Times of Huntington

Photo from Pixabay

By Jim Hastings

The recent invasion of Ukraine by Russia sent shockwaves around the world. The images of troops, tanks and bombed-out buildings have left many feeling enraged, frustrated and helpless. TBR News Media took to the streets of Port Jefferson and Stony Brook Village to get local residents’ perspectives on the situation. 


Photo by Jim Hastings

Debra Saparito, Mount Sinai

“It’s going to affect us as a country, because we can’t have someone just bow to another. We allow that to happen in one portion of the world, then everybody’s going to think, ‘Well, we can do that too.’ We have to step up as a world, whether they’re part of NATO or not. We have to do what’s right for the people. After what we’ve been through in the world in the last two or three years, we have to humble ourselves and look at each other as people.”



Brian Israel, Setauket

Photo by Jim Hastings

“It’s unbelievable that a sovereign country can be attacked, really, with no real consequences. Understanding that, you know, any military action could cause a larger conflict, but it’s just unbelievable that it was allowed to get this far.”







Photo by Jim Hastings

Kathryn Schoemmel, Setauket

“It’s scary. I have a family member over there. She’s still in Ukraine. She’s hoping she has a home to go back to.”

Pictured with husband Leon.






Photo by Jim Hastings

Ernesto Cruz, Coram

“It’s pretty senseless. It just seems like there’s no real reason to be doing this. We’re getting to a stage where, through social networking and all that, the world’s becoming that much more interconnected and it’s like, we can feel each other’s pain. It’s no longer what the government tells us or what the news tells us. We can see what each person is feeling, truly, through their words and their actions.”




Photo by Jim Hastings

Clara Rosenzweig, Poquott

“I definitely feel horrible for the people going through it. I think it’s completely unnecessary what’s happening over there and I hope that everything gets resolved.”

Gov. Kathy Hochul. File photo by Julianne Mosher

After bipartisan backlash from Long Island officials, Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) has dropped her budget proposal that would require local governments to expand legalizing accessory apartments.

“I have heard real concerns about the proposed approach on accessory dwelling units,” Hochul said in a statement. “I understand that my colleagues in the state senate believe a different set of tools is needed, even if they agree with the goal of supporting the growth of this kind of housing.”

The plan stated that, to increase affordable housing across the state, dwellings would be allowed to convert garages, basements and backyard units as apartments. Both Democrat and Republican lawmakers from the town, county, state and federal levels all said this could hurt Long Island, and essentially eliminate single-family zoning.

“I am submitting a 30-day amendment to my budget legislation that removes requirements on localities in order to facilitate a conversation about how we build consensus around solutions,” she added.

The plan was introduced in January during the State of the State. Congressman Tom Suozzi (D-NY3) was one of the first to call the governor out on it, which then resulted in Brookhaven, Smithtown and Huntington towns to voice their concerns.

“One small victory, but many battles ahead,” Suozzi told TBR News Media in a statement. “We successfully stopped Governor Hochul’s radical proposal from being passed in the budget, but we’re not done yet. Now we must stop her and the state legislature from passing this misguided legislation during the Albany legislative session.”

Throughout the last month, these lawmakers argued that the plan could have potential impacts on Long Island’s quality of life, the environment and local school districts.

““I’m pleased that Governor Hochul pulled the Accessory Dwelling Unit legislation from the budget, but that isn’t enough,” said Suffolk County Legislator Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst). “At this time, there are still discussions of tweaks to the law. Local officials on Long Island are adamantly opposed to any modifications that remove our ‘home rule.’ We know what is best for our community and we don’t need New York City and New York State dictating to us what our communities should look like. As we’ve seen with the pulling of the bill, combining our voices and speaking out ensure that we can be heard. I urge all residents to contact their State representatives and the governor’s office, to voice their opposition to any modification of ADUs here on Long Island.”

Several Suffolk County lawmakers spoke up against the ADU legislation Feb. 11 with the help of several state assembly members and senators.

“The removal of this proposal from the budget is great news for all of our communities and I am proud to have stood with my colleagues in town, county, state and federal officials from both sides of the aisle to fight to protect local control,” said state Senator Mario Mattera (R-St. James). “This shows that joining together and standing united can lead to positive change for our residents.”

