Times of Smithtown

A sharing table at Heritage Park. Photo by Julianne Mosher

By Julianne Mosher and Rita J. Egan

Give a little, take a little — sharing is caring. 

A new phenomenon that has made its way across Long Island — and now the country — is a discreet way to help those in need. 

The Sharing Tables concept, of New York and California, was started up in November by a Seaford mom and her young daughter. 

“I woke up on Sunday, Nov. 22, and me and my 6-year-old daughter didn’t have anything to do that day,” Mary Kate Tischler, founder of the group, said. “We went through our cabinets, got some stuff from the grocery store and started publicizing the table on Facebook.”

The Sharing Table is a simple concept, according to her: “Take what you need and leave what you can, if you can.”

Tischler, who grew up in Stony Brook, said the idea is that whoever sets up a table in front of their home or business will put items out that people might need, with the community coming together to replenish it.

“The very first day people were taking things and dropping things off,” she said. “It was working just as it was supposed to.”

When the table is set up, organizers put out anything and everything a person might need. Some put out nonperishable foods, some put toiletries. Others put toys and books, with some tables having unworn clothing and shoes. No one mans the table. It’s just out front, where someone can discreetly visit and grab what they need.

“Since there’s no one that stands behind the table, people can come up anonymously and take the item without identifying themselves or asking any questions,” Tischler said. ”Some of our neighbors are in a tough time where they can’t pay their bills. I think the Sharing Tables are really helping fill those needs.”

And they’re popping up everywhere. In just three months, the group has nearly 30 Sharing Tables in New York, with one just launched in Santa Monica, California.

Mount Sinai

From clothing to toys, to food and books, Sharing Tables, like the one pictured here in Mount Sinai, are a way to help in a discreet and anonymous way. Photo by Julianne Mosher

On Sunday, Jan. 18, a Sharing Table was put outside the Heritage Trust building at Heritage Park in Mount Sinai.

Victoria Hazan, president of the trust, said she saw the Sharing Tables on social media and knew that the local community needed one, too.

“It was nothing but good, positive vibes,” she said.

When she set up the table with dozens of different items that were donated, people already started pulling up to either grab something they needed or donate to the cause.

“Some people are shy,” Hazan said. “What’s great is that you set up the table and walk away. There’s no judgement and no questions asked.”

What’s available at the tables will vary by community and what donations come in.

“The response from the community blew my mind totally,” Hazan said. “This was the right time to do this.”

St. James

Joanne Evangelist, of St. James, was the first person in Suffolk County to set up a Sharing Table, and soon after, other residents in the county followed.

The wife and mother of two said it was the end of the Christmas season when she was cleaning out drawers and her pantry. On the Facebook page Smithtown Freecycle, she posted that she had stuff to give away if anyone wanted it, but she would find sometimes people wouldn’t show up after she put something aside for them.

“So, I put it on a table outside — not even knowing about the group or thinking anything of it,” she said, adding she would post what was outside on the freecycle page.

Joanne Evangelist stands by her table in St. James filled with food, cleaning supplies and more. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Tischler saw the Smithtown Freecycle post and reached out to Evangelist to see if she would be interested in setting up a Sharing Table. The St. James woman thought it was a good idea when she heard it. While Evangelist regularly has food, toiletries, cleaning products and baby products on the table, from time to time there will be clothing, toys and other random items. Recently, she held a coat drive and the outwear was donated to Lighthouse Mission in Bellport, which helps those with food insecurities and the homeless.

She said she keeps the table outside on her front lawn all day long, even at night, unless it’s going to rain, or the temperatures dip too low. People can pick up items at any time, and she said no one is questioned.

Evangelist said she also keeps a box out for donations so she can organize them on the table later on in the day, and the response from local residents wanting to drop off items has been touching.

She said helping out others is something she always liked to do. 

“I was a candy striper in the hospital when I was younger,” she said. “I just always loved volunteering, and I’m a stay-at-home mom, so, honestly anything I could do … especially with the pandemic.”

Evangelist said she understands what people go through during tough financial times.

