Times of Middle Country

Stock photo

A local nonprofit that supports the needy on Long Island is anticipating record breaking need come Thanksgiving time.

Lighthouse Mission, a mobile food pantry that services several communities across Long Island, including on weekends in Rocky Point, Centereach and Port Jefferson Station, has come out strong during the pandemic, seeing a huge increase in the number of people seeking aid. Their numbers spiked from around 22 to 2,400 people a week to over 3,000 individuals once COVID-19 hit.

Pastor Jim Ryan, the president of Lighthouse Mission, said this Thanksgiving they could see somewhere around 10,000 Suffolk families coming to them for their annual Thanksgiving food distribution where the donate an entire holiday meal for those unable to purchase one.

“Some of them are just regular people living paycheck to paycheck,” Ryan said.

The nonprofit has seen the number of people looking for help rise while the number of donations go down, and Ryan said they are in need of food, clothing and monetary donations before the large November blitz. Specifically, they are looking for any Thanksgiving food one might find around the family table.

“COVID has been blasting people this year,” Ryan said. “As we start getting closer to the holidays, the concerns for this year is if we can meet need for Thanksgiving.”

The pastor said they have been practicing social distancing at each of their outreach locations, such that it has actually meant a surprisingly better organized day. Volunteers stand masked and gloved behind the food. People are invited forward to select what they need while people are kept separate. Anybody who shows up without a mask is offered one for free.

For more information or on how to donate, visit www.lighthousemission.com.

File photo

Suffolk County Police said two North Shore residents were shot and injured outside an East Patchogue bar early Saturday morning.

Police said a man was escorted from El Buen Ambiente, located at 466 East Main St. in East Patchogue, following an altercation with another patron. The man retrieved a handgun from his vehicle and began shooting, striking two bystanders outside the bar at approximately 1:30 a.m, Oct. 24.

A 39-year-old Lake Grove man, who was shot twice in his legs, was transported to Long Island Community Hospital for treatment of serious injuries. A 26-year-old Northport man, who was struck once in the leg, was transported to Stony Brook University Hospital for treatment of non-life-threatening injuries.

The shooter fled in an unknown direction.

Detectives are asking anyone with information on this incident to call the 5thSquad at 631-854-8552 or to Crime Stoppers at 1-800-220-TIPS (8477). All calls will be kept confidential.

Local residents cheered on Chris Pendergast as an old pickup truck brought him to his final resting place on his last ride. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Chris Pendergast, a Miller Place resident and founder of ALS Ride for Life, died Oct. 14. He survived 28 years with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis when most only live for five. In that time, he created an organization that has raised millions for ALS research and awareness.

He was renowned in the community for his annual rides, originally from Yankee Stadium to Washington D.C. and later from Riverhead to the Bronx to help fundraise for his organization.

Local residents say Chris touched the lives of everyone he met. Photo by Julianne Mosher

When Pendergast’s funeral Mass ended around 11:30 a.m. Monday, Oct. 19, police escorted a line of Pendergast’s loved ones and his casket down Route 25A to Washington Memorial Park Cemetery in Mount Sinai, something friends and family designated “his last ride.”

People who had been touched by the late ALS activist lined the street cheering him on and saying their last goodbye. 

Some people knew Pendergast for decades, some knew him for only a year. But nonetheless, even in a short amount of time he made his mark. Several lined up on Route 25A in Miller Place to pay their respects.

“He’d be touched to see everyone here,” Miller Place local Patricia Poggio said. “He was also humble, but he would be really touched.”

Nancy Murray, another Miller Place resident, agreed, saying Pendergast was “a warrior” for ALS and for her friend who was also diagnosed with the disease. 

“What a wonderful man,” Murray said. “What an amazing, wonderful man.”

Jack Soldano, a 16-year-old Miller Place student, holds his own fundraiser, Comics for a Cause, to also help raise funds for ALS Ride for Life after being moved by Chris’ story. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Jack Soldano, a 16-year-old Miller Place student, said he met Pendergast in one of the Ride for Life founder’s visits to his school. Soldano had created a fundraiser, Comics for a Cause, in 2017 to help support ALS Ride for Life after being moved by Pendergast’s story. His fundraiser also supported the Miller Place-Mount Sinai Historical Society.

“I’ve had my nose in a comic book since I was little,” he said. “So I know a superhero when I see one.”