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) held a press conference Feb. 3, as one of the first townships to take a stance on the issue.

“The call to remove this misguided proposal was finally heard by the governor and we will continue to maintain local zoning control,” he said in a recent statement. “Our right to home rule on issues like housing is what protects our communities from turning into the crowded neighborhoods that we see in cities, which is not what the residents of Brookhaven Town want.”

Hochul still has plans to combat the affordable housing crisis, and the emphasis on increasing accessory apartments and improving their safety will be targeted in New York City rather than the suburbs.

“Albany extremists will resurrect this terrible idea the moment bipartisan opposition gets distracted,” said Huntington Town Supervisor Ed Smyth (R). “Stay vigilant!”

Congressman Tom Suozzi joined other elected officials on all levels during a press conference, Feb. 11. Photo by Julianne Mosher

A week after the Town of Brookhaven and local state representatives bashed Gov. Kathy Hochul’s (D) plan to potentially eliminate certain single-family zoning laws across New York state, other Long Island townships and Suffolk County officially voiced their concerns.

During a press conference at the county Legislature in Hauppauge Thursday, Feb. 10, more than two dozen elected officials at town, county, state and federal levels collectively agreed that Hochul’s plan would be bad for the Island.

Presiding Officer Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst) said that of all the officials gathered, it was a unanimous, bipartisan agreement that this should not happen.

“We are all concerned about the future of Long Island and the quality of life here and the need for local government to have control over their zoning with local elected officials,” he said. 

“This is a radical plan by the governor to take away local zoning from where it belongs in the hands of the local officials who were elected to make sure that the zoning codes stay in place for the quality of life that each one of the municipalities that they choose to live in.”

He added that if Hochul’s plan in fact happens, it will eventually have an impact on parking, water quality, sewerage and more. 

The governor’s comprehensive five-year housing plan would potentially invest $25 billion to create and preserve 100,000 affordable homes and tackle inequities in the housing market. Last month, she announced the plan to make housing more affordable as part of the 2022 State of the State.

“In the wake of the pandemic, it’s crucial that we tackle the housing crisis and make New York a more affordable place for all,” Hochul previously said. “These bold steps are a major step forward in transforming our housing market, protecting affordability and increasing the housing supply.”

Congressman Tom Suozzi (D-NY3) noticed the plan in the State of the State book and began bringing it to the public’s attention. Suozzi is campaigning to take Hochul’s seat. He cited her State of the State book on pages 130 and 131 regarding accessory dwelling units. According to those documents, he said the governor would want to oppose legislation to require municipalities to allow a minimum of one accessory dwelling unit on owner occupied residentially zoned blocks.

“That’s the end of local control,” he said. “That’s the end of local governments authority.”

Suozzi believes this could be “a dangerous idea” that could “result in commercial landlords buying properties and trying to pack people into neighborhoods.”

“This is just a failure to understand what it’s like out here,” he added.

Currently, many building permit applications that increase the number of bedrooms in a dwelling require the approval of the Suffolk County Department of Health Services. 

According to county representatives, at no point in the proposed legislation does it address the fact that the health department determines the appropriate number of persons residing at a home that is utilizing cesspools. Over 75% of Suffolk County is unsewered — a mass expansion of accessory dwelling units will result in a deterioration in the water quality here on Long Island.

State Sen. Mario Mattera (R-St. James) said that state lawmakers are continuously “going against everything we live for and our investments.”

“I wake up in the morning and I feel like I’m in the twilight zone,” he said.

Mattera added that many municipalities have been focusing on downtown revitalization plans, which already create apartments.

“We’ve been doing these apartments for a reason to make sure our families have places to go so we keep our young or middle aged or seniors here,” he said. “We are doing that job governor, but governor, this is not the City of New York. We’re in the suburbs. This is so important for our future.”


Huntington Town Supervisor Ed Smyth. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Representatives from the Town of Huntington were in attendance, with Supervisor Ed Smyth (R) voicing that the town already has permissive accessory apartments laws.

“We already allow for accessory apartments in homes in the town,” he said. “We don’t need Albany telling us how to do this.”