“I’ve used a pantry before, so I know the feeling,” she said. “I know the embarrassment of it.”

Northport

Lisa Conway, of Northport, and two of her five children, Aidan, 16, and Kate, 14, set up a Sharing Table after their garage was burglarized on New Year’s Eve.

Conway said her children, who attend St. Anthony’s High School in South Huntington, were looking for a community outreach project. She had seen a post about the Sharing Tables on Facebook and was considering starting one, but she was debating how involved it would be.

Then the Conway’s garage was burglarized where thousands of dollars of tools were stolen, an electric skateboard, dirt bike and more including a generator that was taken from the basement. The wife and mother said the family felt fortunate that the robbers didn’t enter the main part of the house.

Conway said after the experience she realized that some people need to steal to get what they need and decided the Sharing Table would be a good idea.

“They can come take what they need without having to steal from anyone,” she said.

Her children have been helping to organize the items they receive, and every day Aidan will set everything up before school and clean up at night. He said it’s no big deal as it takes just a few minutes each day.

Aidan said there have been more givers than takers.

“People are a lot more generous than what I expected them to be,” he said.

The mother and son said they have been touched by the generosity of their fellow residents. Conway said she’s been using the Nextdoor app mostly to generate contributions. She said she started posting on the app to let people know what they needed for the table. One day after a posting indicating they needed cleaning supplies for the table, they woke up to find the items outside.

The family has also received a $200 Amazon gift card to buy items, and another person bought them a canopy to protect the table. 

Conway said every once in a while, she will be outside when people are picking up items. One woman told her how she drove from Nassau County. Her husband was suffering from three different types of cancer, and he couldn’t work due to his compromised immune system. She told her how they had to pay the bills first, and then if there was money left over they could buy food.

Another day Conway went outside to see that someone had left gum and mints on the table.

“I just was so touched by that,” the mother said. “They wanted to leave something they didn’t just want to take, and that’s all they had.”

Conway said it’s a learning experience for her children to know that there are people on public assistance who can’t use the funds for items such as paper goods or cleaning items, and there are others who are struggling but not eligible for any kind of assistance.

“My youngest one is 9, and even he can’t believe when he sees people pulling up,” she said. “He’s not really in the helping phase but I love that he’s seeing what we’re doing.”

Aidan agreed that it is an important learning experience. He said before he wasn’t familiar with those who had financial issues.

“It’s not good to know that there are people out there with financial issues, but it’s good to know that you can help them,” he said.

Conway said the Sharing Tables came around at the right time as she was suffering from “COVID fatigue,” and it changed her outlook on life.

“I feel like my faith in humanity has been restored,” she said.

How you can help

Tischler said that if people would like to donate but cannot get to a Sharing Table, there is an Amazon wish list on the group’s Facebook page. Items ordered through the site will be delivered to Tischler’s home, where she will personally deliver to the Sharing Tables across Long Island. Addresses for locations are listed on the Facebook page.

“It’s been such a whirlwind,” she added. “I have to stop and pinch myself and take stock of what’s happening.”

Stock photo

PSEG Long Island is alerting customers about scams from people impersonating employees and demanding immediate payment.

The utility said scammers contacted more than 500 customers between Dec. 20 and Jan. 2, alleging overdue balanced and threatening to cut off power.

PSEG said some scammers have used a standard tactic of asking customers to buy a prepaid debit card, such as Green Dot, to pay for their alleged overdue bill, while others demanded payment through Zelle, an online fund transfer platform.

PSEG LI, however, offers numerous payment options and does not accept prepaid debit cards or Zelle.

“Somebody represents themselves as one of our employees, states that the customer is in arrears [and] gives them a couple of hours to get some pressure going,” said Robert Vessichelli, senior security investigator for PSEG Long Island. “They say they are going to cut power in a matter of two hours.”

Phone scammers, who have typically come from out of the country in places like India and the Dominican Republic, had started off by targeting mostly commercial accounts, Vessichelli said. Usually, people running a business may have an administrator paying their bills and they may not be sure if their advisor or accountant made payment.