Kathy Sweeney, who knew Pendergast through St. Louis De Montfort R.C. Church in Sound Beach, agreed that he made his mark. 

“He encouraged people all over the world,” she said. “God left him on this Earth for all these years to help people. He was such a role model.”

 

Caravan goers and Counterprotesters Butt Heads in Setauket

For close to an hour, hundreds of President Donald Trump’s (R) supporters rolled through the North Shore and parts of the Middle Country area during a huge caravan Saturday, Oct. 17.

Members of the Trumpalozza event, organized by right-wing online group Setauket Patriots, leaned on their horns and shouted “four more years” and “Trump” while people lined up at the corner of East Broadway and Main Street in Port Jefferson shouted their support as well. Some cars sported bull horns that blasted their support into the cool fall air. Many cars and pickup trucks were hung with flags supporting Trump’s reelection campaign, as well as many pictures and even some blow up representations of the president.

Some cars also used tape to cover up their license plates, which is a violation of New York State law. Many of those gathered to cheer on the caravan were not wearing masks.

In a previous article, James Robitsek, the event organizer for the Setauket Patriots, said they did not ask participants to block their license plate numbers but added people had been doing it to avoid being outed online.

The Setauket Patriots also brought an impersonator  of the president to lead the caravan. The actor’s name was Thomas Mundy, aka TOMMY Trump45, who is listed as a comedian on his Facebook page.

The caravan originally organized at the LIRR parking lot in Port Jeff Station a little before noon, where the actor portraying the president, speaking in Trump’s voice, called Port Jefferson Mayor Margot Garant “evil.” The Patriots were issued a summons earlier this month for hosting a parade on 9/11 without a permit. The village put a moratorium on any new parade or march permits in June, citing fear of spreading COVID-19. A Black Lives Matter march was held in June, followed by a Setauket Patriots-held car parade for Fourth of July. Village officials have said they are the only group to have attempted a parade since the moratorium was put in place.

Robitsek has previously told TBR News Media he feels he and his group are being targeted by local Democrats in the area. The original date for the summons was moved to November, but Setauket Patriots had planned to protest in front of Village Hall.

While many supporters saw the event as a success in getting the word out about their support, some felt they were harassed by participants if they shared any dissent.

Andrew Rimby, a doctorate student at Stony Brook University and Port Jeff resident, said he was called a gay slur by a member of the caravan as he walked in the village.

“There were those of us who expressed our dissent, who said we don’t agree,” he said. “A woman started to call me a gay slur, and I had a lot of time to talk to her. I was, like, ‘Why are you insulting me like this?’ And she said, ‘You don’t support our president.’”

Rimby sent a letter to Garant voicing his and 14 other local residents’ concerns about the caravan that went through the village. The letter complained about the caravan violating noise codes as well as how people harassed him and anybody else who showed dissent.

During the village board meeting Oct. 19, Garant made a statement about the weekend’s events, saying they have received multiple complaints from residents though none of those issues were addressed specifically. Police were on-site as they could issue citations for traffic or moving violations, though she commended both them and code enforcement for keeping things organized in a tense situation.

“I want to reemphasize the Village of Port Jefferson does not condone lawless or disrespectful behavior regardless of any messaging a person or group is attempting to convey,” Garant said. “We’re hoping that with each day that ticks off the calendar that we may return to somewhat of an existence of peaceful and quiet enjoyment in our community. … I just wanted to let everybody know it was a tough day for everyone here in the village.”

Once in St. James, the caravan stopped at Patio Pizza, which had come under several bouts of controversy after people threatened to boycott the establishment after it was shown with a Trump flag. Trump’s Twitter account has previously tweeted about the St. James pizza parlor.

The parade traveled a circuit first through Port Jefferson up into Setauket, down through St James and going through Centereach and Selden before eventually coming up Route 112. In Setauket, members of the North Country Peace Group stood in front of the caravan, blocking its path. Some caravan goers got out of their cars to confront the people blocking their path. One woman yelled into a megaphone, “Liberals go home.”

