Times of Smithtown

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone. Photo by Alex Petroski

Amid a changing landscape during New York Pause, the requirement by Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) that non-essential businesses close or go to remote locations, businesses like construction have been unsure of their ability to continue working.

The installation of individual advanced septic systems can continue, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said on his daily conference call with reporters.

“It’s a critical issue for us because of the water quality challenges we face,” Bellone said. “Public health and safety is our top priority.”

Meanwhile, three more residents of Suffolk County died from complications related to the virus that has crippled world economies and led to thousands of deaths and hospitalizations. All three fatalities were men who had underlying medical conditions. A man in his 60’s died at home in Southampton March 26, another in his 70’s died at Southside Hospital on March 27, and a third man in his 30’s died at St. Joseph’s hospital in Nassau County yesterday. The total number of Covid-19 related deaths is now 40.

The man in his 30’s, who was a resident of Babylon, is the youngest Suffolk County resident who has died from the pandemic.

“We know this virus attacks seniors. We’ve seen that, but we also know it is attacking those with underlying medical conditions,” Bellone said.

The number of positive tests for the virus increased to 5,023 people, which is an increase of an average of 36 positive tests per hour over the last day. Additionally, the number of people hospitalized rose to over 500, with 160 people in the Intensive Care Unit.

On the positive side, Bellone reported that the first officer who tested positive for the virus, who works in the Highway Bureau, returned to work today.

The Suffolk County Police Department has received over 160 reports of noncompliance with social distancing and a pause in business activity. Of those, the police determined that 14 merited police involvement. In every one of those cases, Suffolk County residents complied with the requests to comply with the request to change their behavior and limit the spread of the virus.

Peter Scully, a Deputy Suffolk County Executive who tested positive for the virus, has returned to work. On the call, Scully indicated he is, “feeling fine.”

Bellone continues to encourage people to donate personal protective equipment. He said his sense at this point, however, is that the equipment that’s available for donation has “probably run its course.” While he will continue to encourage people to donate, he may shift from three sites for donations back down to one.

Slurp Ramen in Port Jefferson has set up a unique means of serving customers, with a large screen in between workers and patrons. Photo by Kyle Barr

Local business owners are looking at an uncertain future due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis here on Long Island.

Due to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) executive order that shut down nonessential businesses last Saturday in an effort to prevent the spread of coronavirus, entrepreneurs and others are worried if they will be able to survive the financial blow. With bills due at the beginning of the month and with no new income coming in, many are calling on the state and the federal government for help.

Indu Kaur, the director of operations of The Meadow Club, looks at blueprints of new the building in Port Jefferson Station. Photo by Kyle Barr

On Tuesday, Congress and the President Donald Trump (R) administration finally reached a $2 trillion agreement to assist people during the ongoing crisis. The new bill includes one-time direct payments to residents of $1,200 per adult making up to $75,000 a year or $2,400 to a married couple making up to $150,000, with $500 payments per child. It also includes a $367 billion program for small businesses to keep making payroll while workers are forced to stay home. Meanwhile, for larger industries the bill includes $500 billion for guaranteed, subsidized loans to bail them out as revenue has severely dropped.

Still, the question remains of how small local businesses will remain intact or even be able to open their doors again as the crisis ebbs.

Indu Kaur, director of operations of The Meadow Club in Port Jefferson Station, said, “This is a burden my father and I are trying to figure out, just like everyone else,”

A family of restaurateurs who recently took over The Harbor Grill had plans to open their third restaurant this month. In addition, The Meadow Club was set to reopen after being closed due to a fire in 2018. Kaur said the ongoing health crisis has put both openings on hold.

In the meantime, she said, The Curry Club in East Setauket is taking take-out and delivery orders.

“We had to lay off our staff,” she said. “There are still things like rent, insurance and utility bills that we have to worry about.”

When asked about the recent virus rescue bil from the federal government, Kaur said “it was great news and a good first step. “Many of us are suffering financially right now.”

She also said she is hopefully that Suffolk County can eventually do something similar to help business owners.

Currently, the U.S. Small Business Administration is offering economic injury disaster loans to affected businesses. Funds come directly from the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the maximum unsecured loan amount is $25,000.

Kaur said she doesn’t think that is a viable option for her and other business owners.

“I’m not sure we can take out one more loan on what we already have,” she said. “For others there might be no other option.”