“They are more vulnerable, especially people who deal with perishable goods” because losing power could have dramatic consequences on their business, Vessichelli said.

More recently, scammers have targeted a geographic area, as PSEG has collected numerous calls from the same neighborhoods.

The money scammers request is usually an odd number, such as $498.95. Some of the people scammed have paid as much as over $5,000. The average scam payment is closer to $500.

Some of these scams encourage people to send money several times, claiming that the funds never transferred. In one case, Vessichelli said the scammers received money three times, each time making a phony promise that they would return overpaid funds.

Vessichelli warned customers not to rely on caller ID because some of these scammers spoof the number and identification to make it look like PSEG is calling.

Since August of 2013, the number of people who have reported scam calls or visits is 23,326, with about 1,194 people, or 5.1%, falling victim to these efforts.

In 2013, the percentage of people who paid these fraudulent claims was over 10 percent, but that number has fallen as the company has made a concerted effort to educate consumers.

“We would never make a phone call and say, ‘We’re going to cut your service off in two hours,’” Vessichelli said. “That’s not the procedure we use. We would contact people numerous times and try to give them a payment agreement. “

The company also said it had suspended electrical cut off for non-payment during the pandemic.

In addition to the calls, some scammers show up at people’s doors and even wear clothing with the PSEG emblem and have the company name on their cars.

The people who come to the door sometimes work with a partner who searches the house for jewelry, cash or other valuables, while someone allegedly checks electrical equipment or the meter.

Vessichelli urged customers concerned about an unannounced visit from someone claiming to be from PSEG to call the company to confirm that the person is a legitimate employee. The number to call is (800) 490-0025. Customers can also call that number to check on the validity of a call they suspect may be a scam.

Vessichelli said PSEG has had occasion to knock on customers’ doors in case of a temporary outage or other problem. If customers prefer to call the company before allowing anyone entry in their houses, the technician can wait.

Customers have received calls from people claiming that they owe money for a deposit for priority meter installation. PSEG said customers are not required to pay a deposit for such installations.

PSEG said customers can recognize a scammer because he or she may ask for email for payment in prepaid debit cards or a MoneyGram transfer, or to send money to an out-of-state address.

PSEG urged customers not to arrange payment or reveal account information or personal information, such as social security numbers or credit or debit card numbers, over the phone.

Genuine PSEG representatives will explain why they are calling and provide the account name, address and current balance. If the information is incorrect, the customer is likely speaking with a scammer.

SBU Journalism Newsroom

Stony Brook University recently announced that the School of Journalism will be renamed to the School of Communication and Journalism. The School is the first, and only, in the 64-campus SUNY system that is accredited by the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications (ACEJMC).

The new name aligns more closely with the School’s expanding undergraduate and graduate degree programs, and with the increased demand for professionals with backgrounds and experience in different communication-related disciplines.

“Communication goes beyond journalism, and Stony Brook’s School of Communication and Journalism will offer new opportunities for our students to explore important fields in science communication, health communication and mass communication, in addition to journalism,” Fotis Sotiropoulos, interim university provost and dean of the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences said.

In the past year, the School has begun to offer graduate programs in science communication, in collaboration with the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, and in public health, in collaboration with the Stony Brook Program in Public Health. Additional programs are in development.

“Faculty at the School and the Alda Center work closely on communication research, particularly in the field of science communication, and by renaming the School, we will be able to foster additional communication research,” said Laura Lindenfeld, dean of the School, executive director of the Alda Center, and vice provost for academic strategy and planning at Stony Brook. “Effective communication builds trust among people, enhances mutual understanding, and creates opportunities for collaboration. Now more than ever, we need effective communicators, and Stony Brook is eager to help fill that need.”

The School of Journalism was founded in 2006 and enrolls approximately 250 students. Its faculty include Pulitzer Prize winners, award-winning international and foreign correspondents, and experts in digital innovation. Graduates have gone on to work as reporters and media professionals at organizations around the country, including the New York Times, Buzzfeed, Moth Radio Hour, Council of Foreign Relations, Major League Baseball, and Nieman Lab.