Police said three people were arrested for disorderly conduct, namely Deborah Kosyla of Setauket, Anne Chimelis of Setauket, and Myrna Gordon, a Port Jefferson resident and leader of the peace group. A video from the Setauket Patriots Facebook page shows peace group members standing in front of vehicles clenching fists in the air and holding signs. In that same video, the Trump look-alike also called the people assembled in front of them “evil people.” A man in the car with Mundy apparently makes a crack about how the “Secret Service is going to take out the machine guns.”

Gordon, speaking on behalf of the peace group, said they were unable to release a comment at this time, citing it being an ongoing police issue.

Separately, Suffolk County police are investigating a hit-and-run crash that occurred at the corner of Route 25A and Bennetts Road in Setauket that same day. Police said the call came in at around 1 p.m. for the crash, which they said occurred some time around 12:45 p.m. They did not release details on whether the crash involved a member of the caravan or a protester.

The Setauket Fire Department confirmed they did take one person to a hospital for minor injuries around that time, but department officials declined to offer further comment.

There was not much in the way of counterprotesters, though at one point during the parade a driver threw up the middle finger to supporters assembled on the sidewalk. One counterprotester stood at the turn into the Port Jeff train station parking lot holding a sign that read Black Lives Matter. He was later seen down at the corner of East Broadway and Main after the caravan had already gone ahead. There was also a separate protest held by progressives next to the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Chamber train car about the ongoing controversy over Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Supreme Court replacement.

The Trumpalozza event ended with many caravan goers returning to Port Jeff to participate in a rally across from Port Jefferson Village Hall, in the Town of Brookhaven-owned park for locals who died on 9/11.

Stock photo

Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, raised a red flag about the safety of annual family gatherings during Thanksgiving last week on an interview on CBS.

People may have to “bite the bullet and sacrifice that social gathering unless you’re pretty certain that the people that you’re dealing with are not infected,” Fauci told CBS.

Richard Gatteau, SBU Dean of Students. Photo from SBU Website

Doctors at area hospitals and officials at Stony Brook University are offering guidance to residents and students over a month before an annual holiday that often brings people from several generations, cities and states together.

Before they send some of the 4,200 on campus students at SBU home, the university plans to test them for the presence of the virus that causes COVID-19.

The week of Nov. 16, “every resident will be tested,” said Dean of Students Richard Gatteau. “Any positive cases would remain on campus” until the university knew they were negative.

Students remaining on campus would receive meals and would get the same level of care through the holidays that students would normally get if they tested positive during the semester.

Stony Brook expects the student population to decline after Thanksgiving, when all classes and final exams will be remote through the end of the semester.

For the students who plan to return to campus, Stony Brook realizes the logistical challenges of requiring viral tests during the short holiday and will provide tests in the first two days after these students return to their dormitories.

Even before the holiday, Stony Brook expects to increase the frequency of viral testing from bi-weekly to weekly.

Gatteau said the student government plans to educate students who plan to join family during the holiday about procedures to keep everyone safe. This guidance mirrors school policies, such as wearing masks inside when near other family members, keeping a distance of six feet inside and washing hands regularly.

The dean of students recently spoke with Dr. Deborah Birx, head of the White House’s coronavirus task force who visited Stony Brook to speak with officials about the school’s COVID response. Though Birx was pleased with the measures the university took, she was reportedly more worried about the behavior of extended family than with students during Thanksgiving.

“Her concern is with the older generation not following the rules,” Gatteau said. She wanted students to encourage their grandparents to follow the same procedures because “grandparents will listen to their grandkids.”

Types of Tests

Dr. Michael Grosso, Chief Medical Officer at Huntington Hospital, urged everyone to plan to get tested before coming together for Thanksgiving.

Dr. Grosso said two types of tests are available for students and parents. The first is an antigen test and the second is a PCR, for polymerase chain reaction, test. Grosso suggests that the PCR test is more reliable as the antigen test “misses more cases.”

The test technique is critical to its success. Some false negatives may result from inadequate specimen collection, Grosso said. The deep nasopharyngeal specimen “requires a little skill on the part of the person doing the test.”

Additionally, people getting tested before a family gathering need to consider the timing of the test. They may receive a negative test during a period of time in which the virus is developing in their bodies.

Active testing may have helped reduce the severity of the disease for people who contract it. People are coming to the hospital in some cases before the disease causes as much damage.

In addition to getting tested and monitoring possible symptoms, Grosso urged residents to continue to practice the new, healthier etiquette, even when they are with relatives during the holidays.