He added, “With home rule, we have ensured that our communities do not become overdeveloped, are kept environmentally sound, and are a place people want to live and raise a family. This proposal by the governor would end all of that overnight. Proof of how bad an idea this is … is the fact that both sides of the political aisle have come together to state their opposition.”

Smyth said they will not stop until the item is removed from the New York State budget and “laid to rest.”

Stock photo

The Public Libraries of Suffolk County recently announced that it reached 2.9 million digital book checkouts on the download platform, Livebrary.com, in 2021.

The site, consisting of 56 libraries in Suffolk County, is one of 121 public library systems worldwide that surpassed 1 million checkouts.

According to a press release sent out by PLSC, this record-breaking milestone illustrates the continued growth and importance of library digital lending of e-books and audiobooks, especially after a prolonged period of building closures due to the global pandemic.

“The Public Libraries of Suffolk County continue to meet the needs of their communities by providing patrons with much-needed access to entertainment and learning opportunities through e-books and audiobooks,” Kevin Verbesey, director of the Suffolk Cooperative Library System, said in a statement.

PLSC has been providing readers 24/7 access to e-books and audiobooks for several years through the Libby app, the library reading app created by OverDrive allowing for readership to grow each year.

Readers in Suffolk County just need a valid library card from a member library to access digital books from Livebrary’s OverDrive-powered digital collection, and can use any device including Apple, Android, Chromebook or Kindle to read or listen.

Comsewogue Public Library in Port Jefferson Station had 125,284 digital book downloads, combined. Of that total, 94,478 were e-books and 30,806 were e-audiobooks. The Port Jefferson Free Library had 51,117 downloads overall, and Emma S. Clark Memorial Library patrons in Setauket downloaded 156,576 e-books, e-audiobooks and e-magazines. 

“Our library’s patrons are among the heaviest users of e-books in the county, and we know that they value the ease, convenience and accessibility that e-books provide,” said Ted Gutmann, director at Emma S. Clark. “Although we love seeing our patrons in the library, not everyone is comfortable or indeed able to get to the library. E-books are a perfect alternative for those who can’t make it out to the library. Also, the convenience of instant access can’t be overlooked. I’ll often find myself at home reading a review or hearing a reference to a particular book that sounds interesting. It’s so nice to be able to just log on and download the book and start reading right away.”

Middle Country Public Library had 98,285 downloads in 2021. 

“Over the past seven years, we have seen a steady increase in our downloadable materials,” said Sophia Serlis-McPhillips, director of MCPL. “We weren’t surprised that the numbers spiked during the pandemic, we were however, pleased that our patrons were able to access library materials such as e-books and e-audios either for recreational or educational purposes during that time. We also saw an influx of new library card applications, presumably new users seeking to access Livebrary.com.”

The highest-circulating title Livebrary readers borrowed in 2021 for both e-books and e-audiobooks was “The Four Winds” by Kristin Hannah. The top-circulating genre — romance — represents the most popular in a vast catalog that also includes mystery, biography and autobiography, children/young adult and more. 

In Smithtown, 9% of the total downloads for the entire county came from The Smithtown Library with 266,304 digital downloads in 2021. 

“The Smithtown Library is happy to know that our patrons continue to see the value of their library in the Smithtown community,” said Robert Lusak, director. “Our aim is to not just be about providing materials from the physical collections inside our buildings, but to also provide access to digital materials. We believe that e-books and audiobooks are equally as vital to our service program.”

Long Island Health Collaborative library study

These numbers also come just as the Long Island Health Collaborative released the results of a two-year study which examined health and social support issues encountered by public library staff and the patrons they serve. The survey proved that public libraries are essential to Long Islander’s health and wellness.

The LIHC, a coalition of 300-plus organizations all involved in improving the health of Long Islanders, helped coordinate and partially fund the research. 

Public health researchers from Stony Brook University and Adelphi University interviewed library staff at randomly selected libraries throughout Long Island during December 2017 and February 2020.

They found that there was a difference between the needs and program offerings based on the socioeconomic status of the neighborhood in which a library is located. Libraries in lower-resourced communities generally ran more basic social assistance programs and those in higher-resourced communities offered more enrichment/leisure-type programming.