The School is home to the Alda Center, the Marie Colvin Center for International Reporting and the Center for News Literacy. It also offers the Robert W. Greene Summer Institute for High School Journalists, a one-week intensive program designed to introduce students from across Long Island and New York City to the possibilities of journalism as a career.

Learn more about the School of Communication and Journalism at www.stonybrook.edu/commcms/journalism/

The Smithtown Township Arts Council is pleased to announce Winners Showcase I, a fine art exhibition featuring five winning artists from 2020 exhibitions. The exhibit is currently on view at the Mills Pond Gallery in St. James through Feb. 6.

 Smithtown artist Lucia Alberti enjoys painting landscapes in acrylics. Lucia finds it most comfortable to paint from her imagination, incorporating subjects she finds of interest. This allows Lucia to “create a story in her mind of another place and moment in time, while trying to capture a glimpse of it upon my canvas.” Lucia’s work has been exhibited widely in galleries across Long Island.

Huntington Station artist Shain Bard’s paintings evoke a sense of a moment captured in time that people can all subconsciously relate to. The way the light filters through the leaves of a small forest, the driver’s view of dappled sun shining through the trees on a Sunday drive, or of a snowy sunset on a suburban street.  “Nature and art are within and without us, something close to what I would call ‘home’. It is those moments when we most fully connect to our surroundings, those held-breath moments that I am interested in.”

Northport artist Margaret Minardi’s mixed media paintings juxtapose realism and expressionism. Combining years of classical training with a pure gestural mark making, she is inspired by the Expressionists of the 1950’s collage.  “I am constantly in search of new mediums and processes that can be synthesized into my works. “Important to me is serendipity. Mistakes keep me interested, intellectually challenged, and excited.” Within Margaret’s works, the viewer is constantly challenged to interpret and reinterpret what they see. There is a narrative beneath the surface of all her works. “Each brushstroke is a voice for my inner world.”

Valley Stream artist Mike Stanko, a lifelong Long Islander, has been showing his unique and whimsical art for over 20 years.  From his home in Valley Stream to the world beyond, he finds endless inspiration in the iconic, the familiar as well as the mundane — sunflowers, beach scenes, maybe even a grilled cheese sandwich. His paintings are bold and eye-catching and like the artist, convey joy, a sense of humor and a love of life.

Kings Park artist Pamela Waldroup is a fine art photographer whose work is about “hyper-focusing on the subject to solidify my own experience and provoke a memory, real or imagined, to surface both for the viewer and me.” She will exhibit black & white photographs from her series City Perspectives — Inside and Out. The works in this project “voice my strong desire to capture interactions between human, environmental and industrial elements through a geometric approach found in the repetitive patterns and shapes.” As an art educator, Pamela taught photography (darkroom and digital) and fine arts for 33 years.

The Mills Pond Gallery is located at 660 Route 25A in St. James. Gallery hours are Wed. to Fri., 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sat.; Sun. from noon to 4 p.m.; closed Mondays. Admission to the gallery is free. Masks are mandatory. For more information, call 631-862-6575 or visit www.millspondgallery.org.

By Barbara Anne Kirshner

In this strange new world of plexiglass partitions, floor stamps marking 6 foot separations and arrows directing us down aisles, it is comforting to climb those creaky wooden steps, open that squeaky green door, enter the circa 1857 house that is the St James General Store and travel back to colonial times.

I was first introduced to this singular establishment as a little girl by my Aunt Nancy who lived in Smithtown. Upon entering the store, I was met with a delectable, sweet scent that wafted through the air. Rows of glass canisters housing assorted old-fashioned candies from licorice to malted milk balls to nonpareils to ribbon candy to fudge was enough to make any child’s eyes sparkle, especially a child with a sweet tooth as big as mine. 

We walked down the long aisle opposite the candy counter where bric-a-brac reminiscent of the Victorian era was displayed. Toward the back of that counter was a glass case containing one of a kind pieces of jewelry.