“Families need to have conversations” about how close they are prepared to get before they see each other, Grosso said. People need to “decide together what rules [they] are going to follow, and make sure everybody is comfortable with those.”

As for Thanksgiving in the Grosso home, the Chief Medical Officer said he and his wife have five children between them, two of whom will be coming for the annual November holiday. The others will participate, as has become the modern reality, at the other end of a zoom call. Typically, the entire family would come together.

Stony Brook’s Gatteau said he and his partner typically have 20 to 25 people over for Thanksgiving. This year, they are limited the guests to seven people. They plan to keep masks on in their house and will crack a window open so there is air flow.

Drivers need to proceed with caution when they spot deer on the side of roadway. File photo by Phil Schiavone

Deer grazing near roadways may look innocent but they can pose a possible hazard — even a deadly one — for drivers.

As fall arrives, the animals’ presence becomes an even greater danger. A higher percentage of deer are now more likely to dart out into the road as they are in the midst of their rutting season, which runs from October through December. Driving during dusk and dawn exacerbates the problem with reduced visibility.

According to a press release from AAA Northeast, there were 36,445 animal crashes in New York State in 2019, and the number of crashes has increased over the past five years. Suffolk County was found to have the third highest amount of animal crashes with 1,415. In 2019, Brookhaven had 423 animal crashes while Smithtown had 120.

The data was taken from the Institute for Traffic Safety Management and Research, an affiliate with the University at Albany’s Rockefeller College of Public Affairs, which does not cite which animals were involved in the crash. However AAA Northeast said in its press release that “data from New York and other states previous years found deer were involved in 88 to 98 percent of crashes.”

“Striking a deer can be extremely dangerous, with the animal possibly going through the windshield, seriously injuring or killing the driver and passengers,” said Robert Sinclair Jr., spokesman for AAA Northeast.

AAA Northeast recommends drivers brake gently and avoid swerving when encountering any animals.

“Going to the right could send the vehicle into a ditch, tree or light pole,” the AAA Northeast press release said. “Swerving to the left could result in a lethal head-on crash. Even hitting the brakes hard could send the front end of the vehicle into a nosedive, promoting the animal rolling up the hood and through the windshield.”

Other tips from AAA and insurance companies include:

● Be extra cautious when you see a deer-crossing sign along a roadway. The sign means that there have been deer-vehicle collisions near the sign location.

● Decrease speed when you approach deer near roadsides as they can bolt out or change direction quickly. If you see a deer, look for others as they are herd animals and usually travel in groups. Especially during rutting season when a buck may be chasing a doe.

● Move your vehicle to a safe place if you hit an animal. If possible, pull over to the side of the road and turn on your hazard lights. If you must leave your vehicle, stay off the road and out of the way of any oncoming vehicles.

● Call the police. Alert authorities if the animal is blocking traffic and creating a threat for other drivers. If the collision results in injury, death or more than $1,000 in property damage, you must fill out an official crash report and send it to the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles.

● Look for leaking fluid, loose parts, tire damage, broken lights, a hood that won’t latch and other safety hazards. If your vehicle seems unsafe in any way, call for a tow truck.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation recommends not getting out of your car and approaching an injured animal as they can strike out with their legs or hooves. In Brookhaven, residents can call the Animal Shelter at 631-451-6950 to report deceased deer on the road or curbside. Town employees cannot remove animals found on front lawns, backyards or on driveways.

Stock Photo

Residents on Long Island and elsewhere can’t call their doctor’s offices and ask to receive all of the same treatment that sent President Donald Trump (R) from the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center back to the White House and the campaign trail.

Dr. Luis Marcos said SBU was planning to participate in the second Regeneron trial, but a general lack of COVID patients scrapped that idea. Photo from SBU

After officials said he tested positive for COVID-19 Oct. 2, the president received a combination of the antiviral drug Remdesivir, an antibody cocktail from Regeneron, and the steroid dexamethasone.

Remdesivir has become more widely used in hospitals on Long Island.

The last two months, “all patients admitted to the hospital may qualify for Remdesivir according to the clinical judgment of your doctor,” said Dr. Luis Marcos, Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine at Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University.

The patient population that is most likely to benefit from Remdesivir includes residents who are over 60, have diabetes with hypertension and have been admitted to the hospital with mild pneumonia.

