Town of Brookhaven

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.”

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/

Rigatoni with shrimp at Pasta Pasta in Port Jefferson. Photo by Kimberly Brown

By Kimberly Brown

Long Island Restaurant Week has created a new spin on its yearly week-long dining event — but this year takeout will be the focus due to the precautions of COVID-19.

The event is running from Jan. 24 through 31 and select restaurants will feature a $25, $35 or $42 three-course prix fixe available for takeout. Customers are still allowed to dine in if they choose to do so.  

Steve Haweeli, president of LIRW, emphasized the importance of the changes made for the event this year.

“This campaign stresses takeout,” he said. “It’s safer from a COVID-19 standpoint, and allows restaurants to save tables for those who dine in.”

A tasty calamari appetizer at Pasta Pasta. Photo by Kimberly Brown

One of the four participating restaurants in Port Jefferson is Pasta Pasta, a popular Italian trattoria that is offering the three-course prix fixe for $35. Owner, Debra Bowling, said one of the good things to come out of the pandemic was the loyalty from her customers, and knowing the support she has from them.

“The customers would come up to order takeout and say, ‘Are we helping? Are you OK?’” she said.

Bowling added that at the beginning of the pandemic, customers would visit the restaurant and give money to the workers in the kitchen because they knew their hours were cut.

“It’s so overwhelming,” she said. “Sometimes I get choked up. It’s a very warm feeling.”

Some of her customer’s favorites include the tortelloni stuffed with six cheeses, filet mignon, wasabi calamari and the bacon-wrapped shrimp.

“We have customers that come in for the same thing every week,” Bowling added. “It’s so funny — it never changes.” 

Wave Seafood & Steak and The Club a Public Steakhouse, are also participating in LIRW. While both are operated by Crest Hospitality, the restaurants have their own ambience.

Wave Seafood overlooks the marina, and The Club a Public Steakhouse is located on a cliff over-looking the Long Island Sound. Both spots will be offering the $35 three-course prix fixe for take-out or dine in as well. 

Outdoor insulated igloos are good balance between indoor and outside dining at Danfords. Photo by Kimberly Brown

Michael Lang, vice president of food and beverage with Crest Hospitality, explained the attributes that he considers make his restaurants stand out.

“Three simple reasons — the food, the service and the views.” he said, “We provide a great experience for people who come, and for $35 this is a great opportunity if you haven’t been to our restaurants before.”

Learning to roll with the punches of the pandemic, both restaurants also provide enclosed, heated, outdoor seating. Wave Seafood offers insulated igloos to rent, which are located on the deck. 

“Every day you learn something new,” Lang said. “You learn to manage day-to-day and go with the flow to make it work as best as you can, and we have had a lot of good successes come out of that.” 

Ruvo East is the fourth Port Jefferson restaurant joining The Club, Wave and Pasta Pasta with a $35 prix-fixe menu.

To see menus or find other restaurants across Long Island participating, visit www.longislandrestaurantweek.com.

Holtsville Hal’s handler, Greg Drossel, introduces Hal to the crowd during a previous celebration. Photo from Town of Brookhaven

Six more weeks of winter or an early spring? On Tuesday, Feb. 2, Town of Brookhaven Superintendent Daniel P. Losquadro will announce Holtsville Hal’s famous forecast in a virtual ceremony to stream live on Facebook from the Holtsville Ecology Site.

According to tradition, if a groundhog sees its shadow after stirring from hibernation on Groundhog Day, there will be six more weeks of winter weather; if not, spring should arrive early. Hal’s forecast will be revealed at approximately 7:25 a.m. 

“Our annual Groundhog Day celebration is an enjoyable tradition for many local families,” Superintendent Losquadro said. “While we are disheartened that we will not be able to open the ceremony to members of the public this year due to potential COVID risks, families will still be able to see Holtsville Hal and learn of his prognostication.”

The online ceremony, which will begin at 7:15 a.m., can be viewed at Facebook.com/brookhavenwildlifecenter and Facebook.com/danlosquadrohwysuperintendent. It will also be viewable on the Town of Brookhaven website, www.BrookhavenNY.gov/896/Groundhog-Day, throughout the day for those who miss the live stream.

Photo by Kyle Barr

By Rich Acritelli

Through these daunting times, the men and women in the Armed Services have always made this nation proud of their efforts to protect, preserve and promote the ideals of this nation at home and abroad.

Earlier this month, Tommy Fricke and his workers from Fricke Memorial added a tribute to the Rocky Point Veterans Square on the corner of Broadway and 25A — another reminder of national service to local residents — through the Combat Medic Joseph P. Dwyer Statue.  

This statue of Dwyer identifies the terrible impact of post traumatic stress disorder on combat veterans that have returned home after being involved in serious fighting. Since 1915, this recognized brain trauma, from the impact of fighting on a soldier was identified as “shell shocked.”  

There was no significant counseling that was offered by the government to properly treat millions of men and women from these different conflicts. Little was offered in therapy to the veteran that had fought over the skies of Europe, or who landed at D-Day, or through the island-hopping campaigns in the Pacific and Asia. 

In many cases, veterans were told to forget about their experiences, go home, get married, attend college, find a job and start a family.  

Photo by Kyle Barr

It is highly possible that many of the people who drive by the Dwyer Statue had family members who had no significant help to deal with PTSD. Some men and women had nightmares, outbursts, flashbacks and were in dire need of mental and physical attention that was not provided to them. 