The back room of the store was a treat for any child and child at heart with displays of old fashioned toys including Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls, wooden yoyos, assorted crafts and stuffed animals. 

Opposite the toy counter was a rack of beautiful hats hinting of Victorian charm in an array of colors and decorated with ribbons, flowers or feathers. Shelves of unique scarves and gloves were arranged next to the hat rack.

We rounded the corner and headed up the rickety wooden staircase to a large room that contained a library divided into sections with books related to Long Island, children’s literature, travel and Victorian genre.

Beyond the book section, we stepped into the Christmas room where we were met with an enchanting kingdom of Christmas trees decorated with unique ornaments, stars and angels.

After my Aunt Nancy and I completed our tour, we returned to the candy counter where she invited me to choose some confection as a souvenir of our visit. I went for my favorites, the malted milk balls. As she drove us back to her house, I popped one of these delectable treats in my mouth letting it luxuriously melt away. To my delight, this tasty morsel seemed triple wrapped in rich milk chocolate; easily the best version of itself I have ever tasted and I pride myself on being a malted milk ball connoisseur.

I have returned to the St. James General Store at different stages in my life and to my delight everything has always remained the same. I have brought friends and family there, eager to see their eyes light up at every twist and turn.

I recently returned to the store for the first time since this COVID pandemic assaulted all our lives. Though the woman behind the candy counter is now separated from the public by plexiglass, I emitted a great big sigh of relief taking comfort in the familiarity from within. Everything is the same as I remember dating back to my first visit with my beloved Aunt Nancy.

If you would like a trip back to a happier, simpler time, stop into the St. James General Store where a sense of comfort will swaddle you the moment you step beyond that green door.

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

All photos by Barbara Anne Kirshner

President Franklin D. Roosevelt

It was during Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first inauguration address in 1933 when he uttered the famous sentence, “So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

It was a call to Americans to work together to fight against dark times.

Our country has known collective terror throughout the decades, and 2020 will be remembered as the year we feared an invisible virus and people taking advantage of peaceful protests by looting stores and burning cars. That trepidation carried over into the new year as citizens watched as extremists sieged the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

Nearly 90 years after Roosevelt called for Americans to fight fear, we find ourselves afraid of our fellow citizens. Since the attack on the People’s House in Washington, D.C., members of Congress are worried that their safety, as well as that of their family members, is in jeopardy. Some even believe their own colleagues will harm them if they speak out against former President Donald Trump (R). Rep. Peter Meijer (R-MI-03), a freshman congressman, told CNN he was afraid of possible threats after he voted to impeach Trump.

The fear has trickled down to our own neighborhoods as many are hesitant to speak their opinions, afraid if their views are more conservative than others they will be tied to the extremists who assaulted the Capitol.

There are those who once wouldn’t think twice about standing on a corner to protest or rally, even if people who held opposing views were right across the street. Now many are hesitant that their words might be met with foul language, assault and worse.

Many this past summer, during protests, witnessed foul language being exchanged between protesters and anti-protesters. Black Lives Matters participants in a rally in Smithtown in June took to social media alleging that they were assaulted. In September, a Massapequa man was arrested for allegedly assaulting a 64-year-old man who was rallying with the North Country Patriots, a conservative group that meets on the corner of Bennetts Road and Route 25A every Saturday morning.

Our times have become so divisive that many have forgotten the adversities Americans have gone through together — the Great Depression, the world wars, 9/11 and more. These horrific events didn’t leave us weaker, they left us stronger.

We became stronger because we live in a country where we have the right to pursue happiness, the right to gather, the right to express our opinions and so much more. And while we may not have the right to use those words and actions to cause harm to others or property, we have those rights.

Most of our fellow Americans get that. So let’s move forward together, stronger and more fearlessly than before with knowledge and empathy, embracing our freedoms and respecting that others in this country enjoy the same rights.

Priya Kapoor. Photo by Heidi Sutton

The Smithtown Historical Society has received a grant of $2,000 from the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation for expenses generated during Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Executive Order, New York State on PAUSE. The announcement was made in a press release on Jan. 4.