Patients who have liver disease or kidney failure may not be prescribed the intravenous drug.

Typically, Remdesivir, like other antiviral drugs, benefits patients who have contracted COVID-19 within a week, because the medicine stops the replication of the virus.

Patients who received Remdesivir after an infection that lasted more than 10 days may not benefit as much because the drug won’t reverse damage done to the lungs.

The side effects of antivirals typically last one to two days.

Dexamethasone is also available and used in hospitals including Huntington Hospitals and Stony Brook.

As a steroid, dexamethasone has “multiple side effects,” said Dr. Michael Grosso, Chief Medical Officer at Huntington Hospital. “It is only given when the benefit is expected to significantly outweigh the risk and so there’s going to be that assessment in every case,” Dr. Grosso said.

Patients with diabetes are likely to experience “more trouble with their blood sugar control if they’re receiving dexamethasone,” Grosso added.

Dexamethasone can also produce sleeplessness and, in some cases, psychiatric disturbances, doctors added.

The monoclonal antibody cocktail from Regeneron the president received has had limited use, mostly through clinical trials and in compassionate care cases. It has not received approval from the Food and Drug Administration, although it has applied for emergency use authorization.

Stony Brook was planning to participate in the second trial of Regeneron, with Dr. Bettina Fries, Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases, as the principal investigator and Dr. Marcos as the co-principal investigator. The hospital did not participate because it didn’t have enough cases.

Marcos said the cocktail of antibodies block the virus actively causing inflammation.

The good news with the Regeneron treatment is that the side effects appear minimal, Marcos said.

Regeneron is unlikely to reverse the damage in the lungs caused by the virus. In managing patient care, doctors try to slow or stop the progression of pneumonia from the virus.

Marcos said patients who are asymptomatic or have minor symptoms shouldn’t race to take the more widely available Remdesivir or Dexamethasone because 99% of patients with COVID infection do not have pneumonia. Those patients with a mild upper respiratory infection may not need anything but Tylenol.

Patients who are developing more severe symptoms can come to the hospital to determine the best medical response.

“If you have fever or you don’t feel that great, of course, come to the Emergency Room, we can evaluate you, and decide what to do next. For mild, mild cases, I don’t think we should be using Remdesivir,” Grosso said.

Chris Pendergast celebrates his 70th birthday at 89 North Music Venue in Patchogue with family and friends. Photo by Elliot Perry

At St. Louis de Montfort R.C. Church in Sound Beach, Monday, Oct. 19, those who came to mourn the passing of Chris Pendergast filled the pews, or at least as much as they could while trying to distance due to COVID-19.

Founder of ALS Ride for Life and renowned North Shore figure, Pendergast passed Oct. 14 surrounded by friends and family. He was 71. The nonprofit he founded reported Monday, Oct. 12, that Pendergast was starting to receive home hospice care. The organization announced his death Wednesday afternoon.

Authors Dr. Christopher Pendergast and Christine Pendergast

ALS Ride for Life started when Pendergast embarked on a ride with his electric scooter from Yankee Stadium in the Bronx to Washington, D.C., 22 years ago to raise awareness about the disease and raise funds for research. After a few years, the ride was contained to New York state — from Riverhead to the Bronx — where participants stop by schools along the way that take part in the organization’s presentations throughout the school year. 

Pendergast, a Miller Place resident and former Northport elementary teacher had lived with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, for 28 years. When doctors diagnosed him, they thought he only had a few years to live. 

Many who gathered together to pay respects to the Ride for Life founder have been touched in some way by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, a debilitating condition that, over time, paralyzes a person and eventually leads to their death. Father Francis Pizzarelli, director of nonprofit Hope House Ministries, led the funeral Mass at the church, and said to those gathered that his own brother had been diagnosed with the disease at 36 years of age several years ago. Without even knowing it at the time, the Pendergast family reached out to his brother to offer him advice and comfort, something that made “a profound difference in his life.”

Not only did he defy those odds, but he would spend more than two decades after his diagnosis raising millions for ALS research and spreading awareness for it.

Chris’ wife of close to 50 years, Christine Pendergast, said beyond all the work he’s done over the past two decades in advocacy and fundraising, he will be remembered by her and her family as a loving father.

“While everybody is remembering Chris as an ALS advocate and fighter, at the end of the day he was my husband, our children’s father and our grandson’s poppy,” she said.

