakroom foods were distributed to SBUH from the beginning of April toward the end of June.

Rocchio said the initiative was called Stony Brook Village/Stony Brook University Hospital Healthcare Meal Program, and it began after it was discovered that a few of the restaurants in the village center were already delivering food to the hospital after receiving donations from customers. Claude Cardin, owner of Fratelli’s, spent $15,000 of his own money to deliver food to the workers.

She credited the work of the restaurants being made a little easier with generous donations to WMHO totaling $25,000 from local residents and businesses as well as people from Nassau County and out of the state.

“It was all of the community coming together as one, to take care of one cause — to care for essential workers,” Rocchio said. “It was so heartwarming.”