“We received the grant in 2020 when the times were rough, and we had canceled all our fundraising events due to COVID-19. We used the grant money at a very crucial time,” said Executive Director Priya Kapoor. “We are grateful to the Gardiner Foundation for their support during these extraordinary times!”

Pexel photo

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

What do we do when we meet someone new in 2021 IRL, or, to the 12 uninitiated readers, “in real life?”

Well, for starters, we can’t and shouldn’t shake hands. That ritual is probably long gone. Maybe the Japanese were right with bowing. If handshakes are out, hugs, even for those we might have been speaking to for months during the isolated pandemic, are absolutely forbidden.

If we can’t hug grandma, grandpa and other relatives we’ve known most or all of our lives, we certainly can’t hug, even casually, someone new.

Ideally, we’d stand somewhere between six and 60 feet away from them, especially if we’re inside. That could be problematic for people who can’t hear all that well and who don’t have the benefit of reading anyone’s lips anymore. 

In fact, I’m thinking of going into the business of selling those Mission Impossible voice changers. If you’ve seen the movies, you know that the Tom Cruise teams can change their voices to sound like everyone else. Most of us who have heard our own voices on voicemail would like a few moments to sound more like James Earl Jones or Scarlett Johansson. Maybe we like our own voice, but we’d prefer to have a British, Australian or New Zealand accent. We could change our accents, the way we change the navigational voice on Siri and ask people if they know where we’re pretending we were raised.

Now, what we discuss is a bit tricky in the hypersensitive, polarized world of 2021. Someone who’s walking a dog most likely would be happy to talk about their four-footed companion. 

I’ve been surprised by the type of questions and information people seek when they talk about my dog. People have asked not only how old he is, but also how much he weighs, as if dogs around his size are in some kind of modeling contest. Fortunately, my dog doesn’t seem particularly concerned about his weight, as he demonstrates regularly with a feverish appetite for everything from broccoli to french fries to cat vomit. Yes, he eats cat vomit, which means that if I cook something he won’t eat, he thinks it tastes worse than cat vomit, a notion that delights my teenage children.

Now, if you’re thinking about politics, you probably should keep that to yourself. Unless someone is wearing a MAGA hat or has some version of Dump Trump on a T-shirt, it’s tough to know where they stand on the plate tectonic sized political divide.

We can talk about sports, but we run the risk of someone telling us how irrelevant sports is in the modern world during a pandemic or how they wish they could return to the age when sports mattered.

Children seem like fair game, although we have to watch out for many age-related minefields. 

My son, for example, is a senior in high school. Some parents are happy to tell you all the colleges that accepted and rejected their children, while others are content to share what city or even what coast intrigues their progeny, as in, “yes, my son has only applied to schools on the East Coast or in states with fewer than seven letters” (there are nine states in that category, by the way).

So, where does that leave us in the strange world where we’re all putting on masks before we go into a bank (imagine taking a time machine from 1999 and seeing those entering a bank without masks getting into trouble?) Well, the weather is often safe, as are dogs, the disruption the pandemic caused and, generally speaking, children.

Male cardinal. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Three things I want to tell you about today. 

The first is of a friend who knocks on my window each day that the sun is out. At first, he annoyed me, distracting me from my keyboard or my Zoom screen. But as the social distancing and the isolating in place have continued, I changed my tune. 

When he doesn’t come, I miss him for he keeps me company. He has brought color to my winter world with his improbable crimson feathers easy to spot among the brown limbs of the naked trees and the often slate sky. By now you have probably guessed that I am referring to a cardinal, one who calls my property his home, too. 

He is not just content to share my trees, however. He wants in to my house. Well, not exactly. When the sun is shining, he sees a reflection of my surrounding bushes in my glass windows and thinks he can just continue to fly in their direction. I give him a high mark for determination because he tries over and over again. 

At the same time, I have to give him a low mark for intelligence because he doesn’t seem to learn from his abrupt crashes that the way is blocked for him. I guess the term “bird brain” would be appropriate, but I don’t want to discourage him since he reminds me that there is life outside my house, and he doesn’t seem to cause himself any damage with his efforts.

