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The Ward Melville Heritage Organization hosted another successful A ‘Taste’ of Stony Brook Village … Ladies Night Out! at the Three Village Inn on Feb. 25. Now in its second year, the evening, which was emceed by Mark Daniels, featured a fashion show by Chico’s, food tastings from restaurants, wine, raffles, giveaways, music by Roberta Fabiano and more. Judy Betz was honored for being nominated for the Town of Brookhaven’s Women’s Recognition Award for Community Service Volunteer of the Year. The sold-out event raised $50,000 for Stony Brook Medicine’s targeted research fund for breast cancer in memory of the late Dr. Lina Obeid.

COMMACK: A ribbon cutting celebration was recently held at the Gurwin Jewish Nursing & Rehabilitation Center marking the grand opening of the new Option Care Infusion Therapy Suite. Option Care Enterprises, Inc., the nation’s leading provider of home and alternate site infusion therapy services, has partnered with Gurwin to provide infusion therapy in a dedicated suite within the Center’s Weinberg Pavilion.

The grand opening celebration was well attended by local legislators, Long Island hospitals representatives and other local health care providers, as well as Gurwin and Option Care staff members. “We are pleased to enter into this partnership with Option Care Enterprises,” said Stuart B. Almer, President and CEO of the Gurwin Healthcare System, of which the Gurwin Jewish Nursing & Rehabilitation Center is a part. “The addition of the new Infusion Suite to Gurwin’s campus enables us to fulfill our mission of providing the best care to our residents while also meeting the needs of those living in the local community who require infusion medicines for complex and chronic conditions.”

Located adjacent to the Center’s dialysis center, the Infusion Suite specializes in IV-based therapies for anti-infectives, clinical nutrition support, immunoglobulin therapy and conditions such as chronic inflammatory disorders and bleeding disorders.   The Infusion Suite will provide residents at Gurwin and in the surrounding communities convenient access to care and exceptional clinical support that includes:

  • A full-service infusion pharmacy that compounds and dispenses medications
  • Clinical management of patients
  • Monitoring and 24/7 phone support by clinicians
  • Four private infusion stations administered by highly skilled infusion therapy nurses
  • Comfortable, specialized recliners and flat panel TVs for patient relaxation

Other amenities include assistance with patient registration, free on-site parking and easy access to facilities.   For more information, visit the Option Care website at


By Heidi Sutton

What inspires you? Perhaps the color blue? From now through March 21, the Smithtown Township Arts Council’s Mills Pond Gallery in St. James is featuring a unique juried exhibit centered around this calming color. Titled Inspirations in Blue, it highlights the talents of 46 artists from Long Island and beyond with 57 pieces in mediums including acrylic, ink, colored pencil, mixed media, oil, pastel and watercolor. 

The call for entries challenged artists to enter artwork that reflected the captivating power of the color blue, and how it has enhanced the subject, theme or mood of the artwork. Allison Cruz, executive director at the Mills Pond Gallery, credits her staff member Irene Tetrault with coming up with the original idea of using a color.

“Blue represents the sky and sea. It is associated with freedom, imagination, sensitivity … I have seen many shows about colors and knowing how common the color blue is, especially in local landscape paintings, but I wanted this exhibit to look just a bit deeper into the color,” she explained.

The result was overwhelming. “We received over 183 pieces for this show! The exhibit was only posted locally,” said Cruz. “Sometimes I wish I had double the space to fill in the gallery so we could accept more work! On a whole, most entries were Long Island artists (or past Long Islanders who heard about the exhibit). There is such an abundance of talent on Long Island and we are so lucky to have so many wonderful spaces to show their work!”

Cruz is pleased with the result. “It is a beautiful show to look at … very pleasing to the eye. Viewers will find exactly what the call for work asked for: entries may range from serene landscapes to vibrant abstracts and anything in between,” she said.