Last week, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) announced the launch of the Business Recovery Unit, a component of the county’s Business Response Plan, to address concerns and questions that businesses have amid the coronavirus outbreak. Businesses are asked to complete a comprehensive survey on the county’s website (www.suffolkcountyny.gov).

In a conference call March 23, Bellone said that, with several hundred surveys completed, over 4,000 workers were indicated as laid off or furloughed.

“We keep getting calls and the numbers are going up; we are getting calls from workers who are self-employed who are in the same boat,” Bellone said.

In the new federal relief package, furloughed workers will have their salaries replaced for four months, getting whatever amount the state provides in unemployment plus a $600 add-on per week. Gig workers such as Uber drivers are included in that as well.

“There are still things like rent, insurance and utility bills that we have to worry about.”

Indu Kaur

In an effort to help business owners, New York State Republicans sent Cuomo a COVID-19 action plan that includes extending the payments of monthly sales tax by 90 days, making available no-interest loans immediately to entities that face a dramatic decrease in business and eliminating penalties for late payments of business and property taxes, among other things.

Similarly, over 17,600  people signed a Change.org petition titled Save Small Business Before It’s Too Late. It also called on the city, state and federal governments to take the necessary steps to save local businesses.

“Small businesses are the backbone of our communities, creating jobs, generating tax revenue and providing valuable services,” said New York City Councilman Mark Gjonaj (D), who started the petition.

Lenore Paprocky, president of the Greater Middle Country Chamber of Commerce, said, while a lot of businesses are hurting, she is grateful how everyone is willing to come together and help fellow entrepreneurs.

“It’s difficult right now but we want to keep these businesses afloat,” she said.

The chamber has come up with a list of local businesses that are offering catering/takeout and automotive services.

Paprocky said they are trying to stay optimistic amid the ongoing shutdown, and she hopes elected officials can hash something out to help them.

“The future is uncertain, but we need to stay positive and work together to get through this,” the president of the chamber said.

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The numbers of people infected and affected by the coronavirus COVID-19 continues to climb.

This afternoon, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D), who himself was finally out of a two-week home quarantine, reported a climb of 753 in the number of people who have tested positive for the virus. The total number stands at 4,138 people, which is more than the entire country of Australia, according to a tracking site at Johns Hopkins University.

The virus also continues to affect the Suffolk County Police Department, with 23 officers testing positive.

Suffolk County health care providers continue to test more residents, as over 12,000 people have been screened. Of those, Stony Brook University’s mobile testing site has administered about 5,000 tests.

“Our major concern and focus has been on the vulnerable population,” Bellone said on his daily media call with reporters. Indeed, 16 percent of the positive tests were among people who were over 65 years old.

Hospitalizations also continued to climb. The number of people in hospitals throughout the county stood at 409, which includes 139 in the Intensive Care Unit.

For the 10th consecutive day, Bellone reported additional fatalities associated with the virus. Seven people died who had the virus, bringing the total to 37 for the county. Those who passed away were: a man in his 60’s who died in his home on March 24, a woman in her 90’s who died at Good Samaritan Hospital March 26, a man in his 70’s who died at Long Island Community Hospital on March 22, a man in his 50’s, who died at St. Catherine’s Hospital March 23, a man in his 60’s who died at Southampton Hospital yesterday, a woman in her 90’s who died at Eastern Long Island Hospital, and a man in his 90’s who died at Mather Hospital on March 26. Underlying medical conditions continue to contribute to most of the deaths.

The police have responded to 140 reports of violations of social distancing. In the last day, there were 28 new reports and the officers found that four of the businesses were non compliant. That includes a vape shop, a hair salon, and a house party.

“All of the individuals involved complied voluntarily when the police and county officers were there,” Bellone said.

Suffolk County Police commissioner Geraldine Hart alongside Steve Bellone. TBR News Media file photo

Without the usual fanfare, 60 cadets graduated from the police academy today and have become sworn members of the Suffolk County Police Department.

The officers, which include six people who are fluent in Spanish, will be a part of a group called Together Ensuring Compliance, or TEC, according to police officials. They will be “visible on the street” and will have increased foot patrols and will be in parks and shopping centers to ensure that businesses that are supposed to be closed, while making sure they educate the population about maintaining social distancing. Geraldine Hart, the Commissioner of the Suffolk County Police Department, made the announcement on County Executive Steve Bellone’s (D) daily call with reporters.