The second thing to share is that we have binged our way through the eight episodes of “Bridgerton,” a new historic series on Netflix, and I would give it a B+. It’s a little slow and talky, in the way of Jane Austen, but it has real worth for some of its subject matter. The main theme deals with the impossible position of upper class women in 19th century Europe.

The poor things had but two goals in life: to marry well and to produce heirs. This was for the good of the family and only incidentally for their own benefit, so they suffered from lots of family pressure and control. That’s old hat, though, for us 21st century viewers.

However, the series is somewhat original for populating London in the 1800s with a totally integrated cast. The Duke is black and the debutante is white, but that’s just for starters. The one theme that’s absent is any discussion of racism. There is none. You can pretty well guess how the love story ends up, but it’s fun watching the couple and their supporting cast get there.

The third subject is more serious and important to share. You know by now that our new president is making it mandatory to wear face masks in federal buildings and on planes, trains and buses that cross state lines. He is also urging the rest of us to wear masks at least for his first 100 days in office. “Observational studies have suggested that widespread mask wearing can curb infections and deaths on an impressive scale, in settings as small as hair salons and at the level of entire countries,” according to an article by Katherine J. Wu in the Science section of this past Tuesday’s The New York Times.

Now comes further advice about mask wearing. Double-masking is even better and for obvious reasons. In order for the droplets that carry the virus to get to our nose and mouth, they have to work their way through the tangle of threads in a cloth mask or the filter in a surgical one. Double the masks and we double the difficulty. The best arrangement, we are advised, would be a face-hugging cloth mask over a surgical mask. As if one weren’t miserable enough, now we are urged two.

Yes, the vaccines are here and more are coming, but it will take a while for the logistics of delivery to get ironed out. And the numbers of patients stricken with the disease keep escalating, so we have to continue to maintain our distancing, our hygiene and yes, our masks.

By John L. Turner

Situated a mile east of Orient Point, the eastern tip of the North Fork and separated from it by Plum Gut, lies Plum Island, an 822-acre pork-chop shaped island that is owned by you and me (being the federal taxpayers that we are). 

The island’s most well-known feature is the Plum Island Animal Disease Center (PIADC), situated in the northwestern corner of the property, but Plum Island is so much more. On the western edge lays the Plum Island lighthouse which was built in 1869 to warn mariners of the treacherous currents of Plum Gut. On the east there’s the brooding presence of Fort Terry, a relict of the Spanish-American War, with scattered evidence in the form of barracks, gun batteries, and the tiny tracks of a toy gauge railroad once used to move cannon shells from storage to those concrete batteries. (The cannons never fired except during drills).

And there’s the stuff that excites naturalists:

■ The largest seal haul-out site in southern New England located at the eastern tip of the island where throngs of harbor and grey seals swim along the rocky coastline or bask, like fat sausages, on the off-shore rocks that punctuate the surface of the water.

■ The more than 225 different bird species, one-quarter of all the species found in North America, that breed here (like the bank swallows that excavate burrows in the bluff face on the south side of the island), or pass through on their seasonal migratory journeys, or overwinter.

■ Dozens of rare plants, like ladies’-tresses orchids, blackjack oak, and scotch lovage that flourish in the forests, thickets, meadows, and shorelines of Plum Island.

■ A large freshwater pond in the southwestern section of the island that adds visual delight and biological diversity to the island. 

■ And, of course, the ubiquitous beach plums that gave the island its name!

For the past decade a struggle has ensued to make right what many individuals, organizations of all sorts (including the more than 120-member Preserve Plum Island Coalition), and many public officials consider a significant wrong — Congress’s order to sell Plum Island to the highest bidder, forever losing it as a public space. 

This ill-conceived path of auctioning the island was set in motion by a half-page paragraph buried in a several thousand- page bill to fund government agencies in 2009. Fortunately, this struggle has been won — the wrong has been righted — as language included in the recently adopted 2021 budget bill for the federal government, repeals the requirement that the General Services Administration sell the island. 