Researchers said they were not surprised at the results, as social determinants of health — those factors outside of medicine that influence an individual’s health — account for nearly 80% of health outcomes. These factors include education, poverty, access to transportation, safe and affordable housing, health insurance coverage, and access to nutritious and affordable foods, among others.

Starting with a list of 113 public libraries, 18 libraries in Suffolk County (from 26 randomly selected) and 14 libraries in Nassau County (from 27 randomly selected) consented to participate in the Long Island Libraries Qualitative Research Project.  

A total of 96 interviews were completed, recorded and transcribed. Approximately three staff members at each library were interviewed, and the transcribed interviews were coded based on themes that emerged from the interviews across sites.  

This resulted in a coding schema with 11 categories and many subthemes within each category.

“Public libraries are hidden gems in our communities,” said Janine Logan, director of the LIHC. “They are a trusted resource. Increasingly, public libraries play a key role in delivering some of the health and social support services an individual requires to live his/her best life.”

File photo

Suffolk County Police Fourth Squad detectives are investigating a motorcycle crash that killed a man in Commack on Friday, Jan. 14.

James Coogan was riding a 2020 Honda Excelsior motorcycle northbound on Harned Road, west of Florida Avenue, when his vehicle crashed at approximately 7:20 p.m. Coogan, 63, of Commack, was pronounced dead at the scene.

The vehicle was impounded for a safety check. Detectives are asking anyone who may have witnessed the crash to contact the Fourth Squad at 631-854-8452.

President Barack Obama talks with Betty White in the Oval Office, June 11, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

By Barbara Anne Kirshner

We thought Betty White would live forever. Long after the other Golden Girls left planet Earth, White, with that mischievous glint in her eyes accompanied by clever quips, was ever present and breaking new ground.

Betty White was a staunch advocate for animals.  Photo courtesy of Fathom Events

Like the Energizer Bunny, Betty White kept going and we expected her to always be there. White passed away in her sleep on Dec. 31. She was 99. 

This month People Magazine had planned a celebration of White’s 100th birthday which was to happen on January 17. We were certain she would make it to centenarian status, but White probably felt it was time to join her husband, Allen Ludden, and all of her animals who had passed before her. She had even said in an interview that when she arrives in Heaven, Ludden would have to stand in line while she reunited with her much loved pets.

Born on January 17, 1922, in Oak Park, Illinois, Betty Marion White was the only child of Horace Logan White and Christine Tess. The family moved to Alhambra, California in 1923 and later to Los Angeles during the Great Depression. White graduated from Beverly Hill High School in 1939. As a child, she wanted to be an opera singer and took voice lessons. After graduating from high school, due to her love of animals, she aspired to be a forest ranger, but that path was not open to women in the early 1940s. Instead, she discovered acting and the rest is history.

In the 1940s, she went on to land roles in the first two plays she auditioned for, Spring Dance and Dear Ruth, before performing on radio in The Great Gildersleeve, Blondie, This Is Your FBI and became the sidekick to popular local DJ, Al Jarvis, on his daily radio show Make Believe Ballroom. White’s television career took off when that radio show moved to television under the title Hollywood on Television. Next came Life with Elizabeth for two seasons from 1953 to 1955 followed by The Betty White Show on NBC in 1954.

Allen Ludden and Betty White. Photo from Wikipedia

White went on to become the first lady of game shows in the 60s, appearing on Password, What’s My Line?, Match Game and Pyramid. She met her third husband, Allen Ludden, on Password and has been quoted as saying he was “the love of my life.” They were married from 1963 until 1981 when  Ludden died following a battle with stomach cancer. It is poignant to note White’s assistant told longtime friend and fellow colleague, Vicki Lawrence, that the last word White uttered was “Allen.”

She was a staple of late night talk shows with decades long appearances on The Tonight Show.

In 1973, White appeared as the “man-hungry” Sue Ann Nivens on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and the role became a favorite winning White the Emmy for Outstanding Continuing Performance by a Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series in 1975 and again in 1976. 