At the same time, Bellone announced the launch of the Suffolk Childcare Consortium, which is a free childcare program for first responders, medical professionals transit workers and, where space permits, other essential workers. The program will be open Monday to Friday, from 7 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. and enrollment for those battling the coronavirus outbreak will be on a first come, first served basis and will be limited based on space and staff.

Residents with questions about he consortium should call 311.

The new childcare program is available to the following districts:
  • Babylon School District — Babylon Elementary School
  • Commack School District — Sawmill Intermediate School
  • Connetquot School District – Cherokee Street Elementary School
  • Deer Park School District – John F. Kennedy Intermediate School  
  • Harborfields School Districts – Thomas J. Lahey Elementary School
  • Hauppauge School District — Pines Elementary School
  • Huntington School District — Jefferson Primary School
  • Lindenhurst School District — Albany Avenue Elementary School
  • Middle Country School District – Jericho Elementary School
  • Miller Place School District — Andrew Muller Primary School
  • Northport School District — Pulaski Road Elementary School
  • Sachem School District– Nokomis School Elementary School

To qualify for the program, children must be between pre-K and sixth grade. Students in the program can work on their school’s long distance learning requirements during the day. The program is run by SCOPE education services and will have trained childcare. The staff will check on the health of the children regularly. Anyone with a fever or who demonstrates any sign of illness will not be allowed in the program.

Parents can register their children through www.scopeonline.us.

Meanwhile, the numbers of cases of the virus, hospitalization for it, and fatalities associated with it continues to climb. There are 3,385 cases, which is up by 650 in the last 24 hours. As of this morning, there were also 331 hospitalizations of people with the virus, with 119 in the Intensive Care Unit.

For the ninth straight day, Bellone reported fatalities connected with the virus. Eight people, all of whom had underlying medical condition, passed away. Those who died were: a man in his 80’s at Stony Brook Hospital, a woman in her 80’s at Huntington Hospital, a woman in her 90’s at St. Catherine’s hospital, a man in his late 40’s at LIJ, a woman in her 80’s at Huntington Hospital, a woman in her 80’s at Huntington Hospital this morning, a man in his 60’s at Stony Brook University Hospital, and a woman in her 80’s at Good Samaritan Hospital.

The total number of people who have died from coronavirus related issues in the county is now 30.

Bellone shared his thoughts and prayers with the families.

“This drives home the point of why we have to do this, why all of us have an important role to play in helping to reduce that number,” Bellone said. “Our actions will determine how high that number goes.”

The county executive said the governor’s office, which requires the closure of non essential businesses, provided new guidance on construction work. He said non-essential construction must now cease. Everything except emergency construction, like bridges and transit and hospitals or that protects the health and safety, will stop.

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Jennifer O’Brien and her daughters and son ready to deliver St. Patrick’s goodies to children.

As more Long Islanders are required to stay home from work and school due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Smithtown residents have been coming up with ways to help each other.

Nourishing the community

Teresa LaRosa leaves La Famiglia in Smithtown with food for family members. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Last Friday the phone was ringing off the hook at La Famiglia in Smithtown. Like many restaurants in the area, residents could go there for takeout, but the establishment was also offering a bit more. Last week co-owner John Cracchiolo notified patrons through social media that the family business wanted to show their gratitude to the community during the pandemic.

Cracchiolo and manager John Davella decided to donate 50 meals a day to seniors and those in need Thursday and Friday between 11 a.m. and 8 p.m.

Instead of giving out 100 meals over the two-day period, the owner said they wound up handing out approximately 150. Cracchiolo said it was something he wanted to do to keep the doors open and his workers employed. 

“Am I scared, too? Absolutely, but as long as I can afford to do it, I’ll do it,” he said, adding he hopes to give out meals again March 26 and March 27.

Cracchiolo said he has been touched by those who have stopped by the restaurant to donate money to the cause, and La Famiglia has recognized many of the philanthropists on its social media page. Cracchiolo and Davella have received donations including a few even totaling $500 and $1,000, and one woman walked in and donated a gift card as well as $200 in cash. The owner said another woman drove all the way from Nassau County when she heard what the restaurant was doing to donate $50.

“People just started walking in and handing us money,” he said, adding it was a big help for their ability to donate more meals to the community.

The owner said he knows of people in the restaurant business who have had to close their doors during this time, and he’s grateful for the Smithtown community that he said has been good to him in the nearly 20 years since he opened La Famiglia. On Friday, the restaurant also donated food to the staff at St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center.