Exhibiting artists include Lucia Alberti (Smithtown), Amal (Port Jefferson), Tina Anthony (Northport), Shain Bard (Huntington Station), Ernest Bellico (East Northport), Karen Bennett (Medford), Ivy Michelle Berg (Smithtown), Marlene Bezich (Middle Island), Joyce Bressler (Commack), Linda Ann Catucci (St. James), Gail L. Chase (Stony Brook), Donna Corvi (Montauk), Karin J. Dutra (Port Jefferson), Paul Jay Edelson (Poquott), Ellen Ferrigno (Port Jefferson), Vivian Gattuso (Ronkonkoma), Rhoda Gordon (Port Jefferson Station), Joyce Greenbaum (Smithtown), Jan Guarino (East Northport), Maria Hansson (Ronkonkoma), David Herman (East Meadow), Katherine Hiscox (Commack), James Kelson (Stony Brook), Lynn Kinsella (Brookhaven), John Koch (Hauppauge), Liz Kolligs (Glen Cove), Terence McManus (Mount Sinai), Margaret Minardi (Northport), Roni Murillo (Valley Stream), and Gail Neuman (Islip Terrace).

Also exhibiting are Robert Roehrig (East Setauket), Irene Ruddock (Stony Brook), Anita Schnirman (Kings Park), Joan Schwartzman (Maryland), Joan Sicignano (Central Islip), Gisela Skoglund (Kings Park), Mike Stanko (Valley Stream), Irene Tetrault (East Meadow), Susan Trawick (East Setauket), Oxana Uryasev (Port Jefferson), Nicholas Valentino (North Babylon), Mary Ann Vetter (St. James), Don Weber (Freeport), Nancy Weeks (East Setauket), Patty Yantz (Setauket) and Theodora Zavala (East Meadow).

The winners were announced at an artist reception on Feb. 22. First place was awarded to Gail Neuman for “Birches in Blue,” second place went to Karin J. Dutra for “Pria do Norte.” Honorable mentions were Shain Bard for “Birches in Blue Bottle,” Karen Bennett for “Tis the Season,” Marlene Bezich for “Your Colors,” Liz Kolligs for “Little Guide in Deep Winter,”  Margaret Minardi for “Summer Blue” and Nicholas Valentino for “Shades of Blue.”

Because of all the positive feedback, Cruz is considering a similar theme in the future. “I’m already thinking about one with a much less common color! We really like to challenge artists to stretch themselves … to try something new.”

The Mills Pond Gallery, located at 660 Route 25A, St. James, will present Inspirations in Blue through March 21. Up next is Hand Drawn:  A Juried Exhibition of Drawings opening April 25. The gallery is open Wednesdays to Fridays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. Admission is free. For more information, call 631-862-6575 or visit

A sign inside Wild by Nature in East Setauket warns customers they will no longer supply plastic bags starting March 1. The store will also collect 5 cents for paper bags used. Photo by Heidi Sutton

Beginning March 1, Long Islander shoppers will have one less option when packing their groceries, as a New York State ban on single-use plastic bags goes into effect. 

The ban would prohibit retailers from giving out plastic carryout bags to customers. State lawmakers hope that this will lead to more residents deciding to bring their own reusable bags and a decrease of plastic waste. 

The legislation is a step toward reducing the 23 billion plastic bags used by New Yorkers every year, reducing litter and helping the fight against climate change. 

According to a Siena College Research Institute poll conducted after the bill was passed, 62 percent of New Yorkers support the ban compared to 33 percent who don’t. 

“We are expecting a successful implementation.”

-Adrienne Esposito

While plastic bags will no longer be handed out at retailers, paper bags will still be available. In Suffolk County, consumers will be charged 5 cents for each paper carryout bag provided at a checkout. In areas that have the opted into the 5 cent charge, the fee does not apply for SNAP and WIC food benefit recipients. 

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said the ban will have a positive impact in curbing plastic pollution. 

“This is a significant accomplishment — Suffolk County needs to be commended for implementing the 5 cent bag fee,” she said. “The state noticed the success of it and it led to this ban.”

Some environmentalists are concerned about some final tweaks in the legislation by the DEC that would allow usage of bags which are thicker and heavier. Esposito said they aren’t concerned about it as it won’t be widely distributed as regular bags and will only be used for packaging of certain foods. 