The Golden Girls launched in 1985 through 1992 and White won the Emmy in 1986 for her role as the ditzy but good-hearted Rose Nylund. It is interesting to note that White was first offered the role of Blanche but director Jay Sandrich felt that character was too close to the role of Nivens, so he decided that White should play Rose instead.

White was celebrated with more awards in 1995 when she was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame and in 1996 she won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series for The John Larroquette Show.

2010 was big for Betty White. It started on Jan. 23 with the Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award. On Super Bowl Sunday, Feb. 7, White appeared in a Snickers commercial that skyrocketed in popularity. After a successful fan campaign on Facebook, White hosted Saturday Night Live‘s Mother’s Day episode at 88 ½ years of age, becoming the oldest person to host SNL. 

At the start of her monologue White marveled, “I can’t believe I’m hosting Saturday Night Live! I’m 88 ½ years old, so it’s great to be here for a number of reasons.” She went on to thank Facebook for the campaign that brought her to the show then wisecracked, “I didn’t know what Facebook was and now that I know, it sounds like a huge waste of time.” 

Musical guest Jay-Z dedicated his performance of “Forever Young” to “the most incredible Betty White.” After her death, Seth Myers tweeted “The only SNL host I ever saw get a standing ovation at the after party. A party at which she ordered a vodka and a hotdog and stayed ’til the bitter end.” That hosting gig was awarded on August 21, 2010, with a Creative Arts Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series for her guest host spot. 

Betty White at the 1988 Emmy Awards. Photo from Wikipedia

On January 1, 2022, as a special tribute, SNL re-aired her hosting episode. White went on to the role of Elka Ostrovsky in Hot in Cleveland (2010-2015). She was in her 90s by the time that series ended.

In 2012, White won a Grammy for Best Spoken Word Album for If You Ask Me (And Of Course You Won’t). She was recognized by the Guinness World Records for longest TV career for a female entertainer. (74 years)

In 2015 White won the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 42nd Annual Daytime Emmy Awards and in 2018 she was honored at the 70th Primetime Emmy Awards for her more than 80 years in show business.

White enjoyed a highly accomplished and celebrated career, but her passion was animals. She has said that they have made a huge difference in her life. She was devoted to animal welfare and supported numerous animal-related nonprofits throughout her career, from donations and volunteering to fundraising and recording public service announcements.

A documentary paying tribute to Betty White’s life and career will be screened at select theaters nationwide on Jan. 17 which would have marked her centennial birthday. 

Titled Betty White: A Celebration, the film will feature White’s final interview and a behind-the-scenes look at some of her most iconic sitcom roles. It also includes interviews with dozens of celebrity friends.

Rest In Peace dear Betty White. Thank you for all the laughs and for being there for us. You are a national treasure. This crazy world shone brighter with you in it and you are truly missed.

Miller Place resident Barbara Anne Kirshner is a freelance journalist, playwright and author of “Madison Weatherbee —The Different Dachshund.”

New Suffolk County Police Commissioner Rodney Harris sworn in this week by County Executive Steve Bellone. Photo from SCPD

As of this week, the new Suffolk County police commissioner is officially on board. 

On Tuesday, Jan. 11, former NYPD Chief of Department Rodney Harrison was sworn in by County Executive Steve Bellone (D) at the Police Academy in Brentwood. 

The law enforcement veteran retired after a 30-year career with the NYPD and replaces Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart, who resigned in May for a job as head of security at Hofstra University.

Bellone also swore in Suffolk’s new Chief of Department Robert Waring, who was promoted from chief of patrol. 

North Shore school districts share what they’re doing to keep up with the new COVID variants. Stock photo

As students went back to school after the winter break, a spike in COVID-19 cases caused widespread absences fueled by the Omicron variant. 

As of Monday, Suffolk County has experienced a 24.1% positivity rate, according to the New York State Department of Health. 

These numbers come just one day before Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) announced that the state will be ending contact tracing for the virus. She said that keeping up with the number of cases is “nearly impossible” with the Omicron surge and the focus should rather be on vaccinations and testing. 

“We have 12,000 new cases a day. It is almost impossible to do contact tracing the way we have been in the past,” Hochul said at a news briefing in Manhattan Jan. 11.