“We’ve been here for so many years,” he said. “The community, the town have been good to me,” he said.

Cracchiolo said he had to cut a few things from his menu as they were hard to get, but most of the selections remain the same for those who are ordering takeout. 

For the free meals, the restaurant offered family-style options that included chopped or Caesar salad, a choice of pasta and sauce and a chicken dinner where people could choose between marsala, francese and parmigiana.

On Friday Teresa LaRosa, of Kings Park, picked up food for family members who are out of work. She said if other restaurants have the money to do so they should do the same.

“We all have to work together and do what we can,” she said.

Keeping the community smiling

Jennifer O’Brien runs a State Farm office in Smithtown where reaching out to the community is a big part of her job.

When it came to St. Patrick’s Day, she was unable to go ahead with an event that she had originally planned and decided to try something different. She posted on social media for people to send their names and addresses to her, and she put St. Patrick’s Day goody bags together that included light-up necklaces and a letter from a leprechaun to deliver to their children.

On March 17, she and her children dressed in green and delivered the bags by leaving them at participants’ doors, making sure not to touch any door bells or knobs. The family covered Smithtown from Kings Park to
St. James.

“It’s nice to know that you are still, ‘quote, unquote,’ touching people personally without physically touching them just by brightening their day a bit,” she said.

O’Brien said she is already thinking of different ways to brighten up Easter for community children, and with events canceled, she has been tapping into social media even more so.

When it comes to her everyday life, she said the State Farm office is closed to the public and a couple of employees are working from home. With her son’s birthday Tuesday, she invited friends on social media to pass by her house in their cars during a certain time frame to honk their horns or sing a song.

Looking for the helpers

Social media is filled with feel good posts during the pandemic.

On the Kings Park Downtown Facebook page, Linda Henninger posted that when she went to the grocery store March 20 to get oat milk, she noticed the market had received items that had been sold out for a while. She said she wound up buying more than originally planned.

“At the cashier, I had to take some items out of my cart,” she wrote in the post. “After I paid and left, the cashier came running out after me with a bag filled with the items I had to leave behind. She said a man in line paid for them for me. I was so touched, I sat in the car and cried.”

During a walk in a local park, one mother wrote in a post on the Smithtown Moms Facebook page that she found little vases with flowers with inspirational notes attached throughout the park, something that she said made her day.

“We need to look for the good because it is always there,” she wrote. “I hope this puts a smile on your face as it did mine.”

Have a story about how you or others have helped during this pandemic, let us know about it by emailing rita@tbrnewsmedia.com.

Stony Brook Trauma Center staff member Colby Rowe and Wang Center Building Manager Scott LaMarsh accept donations for the COVID-19 Donation Center. Photo from SBU

Grateful for donations ranging from chapstick to gum to tissues and coveted personal protective equipment such as gloves, masks and goggles, Stony Brook University is asking for residents to donate iPads, which they plan to repurpose to provide more telehealth services to the community.

Stony Brook Trauma Center staff member Colby Rowe and Wang Center Building Manager Scott LaMarsh accept donations for the COVID-19 Donation Center. Photo from SBU

The university asked for donations starting on Sunday and has received a constant stream of email requests to deliver goods to help the medical staff that are offering vital comfort and care during the coronavirus crisis. Interested donors can contact Joan Dickinson, the Stony Brook University Community Relations Director at COVID19donations@stonybrookmedicine.edu or call (631) 219-0603.

Stony Brook is asking donors to clean the device, reset it and place it in a ziplock bag with a usable power chord.

Telehealth medical services will “reduce the need for personal protective equipment,” Dickinson said.

Dickinson has requested that interested donors make an appointment before bringing any items to support the busy medical community. Community members can make donations between 10 am and 1 pm.

“Even though we’re asking the public to respond, we are very diligent about social distancing and everyone’s safety,” Dickinson said.

For anyone who might get the urge to make a home cooked meal or bring in cookies made from scratch, Dickinson said the school appreciates the gesture but can’t accept any such personalized dishes, as they seek to protect staff. The school can is accepting pre-packaged food.

People who don’t have access to medical supplies or comfort items they can donate can send in video messages. Indeed, numerous community members have shared messages of thanks.

The variety of home-made donations has delighted and surprised Dickinson. People have sent in knitted stress balls and crocheted blankets, as well as hand-made masks.