Monday’s funeral Mass was one of somber remembrances, and tissue boxes were always close at hand. But at the same time, both Pizzarelli and the Pendergast family looked for ways to say though he may be gone, his life should serve as an example. 

Pendergast’s daughter, Melissa Scriven, said during the funeral Mass her father was a supremely intelligent man, one who was exacting when it came to her homework as a child. Before he was diagnosed with the paralyzing disease, Pendergast was a handyman, able to “fix anything, even if it was with duct tape.” Her dad’s favorite meal to make when his wife was working late was “tuna noodle casserole, warm, with crushed Doritos … so my brother and I didn’t really like it when my mom worked late.” 

During a funeral that was filled with music, some of which were songs Pendergast loved in life, Scriven played one she said was her dad’s favorite, John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” in which everyone’s tears dried ever so briefly as they joined in the chorus: “Country roads, take me home to the place I belong.”

Pendergast Leaves Lasting Mark

The founder of ALS Ride for Life became an icon and symbol for the North Shore for never giving up. Even as he lost the ability to speak and had to communicate with an eye-to-speech device, his determination never seemed to relent. Just this year, Pendergast, alongside his wife Christine, released the book “Blink Spoken Here: Tales from a Journey to Within” about his life since his diagnosis in 1993.

Ray Manzoni, chairman of the board for ALS Ride for Life based in Stony Brook University, knew Chris for many years, as both their kids went to school together in Miller Place. It was one day after both he and Pendergast were together after Mass that the educator told Manzoni he was likely to die in a few years, and that he wanted to raise awareness. 

Pallbearers lift Pendergasts casket into the car that will take him to his final resting place at Washington Memorial Park in Mount Sinai. Photo by Kyle Barr

Since then, the organization has raised over $10 million for advocacy and research. Their yearly Ride for Life trips were later accompanied by visits to close to 90 school districts on Long Island.

“Anyone who knew him, I believe he helped us all to live a better life,” Manzoni said. “He was a teacher of gifted and talented kids, and he took this terrible disease and turned it into amazing positive life.”

Paul Weisman, a member of ALS Ride for Life, was diagnosed with the disease in January 2013. Getting introduced to Ride for Life, he started going out with the nonprofit’s founder during their school trips. He would also visit some districts without Pendergast. The organization and its founder gave him a real purpose, “something to strive for, something bigger than myself, to raise as much awareness to fight this disease.”

“Meeting Chris, he gave me hope that three to five years might not be true, that there may still be life here,” Weisman said. 

Pendergast had four mantras: Never give up, never lose hope, always remain optimistic and be willing to defy the odds. Weisman loved that last one so much he had it tattooed on his left arm. Upon showing his new ink to the Ride for Life founder, Weisman said his mentor and friend smiled.

“Chris could smile and light up a room,” he said. “We all want to do something with our lives, but he certainly did.”

Pendergast’s roots on the North Shore ran deep, so much so that he became renowned in local school districts. He traveled from classroom to classroom, auditorium to auditorium, helping young people from elementary on up understand ALS but, more importantly, serve as a role model for what bravery truly looked like. Manzoni said students would often embrace Pendergast after these talks. As the years fell by, young students who were inspired by the Ride for Life founder would internalize his message. The board chairman said one time an EMT stopped by the side of the road during the annual ride and told Pendergast how his example inspired them to want to help others.

“If you had the honor of meeting him, riding or walking next to Chris in his ALS Ride for Life from Montauk to Manhattan, or hearing his story of determination, you walked away a better person,” Miller Place Superintendent of Schools Marianne Cartisano wrote in a statement. “He left you with the lasting impressions that made you want to be more tolerant, kinder, more understanding and compassionate toward others. His fight against the devastation of ALS left you inspired, knowing him filled your heart and being in his presence left you humbled.” 

ALS Ride For Life Talks Future Efforts

Despite the passing of its founder and leader Chris Pendergast, ALS Ride for Life isn’t thinking of slowing down anytime soon.

Manzoni said the organization wants to continue its fundraising efforts, starting with himself getting on a bike later this month and hitting the road, going to school districts they have visited before the pandemic. He plans to spend enough time at each to wave to children and “hopefully greet someone who has supported our program and to say ‘thank you’ to them, give them banner in recognition.” The organization has also developed a revised packet on how, even during a pandemic, people can support ALS over the school year.