The county has yet to announce if it will also stop contact tracing on the local level. 

But to continue keeping children safe in their schools, some North Shore districts have implemented new protocols, on top of mask wearing, social distancing and virtual learning.


In a statement from Elwood school district, Superintendent Kenneth Bossert said that at the high point of the COVID surge, which was immediately following the holiday break, the district had approximately 200 students isolated or in quarantine.

“Any student who is directed to isolate or quarantine due to COVID-19 has the opportunity to work remotely in Elwood, K-12,” he said. 

Northport-East Northport

Residents in the Northport-East Northport community received a letter from Superintendent Robert Banzer last week providing an update on some changes that took place due to the surge. 

At the time of the notice, which was sent out Jan. 7, the quarantine and isolation expectations for students and staff reduced for positive cases from 10 days to five days as long as the conditions in the guidance are met. These changes to quarantine protocols are also outlined and are based on vaccination/booster status. 

For remote learning while quarantining, Banzer expressed his sympathy noting, “We understand that remote learning is not ideal,” but some changes were made for students to learn while at home. 

High school and middle school students were updated on the district’s virtual quarantine support schedule, which provides periodic access to a subject area teacher throughout the day. Elementary students were granted increased access to their quarantine support teacher. 

“A key difference between virtual quarantine support versus livestreaming a classroom (aka: turning the camera on in the classroom) is the ability for students to interact with a teacher and ask questions, which is not typically possible with a traditional livestreaming approach,” he wrote. “This creates conditions that allow for full attention on students; the large majority who are present in class, and those who are online seeking virtual assistance from the subject area teacher.”

The district, along with others on Long Island, was given testing kits for students and staff to conduct at home, as well as community testing to take place on Wednesdays from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. at the Bellerose Avenue location. 


Smithtown schools are prioritizing in-person instruction, according to Superintendent Mark Secaur. 

“We strongly believe it to be superior to remote learning,” he stated. “That said, we do allow for remote learning via livestreaming for students who are unable to attend due to COVID-related quarantine and isolation requirements.”

He said he believes the district offers a safe in-person learning environment, so it has not allowed for students to “opt-in” to a remote environment unless they are forced to miss school due to a COVID quarantine or isolation period. 

Three Village

In a letter sent to residents, the Three Village School District has continued to keep students spaced at 3 feet and 6 feet when in the cafeteria. Plastic barriers can be put up if requested by the family, but none are being distributed to all at this time. 

The notice stated for secondary students, “Due to an increased number of COVID-19 cases after the post-winter recess, the following procedures will be enacted from Thursday, Jan. 6, until Friday, Jan. 21, at the high school, and until Friday, Jan. 28, at the junior high schools.”

These include livestreaming into classes if a student or family is in isolation. The livestream for Three Village occurs for the entire day, and not for individual periods of instruction. It is not interactive and will continue beyond the dates indicated for quarantined students only.


Superintendent Jennifer Quinn said that some parents were concerned sending their children back to school after winter break, so the district implemented a 10-day virtual option for families, ending this week. Students always have the option to livestream into their classes.

“Virtual learning is good for the time being, but it’s not the best way to learn,” she said, noting that in-person learning is important for social and emotional growth. 

In conjunction with the virtual option, the district continues to follow the state’s mask mandate and 6-feet distancing. 

“When things calm down, we have written a letter to send to the governor asking that students sit at their desk with no masks,” Quinn said. “The spread is not happening in schools.”

But until the Omicron variant ceases, and things get back to some type of normalcy, Comsewogue will continue providing tests to students and staff. 

Quinn added that the day before school started, over 2,000 tests were given out. 

Middle Country 

Roberta Gerold, superintendent of Middle Country Central School District, is confident that things are looking up. She said on Tuesday, Jan. 11, that attendance in her schools is starting to get better. 

“I think we’re starting to plateau,” she said. “After reporting 10 days of absences after the breaks with family, today it’s finally slowing down.”

She added that the district is testing staff once a week, while students can get tested every Monday if the parent asks. 

“We want to make sure that if they have symptoms it’s not COVID,” she said. 

Middle Country has kept up with its mask mandates and physical distancing, as well. 