“All the donations are evaluated by folks from environmental health and safety,” Dickinson said. A mask that’s “not surgical grade wouldn’t make it into an operating room, but there are other uses.”

The donation channel started because community leaders eager to help reached out to Dickinson, whose job in community relations has put her in touch with these groups over the years.

“We decided we better put a process in place so everybody stays safe and we know what’s coming in,” Dickinson said.

Donors can bring their contributions into the assigned building or can leave it in the parking lot if they want to minimize contact or don’t want to enter a building.

When Dickinson logs off each night, she comes back to her computer the next morning to find over 100 requests for donation times in her email.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” she said.

The Three Village Civic Association and numerous Facebook groups have reached out to her on a regular basis to see what else she might need.

Dickinson said one of the many people who reached out to her expressed her appreciation for how Stony Brook reacted when she had an issue with the university. The resident was frustrated with equipment on campus that was causing a humming noise in her house.

“We were able to modify how much sound came out” of the equipment, Dickinson said. As the university manages through a crisis that strains their staff and resources, the resident said she wanted to return the favor.

The resident told Dickinson, “you were so helpful to me. Now, we want to help you,” Dickinson said.

PJS/Terryville Civic Association vice president Ed Garboski gives blood to the NYBC donor center at 1010 Route 112. Photo from Garboski

As national nonprofits and local hospitals are encouraging residents to donate blood as the coronavirus crisis has not only strained health care facilities but also caused a depletion of the region’s blood supply. 

The American Red Cross said they are facing a severe blood shortage due to an unprecedented number of blood drive cancellations in response to the coronavirus outbreak. Nearly 2,700 Red Cross blood drives have been canceled, and in the eastern New York region 23 blood drives have been canceled. 

In total, cancellations have resulted in 86,000 fewer blood donations. More than 80 percent of the blood the Red Cross collects comes from blood drives, according to the organization. 

The shortage has prompted concerns about how hospitals will treat medical emergencies. According to the Red Cross, a single blood donation can be used to save multiple lives and about one in seven hospital admissions requires a blood transfusion. 

“Unfortunately, when people stop donating blood, it forces doctors to make hard choices about patient care, which is why we need those who are healthy and well to roll up a sleeve and give the gift of life.” said Chris Hrouda, president of Red Cross Biomedical Services, in a statement. 

Similarly, The New York Blood Center is urging healthy donors to donate. In addition, they are extending open hours at their donor centers. NYBC operates 19 donor centers across New York and New Jersey. Its Port Jefferson Station Donor Center, located at 1010 Route 112, works closely with St. Charles Hospital. 

NYBC officials said these steps have maintained the blood supply for now but stressed that blood is perishable and the supply must be continually replenished to avoid a shortage. 

NYBC said they are taking extra precautions to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and advise people who are experiencing a cold, sore throat, respiratory infection or flu-like symptoms to avoid donor centers. 

Stony Brook University Hospital is currently accepting blood donations as well. 

Hospital officials said they are constantly monitoring the blood supply situation at its facilities and assured residents that donating blood is safe. Donors are health screened at the hospital entrance, and the donor room is not crowded. The screening process includes completing a form regarding recent travel history and potential acute respiratory symptoms and COVID-19 exposure.

The hospital is accepting blood donations from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays. People can call 631-444-2626 to make an appointment.

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The need for hospital beds to manage the ongoing coronavirus crisis continues to build each day. Earlier today, County Executive Steve Bellone (D) reported 103 people were in the Intensive Care Unit with the Covid-19 virus, which is more than double the number in the ICU in the last two days.

“We know hospitals are working on innovative solutions,” Bellone said on a daily conference call with reporters. “Those will continue to happen as we seek to get equipment and supplies to fight the virus.”

At the same time, more people are seeking food assistance, as the number of people applying to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program reached 222 yesterday, which is up from an average of about 75 before the pandemic reached the county.

Bellone said he has heard mixed information from financial institutions as they have responded to businesses that are in various levels of distress amid New York Pause, which closed non essential businesses and slowed the economy.

The county exec said his office will be speaking with representatives from the financial services industry, adding, “we will be working to align what is being done with respect to business loans and mortgages, fines and penalties.”

Across the county, the number of positive tests for the virus is up to 2,735, as over 9,600 people have received tests. Stony Brook Hospital’s mobile site has conducted about 4,000 of those tests.