“ALS is not going away, and we have to continue the fight,” he said.

There are even talks of doing a documentary film on Pendergast’s life, something Manzoni said the organization is wholeheartedly all for.

Weisman, still an active member of Ride for Life, said one of his last conversations he had with Pendergast was “to keep going until we found that cure for ALS,” he said. “He firmly believed, as I do, that there’s a major breakthrough coming somewhere around the corner … it’s up to us to finish it.”

Weisman added that while the pandemic has made their normal school trips much more difficult, they have some preliminary ideas to host online talks instead.

“Chris laid down 28 years of work,” he said. “Now it’s up to us.”

The family requests donations be made to ALSrideforlife.org and Hope House Ministries at HHM.org.

Stock photo

With the approaching emotions of the holidays, Suffolk County residents may face persistent and unwanted changes in their lives, from not seeing a cherished family member to remaining confined to the same house where they work, live, eat and study. Between now and the end of the year, TBR News Media will feature stories about the impact of the ongoing pandemic on mental health. The articles will explore how to recognize signs of mental health strain and will provide advice to help get through these difficult times. This week, the article focuses on youth.

In a normal year, when school is out, the number of referrals Dr. Sharon Skariah, Director of Child Adolescent Psychiatry at South Oaks Hospital in Amityville, declines during the summer.

Dr. Sharon Skariah says parents should recognize their own issues in order to help their children. Photo by Sharon Skariah

That’s not the case this year, as children continued to seek help for mental health challenges caused by the loss of a parent, the loss of financial or health security and the decline in social contact amid social distancing.

“We’ve been seeing significant anxiety and depression,” Skariah said. “Part of that is the prolonged time that [children] have been out of school.”

Skariah expects that the ongoing pandemic losses and restrictions will likely continue to cause those figures to increase.

Several mental health professionals shared their dos and don’ts for parents with grieving children.

Grieving Dos

For starters, Skariah suggests that parents should recognize their own anxiety and depression.

“If they find that they are themselves overwhelmed with the chaos of the pandemic, they should be aware that their own anxiety and mood can play a role in their children’s behavior,” she said.

Dr. Meghan Downey, clinical psychologist and Director of Northwell Health’s OnTrackNY, urged people to maintain a routine.

“Often, a holiday can exacerbate our stress levels,” Downey said. “Changes to our routine can increase stress. Continuing with the same sleep wake routine, normal eating and [finding time] for joy and relaxation provide a good foundation for managing grief.”

Based on prior group traumatic events, like the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the SARS virus, Skariah said the restoration of order happens over time and depends on personal and predisposing factors.

She urged families to be genuine and open and actively listen to what children say. Downey suggests children need to feel that they are allowed to mourn.

A support network can and should consider showing empathy, care and concern. Approaching people when they are calm, rather than in a distressed state, can provide some mental health relief.

People who are experiencing grief also can benefit from staying connected, even through holiday letters, phone calls, or a card, Downey said.

When Downey gives presentations to children and educators in school, she advises people working with young children to allow them to play death, to display their emotions through play.

Grieving Don’ts

Telling children platitudes like “time heals all wounds” may not be helpful for someone who is “acutely grieving,” Skariah said.

Downey added that telling children that a loved one is “sleeping” or that they should “stop crying, other people might get upset” provides mixed and confusing messages.

Telling children that “at least [the person who died is] not in pain anymore, they are in a better place” often doesn’t help and distracts people from feeling their emotional intensity, Downey said.

Downey cautioned youths, and their adult guardians, to manage over-indulgent behavior, such as with food or with excess spending.

While those indulgences provide temporary relief, they can also contribute to feelings of guilt, which can exacerbate grief, Downey cautioned.

Bradley Lewis, Administrative Manager for School Based Mental Health Services for South Oaks Hospital, said he has received numerous requests during the pandemic for support related to COVID-19.

Lewis said Downey’s presentations to some of the 11 school districts went beyond the thought of death, but include losses in other areas, like access to friends, senior awards dinners, and graduations.

“A lot of families appreciated the opportunity to learn more about grief and loss, to understand the different types of grief their children might be going through,” Lewis said.

With parents, Lewis urges parents to “end the stigma of mental health,” he said.