“Our positivity rate is still below the county and state rate,” she added. “We’re still as careful now as we were before.”

Students have the option to livestream into their classes if absent and are offered virtual instruction during quarantine. 

“Our staff is amazing,” Gerold said. “They are working double, triple duty to support the staff who aren’t there, and they are impacted at home, too, but are still here for our students relentlessly.”

Gerold commended the district as a whole: “We just want the students to be safe.”

Shoreham-Wading River

Superintendent Gerard Poole said that “luckily” things are better this week. 

“We are full in-person learning, but if someone is out, they can get a livestream,” he said. 

For grades K-5, students are spaced out at 6 feet and it’s the same for secondary students with activities like chorus, band and in the cafeteria. 

“The community parents continue to collaborate to help students,” he said. “And our nurses continue to be heroes … the flexibility of the staff is amazing. We are so thankful for them.” 

Stock photo

To end 2021, the Suffolk County Legislature voted to approve Legislator Kara Hahn’s (D-Setauket) plan to increase access to fentanyl test strips in an effort to reduce overdose deaths. 

According to the New York State Department of Health, Suffolk County experienced 337 opioid overdose deaths in 2020. The data for 2021 is unavailable.

Signed by Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) Dec. 28, the bill came just days following a warning from the national Drug Enforcement Administration that, during 2021 alone, it had seized enough fentanyl to give a lethal dose to every American.

In response, the Legislature approved a plan to make fentanyl detection strips more readily available to residents, thus helping to prevent overdoses. 

Through the legislation, the Suffolk County Department of Health Services will soon be required to include fentanyl test strips with naloxone kits distributed during department trainings on how to use the opioid antidote. Increasing access to fentanyl detection strips will enable recipients to test drug doses for the presence of this deadly synthetic substance prior to using the drugs tested.

“Opioids kill, that is why I pushed for the county to become certified to provide naloxone trainings that put this life-saving antidote in more hands; fentanyl kills, that is why I am pushing for increased access to test strips, which will give this life-saving tool greater reach,” Hahn said.  “Allowing users the ability to know if they are about to put a drug in their body that also contains fentanyl will save lives and begin to reduce the increasing overdose deaths devastating our community.”

In a statement, the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence commended Hahn and the county government for addressing the realities of the dual pandemic of the opioid crisis, fueled by fear and anxieties of COVID-19.

“The distribution of fentanyl test strips and continued widespread distribution of naloxone (Narcan) meets this public health challenge head on with the sole and primary objective of saving lives in Suffolk County,” said Steve Chassman, LICADD executive director. “Extraordinary times require extraordinary measures to aid so many individuals and families struggling with opioid use disorder.”

Deaths attributed to fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid that according to the Nation Institutes of Health is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, have been steadily rising since 2013. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids were nearly 12 times higher in 2019 than in 2013,” the last year for which complete data is available. The agency goes on to report “provisional drug overdose death counts through May 2020 suggest an acceleration of overdose deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The link between fentanyl and increasing overdose deaths also concerned the DEA, which in September issued its first Public Safety Alert in six years to warn the public about the alarming increase in the availability and lethality of fake prescription pills in the United States that often contain deadly doses of fentanyl. 

In its advisory, the DEA reported it had “determined that four out of 10 DEA-tested fentanyl-laced, fake prescription pills contain at least 2 milligrams of fentanyl — an amount that is considered to be a lethal dose.”

“What we are offering through this new policy is a harm reduction strategy,” Hahn added.  “Addiction is a disease that must not be allowed to become a death sentence, which, as more and more fentanyl has been released into our communities, it has become for many who might otherwise have recovered if given a chance.”

On Nov. 17, the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics reported that there were an estimated 100,306 drug overdose deaths in the United States during the 12-month period ending in April 2021.

This is an increase of 28.5% from the 78,056 deaths during the same period the year before. NCHS also reported that 64% of those deaths were due to synthetic opioids, primarily fentanyl, an almost 50% jump from the prior year. 

Local municipalities are already starting to utilize the new testing strips and have been in contact with the county to retrieve them. 