Including the ICU patients, the number of people hospitalized with the respiratory virus stands at 287.

For the 8th straight day, the number of deaths also climbed. Two people passed away with complications related to the virus. A man in his late 80’s died at Southampton Hospital yesterday and a man in his late 80’s died at Eastern Long Island Hospital on Monday. The total number of deaths connected to the virus in Suffolk County stands at 22.

With an expected surge in the numbers of people infected and the demands on the health care system expected to increase dramatically in the next two to three weeks, Bellone urged the public to follow social distancing and isolate themselves as much as they can.

Bellone himself has been in quarantine for almost two weeks, as he was in contact with Pete Scully, a Deputy Suffolk County executive who tested positive for the virus. Bellone’s quarantine ends Sunday.

For parents and their school-age children, Bellone believed that the date when schools would reopen would likely be after April 1.

“The expectation people should have is that that is going to be extended,” Bellone said. The increase in positive tests, hospital and ICU bed use, and the ongoing rise in virus-related mortalities are all “indications that we are in the thick of this. This wouldn’t be a time when you would be reopening schools.”

Meanwhile, the Suffolk County Police Department has had 46 checks to date of businesses that might be violating the social isolation order or that were non-essential and remained open. The police officers have found that six of the businesses were non-compliant.

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

By Leah Chiappino

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

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

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

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

— Paule Pachter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A food pantry donation. File photo by Elana Glowatz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Jim Ryan

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

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

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

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

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

Bob and MaryLou Whitcomb at their house in Old Field cutting up fabric for the homemade masks. Their neighbor Christine Matthews, along with her children, finishes the job by sewing them. Photo from MaryLou Whitcomb

As hospitals experience a significant lack of protective masks during the growing coronavirus pandemic, locals are looking for ways to assist, using on-hand materials and their own equipment. 

Christine Matthews, along with her children, helps create masks for healthcare workers at her house in Old Field. Photo from MaryLou Whitcomb

Rebecca Kassay, who co-owns the Fox and Owl Inn in Port Jefferson, started a Facebook group, Suffolk County Creators of COVID19 Medical Supplies, to not only get the word out that there’s a need for homemade supplies but also to make sure locals are crafting these items the right way.

Kassay said there has been a growing demand for aid, and with so many people home from work and school, many are looking for ways they can help out.

“That’s what the group is aiming to do — to focus all of that information into one place,” she said.

Groups like Kassay’s have popped up all across the country as news of this lack of personal protective equipment grows. A national Facebook group called Open Source COVID19 Medical Supplies has put forward a countrywide initiative to crowdsource more of these protective items. This mainly includes gloves, gowns and masks.

The Suffolk group is just getting its legs but have already confirmed donations are accepted in several local places, including the Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead, Pax Christi homeless shelter in Port Jeff, Welcome Friends Soup Kitchen in Port Jeff and Stony Brook University Hospital.

Kassay said the point of her group is to make sure people are making masks to a rigorous standard, following instructions provided by multiple sites including www.project-cloth-masks.com as well as documents provided by the OSCMS.

Angela Clayton, a historical costume designer from Manorville, said she started making masks because she had both the material and the skillset, and knew she needed to put them to use.

“I’m lucky to be financially stable and healthy, I wanted to help in any way I could,” she said. 

The costume designer has been making masks from 100 percent cotton fabric, which can be used as a mask or as a cover for the more sought after N95 medical masks. She got her designs from www.makemasks2020.org, which not only gives designs but partners with groups around the country to get specifically requested designs from the makers to those who need them. 

People all over Long Island have caught onto this trend. Old Field residents Bob and MaryLou Whitcomb, along with their neighbor Christine Matthews and her children Nicole and Connor, have been crafting handmade masks since Friday, March 20. MaryLou said the idea came after a phone call with her sister in Boston, with the person on the other end upset of her own close family members working in the health care field while severely lacking supplies of masks.

So far, the neighborhood team has made around 200 masks, which were mailed to Whitcomb’s sister. They have made masks for doctors in the Old Field area and also have plans to ship more to NYU Langone hospital.

“I thought to myself, we’re all sitting around — why don’t we do something?” MaryLou said. 

There are some issues, including accessing supplies, particularly in terms of elastic, which has proved hard to come by. The Suffolk County Creators group has been trying to crowdsource materials from people who have it, especially the elastic bands. Though now there are more and more examples of people making ties from fabric instead.