Thank you to Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Senators Christopher Murphy and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and members of Congress Lee Zeldin,Tom Suozzi, Rosa DeLauro and Joe Courtney!

Thanks is also due to New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright who sponsored legislation that was signed into law creating a Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle area in the waters surrounding Plum Island.

While this victory is a vital and necessary step to ultimately protect Plum Island, it is a temporary and incomplete one since the island can still be sold to a private party through the normal federal land disposition process if no government agency at the federal, state, or local level steps up to take title to the island. 

The Coalition’s next task, then, is to ensure that a federal agency such as the National Park Service (National Monument?), U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (National Wildlife Refuge?) or the state of New York (New York State Park Preserve?) expresses a willingness to accept stewardship of this magnificent island, since they get first dibs to the island if they want it. A key enticement toward this end is the $18.9 million commitment in the budget to clean up the few contaminated spots on the island.

Why the sale in the first place? Since 1956 PIADC has been conducting top level research on highly communicable animal diseases such as foot-and-mouth disease. To this end, several years ago staff developed a vaccine for this highly contagious disease that holds great promise in controlling the disease globally.

Despite this successful research, Congress determined the facility was obsolete and should be replaced, approving the construction of a new state-of-the-art facility, known as the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF), to be located on the campus of Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas. NBAF is complete and will soon be fully operational so as a result PIADC is no longer needed; PIADC is expected to transfer all operations to Kansas and close for good in 2023.

Plum Island is a rare place — a remarkable asset that holds the promise of enriching Long Islanders’ lives —your family’s lives, if we can keep it in public ownership. The Preserve Plum Island Coalition, with the input from hundreds of Long Islanders, has painted a vision for the island … so, imagine throwing binoculars, a camera, and a packed lunch enough for you and your family into your backpack and participating in this realized vision by:

— Taking a ferry across to the island, debarking to orient your island adventure by visiting a museum interpreting the cultural and natural riches and fascinating history of the island before you wander, for countless hours, to experience the wild wonders of the island. A most worthwhile stop is the island’s eastern tip where, through a wildlife blind, you enjoy watching dozens of bobbing grey and harbor seals dotting the water amidst the many partially submerged boulders.

— Standing on the edge of the large, tree-edged pond, watching basking turtles and birds and dragonflies flitting over the surface.

-Birdwatching on the wooded trails and bluff tops to view songbirds, shorebirds, ospreys and other birds-of-prey, swallows, sea ducks and so many other species. Perhaps you’ll see a peregrine falcon zipping by during fall migration, sending flocks of shorebirds scurrying away as fast as their streamlined wings can take them.

— Strolling along the island’s eight miles of undisturbed coastline, with the beauty of eastern Long Island before you, offering distant views of Great Gull, Little Gull and Gardiner’s Islands, Montauk Point, and the Connecticut and Rhode Island coastlines.

— Lodging at the Plum Island lighthouse, converted into a Bed & Breakfast and enjoying a glass of wine as the sun sets over Plum Gut and Orient Point.

— Learning about the role Fort Terry played in protecting the United States and the port of New York as your explore the many parts of the fort — the barracks where soldiers stayed, the gun batteries that once housed the cannons angled skyward to repel a foreign attack.

— At the end of day, if you don’t stay over, taking the ferry back to the mainland of the North Fork, tired after many miles of hiking in the salt air of the East End stopping at a North Fork restaurant to share a chat among friends and family about what you’ve learned relating to this fascinating place.

This legislation has given Plum Island (based on the above perhaps we should call it Treasure Island!) a second chance and an opportunity for us to achieve this vision. But this law is only the first step. We need to take the vital second step of new ownership and management in the public interest if all of the above adventures are to become realities. We collectively need to tell those elected officials who represent us, and who can make a difference in determining the island’s fate, that we want Plum Island protected in perpetuity and the opportunity for its many wonders to become interwoven into the fabric of life on Long Island. 

Go to www.preserveplumisland.org to learn more about the Coalition, receive updates, and what you can do to help.

John Turner is the spokesperson for the Preserve Plum Island Coalition.