“If for some reason it needs to be tweaked further, we will be a part of those discussions,” she said. 

State lawmakers are hoping the ban will increase usage in reusable bags. Earlier this month, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced a campaign, dubbed BYOBagNY, which has been spearheaded by the state Department of Environmental Conservation. 

The agency has been running ads on the ban on TV, radio and social media. In addition, the DEC provided educational materials to its nine regional offices to use for outreach events and will be distributing more than 270,000 reusable bags to low- and moderate-income communities. 

Stop & Shop branches throughout the county began offering free reusable bags to customers who bring in one or more carryout plastic bags for recycling. 

Similarly, in the county, a plastic straw ban took effect this January, which required businesses to switch biodegradable alternatives. A Styrofoam ban was also implemented, prohibiting businesses from using items such as cups, trays and containers that are made from polystyrene. 

“We are expecting a successful implementation — we as a society can learn to bring a reusable bag when we go out shopping,” Esposito said. “Most people have already made the change, some have lagged behind, but this is one thing they can do to reduce plastic waste.”

After 50 years in business, the Sears store  at the Smith Haven Mall in Lake Grove will close on May 6 for “economic reasons” according to a Feb. 6 notice its parent company Transform Holdco LLC filed with the state’s Department of Labor under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notice Act. The decision, which includes the Sears Auto Center, will affect 77 workers. The closing will leave only two Sears on Long Island: at Westfield Sunrise Mall in Massapequa and Green Acres Mall in Valley Stream. 

Photos by Heidi Sutton

'At the Gallery' by Ludovico Abejar

Celebrate the exceptional talent of Long Island artists at the Annual Invitational Exhibition at the Atelier at Flowerfield, 2 Flowerfield, Suite 15, St. James. The juried show runs from March 5 to April 30.

Exhibiting artists  include Ludovico Abejar,  Lucia Alberti,  Ross Barbera, Marta Baumiller, Marlene Bezich, Nariman Boyle, Al Candia Kenneth Cerreta, Anthony Davis ,Paul Edelson, Dan Fusco, Shelley Holtzman, Frances Ianarella, David Jaycox, Jr Laurence Johnston, Liz Jorg Masi, Raymond McGraime, Jane McGraw-Teubner, Fred Mendelsohn, Joseph Miller, Annette Napolitano, Meriel Pitarka, Irene Ruddock, Oscar Santiago, Lori Scarlatos, Ilene Silberstein, Rosario Stine-Barry, Judy Stone, Angela Stratton, and Helena Weber.

Meet the artists at an opening reception on Thursday, March 5 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

For more information, call 632-250-9009 or visit

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Father Jerry Cestare and Kara LoDolce right before the kidney transplant procedure in January. Photo from Kara LoDolce

A blossoming love led to a lifesaving procedure for a local priest.

Kara LoDolce, left, with her fiancé, Scott Alu, and his children. Photo from Kara LoDolce

In January, Setauket resident Kara LoDolce donated her kidney to Father Jerry Cestare of St. James R.C. Church. When LoDolce first told him that she was going to donate her organ, he said he couldn’t believe it.

“I don’t know how many people can be that selfless,” he said.

The 55-year-old priest said his kidneys were compromised about nine years ago, and while he was careful about his health, at the beginning of last year he felt tired all the time and went for medical testing. He found out he had kidney failure and started dialysis in May, something he said is not a long-term solution for someone his age.

The priest said when doctors first told him to actively start looking for living donors, he felt hesitant because he grasped that someone was giving up something precious. While a few family members were tested, they were found not to be matches, and he couldn’t bring himself to ask others.

“How could I ask someone to do something like that just because I was sick?” he said.

Cestare said while he wasn’t afraid of dying or being incapacitated, he was afraid that he would lose what he loved to do — ministering.

The priest said the chain of events played out like a Hallmark movie.

LoDolce, 46, said she was compelled from the second she heard Cestare needed a new kidney. She and her fiancé, Scott Alu, 42, credit the priest for indirectly helping the two of them meet.