Angela Clayton, a historical costume designer from Manorville, has been designing masks for healthcare workers. Photo from Clayton’s instagram

Though area hospitals are loath to admit it, officials have said there is a general lack of PPE material in nearly every medical sector. Some of this is due to people hoarding such devices since the start of the outbreak. As cases ramp up, hospital workers have been dealing with the shortage. There are reported cases of hospital workers using masks meant for just a single encounter for over a week. Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said there are some facilities, including nursing homes, first responders as well as hospitals, that have been reduced to a pittance of the preventative garb and devices.

Though Stony Brook University Hospital officials have said they “have supplies, but need more,” they have started accepting PPE donations. 

“It’s amazing how people can come together to support one another in a time of crisis,” said Stony Brook University Hospital CEO Carol Gomes in an email statement. “We are grateful for the community’s willingness to help one another. We’re all in this together.”

A Stony Brook spokesperson said the hospital is “open to accepting all kinds of donations at this time. They will then be sorted and distributed appropriately.”

Despite this, Suffolk County Health Commissioner Dr. Gregson Pigott said in a phone call with reporters that masks need to be certified if they are to be of any use. Making masks at home is “not advised — we’re looking for masks that can help filter out the virus,” he said. “They need to be certified and tested.”

Kassay said she agrees these masks are not replacements for the professionally made and certified items normally used in the health care sector. At the same time, while other health care providers may have better access to the high filtering top-of-the-line N95 masks, people who work for food pantries, food banks or even just in retail do not have the same access to the high-grade PPE items. Not to mention, there are several designs for masks that can go over the N95 types, potentially allowing them to last longer without being soiled.

For those looking to get into making masks, Clayton said its best to order materials remotely and not threaten the spread of the virus. Use the resources available and try and contact groups that may need masks but are not in the medical field, such as shelters, clinics or senior centers to see what they may need as well.

Kassay said these homemade masks, at the very least, help remind people not to touch their nose or mouth, which experts have recommended people restrict themselves from doing.

“Something is better than nothing,” Kassay said. “We’re all living in this unprecedented time, we’re all wondering what we can do. You want to make sure you’re doing something in the best way possible.” 

County Solicits PPE Supplies from Local Companies

In calls to reporters, Bellone said they simply do not have enough beds and other supplies for what still could be a ballooning of the number of coronavirus cases. Hospitals, officials warned, could be overwhelmed as we head toward a peak number of cases. 

The county announced a donation drive for medical supplies. They are looking for donations of N95 masks, ear loop face masks, gowns and gloves from the construction industry, building trades and others in organized labor, as they are supplies that are often used on work sites. Additionally, the county is soliciting donations of ear loop masks and gloves from the personal service industry.

By the end of Monday, the first day of the drive, Bellone said they have already received “an incredible amount of outpouring and support.” This included 40,000 gloves of various sizes, 3,000 N95 masks, 1,500 gowns and over 3,000 ear loop masks.

Donations can be delivered to the Suffolk County Fire Academy located at 102 East Ave. in Yaphank between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. on weekdays. Residents can email FRESfinance@suffolkcountyny.gov regarding a large donation of supplies or a potential vendor of opportunity.

“You cannot continue to do these supplies on an ad hoc basis.”

— Andrew Cuomo

As of Monday, Long Island is set to receive 33,976 N95 masks, 86,170 surgical masks, 35,350 gloves, 14,512 gowns and 19,709 face shields. Cuomo admitted that even with these supplies, hospitals will need more especially in the long term.

Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) has said New York hospitals would need to increase the number of intensive care unit beds by approximately 18,000 to 37,000 in total to deal with the peak of the pandemic in New York. The governor put out an executive order saying hospitals must increase the number of beds by at least 50 percent.

Companies like 3M, which manufactures the N95 masks, would be shipping half a million masks to New York and Seattle.

But Cuomo said even such beneficial acts by a few companies belies the need for all such companies to step up to the plate. He has urged the Donald Trump (R) administration to invoke the Defense Production Act, which would allow them to order manufacturers to increase production of much-needed PPE items. The president has signed an executive order invoking the act but has yet to make a single order. Cuomo said those companies would be “paid handsomely” for the effort, but that it was needed more than ever.

“You can’t run this operation that way — it can’t just be based on ‘we’re waiting for people to come forward with offers,’” he said at the Monday press conference. “You cannot continue to do these supplies on an ad hoc basis.”