According to Fred Leute, chief of Port Jefferson’s code enforcement, the village has ordered the new fentanyl testing strips through the county “but it takes a bit of time to get,” he said, noting that they are in possession of the basic kit that was provided previously through the DOHS.

“All of our personnel are fully trained,” he added. “They glove up with the plastic gloves so they don’t touch anything on scene.”

Michael Donatelli shows off the book donations he received to bring to underprivileged families. Photo from the Donatelli family

By Karina Gerry

Generous, inspiring, compassionate and dedicated, are just a few of the ways people describe 15-year-old Huntington resident Michael Donatelli.

“Michael just as a son has taught me patience, inspiration and truly the true meaning of giving back to others especially during this time of year,” Jennifer Donatelli, Michael’s mom, said.

A sophomore at Chaminade High School in Mineola, Donatelli has a long list of accomplishments for his short 15 years. In 2018 he created the nonprofit, Books for Babies, with his brother Nicholas and friend Catarina Chelius. Inspired by their love for reading, the teenagers found a way to donate their old baby books and promote literacy to underprivileged families across the Island and abroad. 

“They both love to read and saw that there was a need for an organization like this in local communities as well as the country and abroad,” Jennifer Donatelli said. “They wanted to make a difference in the lives of underprivileged children by being able to provide them with books in the hope that they too will grow up to be avid readers.”

Donatelli and his book drop-off box. Photo from the Donatelli family

Books for Babies accepts donations for babies and toddlers up to 4 years old. Once the books are collected they are sorted and packaged into custom-designed reusable tote bags with the nonprofit’s logo. Volunteers then distribute the books to homeless shelters, family service leagues, soup kitchens and orphanages. 

“They had their research backed, they looked into literacy rates and just found what a difference it makes, the books that are read to very early ages,” said Michael Strandberg, math teacher at Chaminade and moderator of Catholics for Life. “They found that if they could get more books into the hands of people who otherwise wouldn’t have many, that they could help them for the rest of their lives and improve their academic achievement.”

In November, Michael partnered with Catholics for Life, a national organization of which he is a member, to lead a week-long book drive at Chaminade where they collected hundreds of books. These books were packaged and sent to 250 parishes in the Solomon Islands, located in Southeast Asia.

“It was very impressive how Michael led a drive for a school of over 1,600 students,” Strandberg said. “He prepared announcements to be read each day, he prepared a flier and put it around the school.”

During the pandemic, Michael was concerned about the children who still wanted and needed books, but the organizations and groups he worked with were closed. He decided to create a Books for Babies YouTube channel, where each night he read a baby book and shared it to the channel, hoping to inspire children to read during their time at home. Soon it caught on and children across the country were volunteering to read their favorite books for the channel.

“It was a nice way to try to keep it going, and stay connected,” Jennifer Donatelli said.

In addition, Michael and his brother Nicholas started a book distribution drive-up. Using a local church’s parking lot, they donated tote bags filled with baby books to anyone willing to come and receive them. The response to the drive-up was a success and now the nonprofit holds  one every month.

Michael’s dedication to Books for Babies means he’s always thinking of new ways to grow the organization. He decided to create a literacy program, Opening the World of Learning, also known as OWL, to further the group’s mission of promoting reading to underserved communities. OWL brings books to life at nursery schools in underserved communities across the Island. Books for Babies’ volunteers provide a fun-filled interactive story, followed by an enjoyable activity, and at the end each child receives a free tote bag filled with age appropriate books.

On top of his work for Books for Babies, Michael maintains honor roll status at his school, is a member of nine clubs, volunteers at his church as an usher, volunteers at Huntington Youth Court and is studying for his black belt in jujitsu. 

“He is quiet, he is shy, he is unassuming but he does so much to help everybody else,” Andrew Kelapire, owner of Shindokan Budo Long Island, said.

Michael’s compassion and willingness to help others is what motivated Jennifer Donatelli to nominate him as a TBR News Media Person of the Year.

“I’m so incredibly proud of my son,’’ the mother said. “He’s the type of person that does things and likes to fall under the radar or without anyone fussing. He kind of just likes to do his own thing and volunteer and help others very quietly — and others see his generous spirit and how he is.”