LoDolce said her soon-to-be husband met her in a gym, while he normally wouldn’t ask out a woman with tattoos, which she has, he remembered a recent conversation he had with Cestare. Alu was talking to the priest about looking for a relationship after a divorce, as well as being a father to two children. LoDolce said her fiancé was told to keep an open mind by Cestare, saying, “One thing that God does is he takes the broken pieces of your life and kind of reshapes them into something new, and you just have to be open to opportunities. You have to be open to every opportunity that God puts in front of you.”

When she met Alu, LoDolce lived in Sound Beach, but she said 2½ years ago she moved in with him in Setauket, and she’s been going to the St. James church ever since.

LoDolce said while the church didn’t make an official announcement about Cestare’s condition, she was waiting to hear back from him to discuss her upcoming wedding in May. She was surprised when he didn’t get back to her, and she asked the receptionist who filled her in on what was happening.

When she and her fiancé met with him, she asked if he was on the transplant list. He told her it would be a five-year wait due to his blood type being B+. After the meeting, she called her mother and found out she was B+ also. When she dropped off paperwork, she left Cestare a note saying she would like to be tested.

She went in for the tests and right before Christmas discovered she could donate her kidney to the priest. She bought Cestare a stuffed kidney-shaped toy and gave it to him along with a card and a letter.

“She’s about to start a whole new life, and she’s thinking of me.”

— Jerry Cestare

He said when she gave him the gift, he didn’t open it right away and brought it to his parents’ house where he was going for dinner. When he opened it, he was surprised by the beautiful card and then began reading the letter where LoDolce told him she was a match.

His father asked him to repeat what she wrote because he, “couldn’t believe it,” and the priest said he and his mother started crying.

“Kara felt from the beginning if she could undergo a few weeks of discomfort so that I could get back to work and do what I do best, she said it was worth it,” Cestare said.

The priest decided to announce the good news to the parish at Christmas Mass. Even though he didn’t want the service to be focused on him, he felt LoDolce’s act of kindness symbolized the season.

He said many faiths talk about love but LoDolce, he said, showed it through action and gave him his life, health and ministry back.

“Lots of people talk about love, this woman showed with her action what love is,” he said.

He said Kara and her fiancé received a few standing ovations from the parishioners at the Mass after he announced she was donating her kidney to him.

“She’s about to get married,” he said. “She’s about to start a whole new life, and she’s thinking of me.”

LoDolce said she never wavered from her decision.

“People tell me I did something for him, I don’t feel that way at all,” she said. “I truly feel like he did something for me and he changed my life.”

While most take three or six weeks before they can even go back to work, LoDolce said she felt great after a week, and she was walking two or three miles a day. She also credits both of their recoveries to the parishioners and friends.

“Everyone in the Three Village community has been praying for us,” she said.

LoDolce said she is now putting the finishing touches on her May wedding.

“I joke that both my kidneys will be going to the wedding,“ LoDolce said.

Cestare said he has found the story has inspired others who have heard it with many telling him that they are going to pay it forward by being a better person.

“God is using this experience not only to give me back my life but to touch the lives of others,” he said.

“People tell me I did something for him, I don’t feel that way at all. I truly feel like he did something for me and he changed my life.”

— Kara LoDolce

SBU experts explain living organ donations

Father Jerry Cestare and Kara LoDolce went to Stony Brook University Hospital for their transplant procedure. The priest said many may think they need to travel to New York City for such a procedure, but SBU has a transplantation program right on Long Island.

Dawn Francisquini, administrative director of Stony Brook Medicine’s Kidney Transplantation Services team, said the hospital has been performing the transplants since 1981. She described the program as family friendly and said the staff’s goal is to make patients feel like a person — not a number.

“They know when they come to us they’re going to receive personalized care,” she said.

The first step, she added, is to educate the patients and their family members about the entire procedure as well as what needs to be done before and after. She said it’s important for the family to be part of the conversation because there is a lot of information to be taken in. She added that a transplant is not a cure for kidney disease but a treatment.

Stephen Knapik, living donor coordinator at the medical center, said finding a living donor can save a person’s life as the waiting list for organ transplants can be several years long. 

“I tell all the recipients you have to be your own living donor champion,” Knapik said.

He said he advises patients if they’re uncomfortable asking to get a friend to help spread the word. He also said sharing on social media has been successful in many cases, where after a request is posted, “The next thing you know I’m getting phone calls.”

Knapik said his role in transplants is keeping donors safe. In the case of Cestare’s transplant, he worked with LoDolce. He said donors go through multiple tests including CT scans, chest X-rays and cancer screenings such as mammograms and Pap smears for women and colonoscopies for those over 50.

“I tell all the recipients you have to be your own living donor champion.”

— Stephen Knapik

Once a donor is cleared through testing, a transplant team committee will discuss the donor.

“We want to make sure that we have dotted all the I’s and crossed all the T’s to keep the donor safe,” he said.

Knapik said once a donor is found the transplant team will work with the schedule as far as when the surgeries will take place. For example, he said, a teacher can wait until summer. All the costs are paid by the recipient’s insurance.

He said while LoDolce was quickly back to walking and resuming her normal routine, it’s unusual. Many donors may take weeks to recover fully and can’t drive for about two weeks or lift heavy objects for a few weeks.

“Everybody heals differently,” he said.

He added that after the procedures donors will be required to have checkups to make sure their remaining kidney is compensating and doing well.

“We can take anyone’s kidney out, but we have to make sure, 10, 20, 30 years later, that the remaining kidney is doing well,” Knapik said.

Francisquini said out of the 1,800 transplants the program has done since its inception, 1,000 patients still come to SBUH for routine follow-ups. She said anywhere from 270 to 300 patients are on the active waiting list at any given time, while another 200 can be in the evaluation process. The kidney transplant team performs 75 to 80 procedures a year.

“We have one of the fastest transplant rates in our region,” she said. “So that basically translates into if we put you on the list, we’re serious about transplanting you. We transplant you as quickly as possible.” 

To learn more about Kidney Transplantation Services at Stony Brook Medicine and how to become an organ donor, visit

Huntington Town Clerk Andrew Raia (R)officiated over the Valentine’s Day Marriage Ceremony Marathon that took place in Huntington Town Hall Feb. 14. Photo from Town of Huntington

One Huntington official carried on a town and family tradition Valentine’s Day.

Tiffany and Luke LeGrow, above, renew their vows as their children Shane and Blakley look on. Photo from Town of Huntington

Huntington Town Clerk Andrew Raia (R)officiated over the Valentine’s Day Marriage Ceremony Marathon that took place in Huntington Town Hall Feb. 14. The event was first initiated by his mother, former Town Clerk Jo-Ann Raia, in 1995. It was an event the new town clerk was pleased to continue.

“I am thrilled to be continuing on the tradition established by my predecessor, Jo-Ann Raia, of hosting multiple wedding and renewal of vows ceremonies on Valentine’s Day here in Town Hall,” he said. “This event has always been received enthusiastically by the couples that have participated, and it was a privilege and a pleasure for me to unite these couples and to share in their happiness on this very special day.”

Raia performed eight wedding ceremonies and one vow renewal during the marathon. Among the couples were Victoria Espinoza and Alex Petroski. A few years ago, the couple met while working at TBR News Media. Espinoza went on to become the editor of The Times of Huntington & Northport and The Times of Smithtown before she left the media group in 2017, and Petroski was the managing editor and editor of The Port Times Record and The Village Beacon Record before he left at the end of 2018. Jo-Ann Raia remembered Espinoza covering the event in the past.

“I am very proud of the way the new town clerk, Andrew Raia, planned his first Valentine’s Day Marriage Marathon, and I am pleased to see my tradition of 25 years continued,” Jo-Ann Raia said. “In fact, Victoria and Alex Petroski met at The Times of Huntington newspaper, and Victoria covered for the Times Beacon Record several years of my Valentine’s Day Marriage Marathon, and I’m excited they took the opportunity of getting married at Town Hall.”

Couples were able to bring family and friends along for support and 31 local merchants consisting of bakeries, restaurants, florists, supermarkets/food stores, pharmacies, gift shops, candy stores, a salon and spa donated items for this year’s celebration.