According to the Veterans Administration, the most recent Gulf War veterans that served during Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom have been inflicted from 11-20 veterans out of every 100. During Desert Storm, the figure is 12 out of every 100 veterans have suffered from PTSD.  

And these numbers are staggering for Vietnam veterans, who at one point in their life had to deal with the enormous pressures of their service. It is estimated that at least 30% of Vietnam Veterans endured PTSD.  

This new statue focuses on the strength of American service, and the responsibilities of our government to care for all the members of the Armed Forces when they return home.  

As a child, Dwyer attended elementary school at Infant Jesus in Port Jefferson and graduated from Mount Sinai High School in 1994. As a young man, he enjoyed playing golf and going fishing with his friends and family. After he left high school, Dwyer moved to North Carolina with his parents and was employed at a local hospital where he transported people who needed medical treatment. 

According to his older sister Kristine, Dwyer was a peaceful man who always wanted to care for others.  When America was attacked on Sept. 11, 2001, after watching the assault on this nation, he tried to enlist that very day into the army but had to wait until Sept. 12. He eventually graduated from Basic and Advanced Individual Training from Fort Benning, Georgia, where he became a combat medic.  

Shortly after finishing his training, Dwyer was sent to Fort Bliss, Texas, where he vaccinated soldiers that were deployed overseas. On Feb. 15, 2003, he married his sweetheart, Matina, in Troy, North Carolina.  

When President George W. Bush (R) ordered American soldiers to be sent to the Middle East to attack Saddam Hussein and Iraq in 2003, Dwyer replaced a single mother, so that she was able to remain home with her child. He was one of the first soldiers to enter Iraq during this war with the 37th Cavalry Regiment. 

Joseph Dwyer in uniform. Photo from Dwyer family

While Dwyer told his family that he was being deployed to a hospital in Kuwait, they had no idea that he was with the leading army units that were on the road toward Baghdad — it wasn’t until the media began to run stories of his actions saving a child when they realized he was serving in Iraq.  

This well-known picture of Dwyer carrying a young child to safety was published and reported across the nation, and around the globe.  But to the day he died, Dwyer repeatedly stated that there was another combat medic that played a pivotal role in saving the life of this young boy. 

It was a difficult deployment for Dwyer who was constantly under attack, lonely and unable to sleep.  An exhausted Dwyer began inhaling computer cleaner Dust-Off to help him sleep a few hours before going back onto duty.  

On June 20, 2008, Dwyer left Iraq and traveled alone to Fort Bliss to eventually meet his wife, where they set up their home. A month later, the couple headed back to Mount Sinai, where he enjoyed the reunion with his family, friends and teachers.  

Right away, his sister realized that he was grossly underweight. He lost over 40 pounds during his time in Iraq. While Kristine cherishes the moment of seeing her brother after his deployment, she is not sure of his true joy, due to his unknown PTSD condition. 

Once he was at home, Dwyer was continually impacted by the issues of his PTSD condition. There were points that when he was driving, that Dwyer feared possible unexploded ordinances that were on the roads. He never held the feeling of personal safety, had disturbing visions, and for the rest of his life, this peaceful man had no personal peace after he served in Iraq. 

Kristine noticed a stare that developed in her brother who always wanted to be outside. Matina observed that her husband never liked going out to dinner, he closely watched the other customers, and always kept an eye on the door. Dwyer eventually gained his discharge from the service, but it was a battle to fight the government to receive his full disability compensation. During his service at home and when he left the army, Dwyer was still unable to sleep, and he continued to inhale Dust-Off.

By the end of his life in 2008, he did not have family members living with him and was unable to hold onto his own mental state. 

The picture that was widely presented across the nation and in different parts of the world was indicative of the kindness of Dwyer, even as he dealt with the horrors of his own personal concerns.

Until he passed away, it was important for Dwyer to have his story truthfully reported that presented the negatives of PTSD, and how it drastically changed the mental state of this peaceful citizen. On June 28, 2008, Dwyer died from the inhalants that he used to cope with the severity of his PTSD. 

Dwyer and his family. Photo from Dwyer family.

In speaking about the memory of her husband, Matina firmly recalls how he always sought to help others with an immense amount of love. This affection was especially demonstrated to his then two-year-old daughter who was called his “little princess.”

Meagan K. Dwyer is now 14 years old with a memory that lives on through family stories and pictures of her father.  

At the end of World War II, the historic Flag Raising at Mount Suribachi, Iwo Jima, was a similar picture that showed the resolve of American service overseas. 

When Ira Hayes, a marine that hoisted this flag during the earliest moments of this terrifying battle, came home, he suffered from PTSD where he drank heavily and agonized over his fellow marines and friends that died on this island. A short time later, he died from excessive drinking. 

Although Hayes passed away nearly 67 years ago, his story is connected to Dwyer. Both veterans were widely documented through a historic picture that rapidly received national acclaim from Americans across this country. 

But the hardships of PTSD never discriminate from one soldier or conflict to the next, and it is vital for this government to always perfect its ways to help combat veterans. 

Martin Luther King Jr. during a visit to Brandeis University in 1957 at the age of 29.

Join Building Bridges in Brookhaven’s 5th annual (and first virtual) Martin Luther King, Jr., Birthday Celebration on Saturday, Jan. 16 from 1:30 to 4:40 p.m. With this year’s theme We’re All in This Together!, the afternoon’s speakers will focus on local issues of environmental racism/ecological devastation and homelessness and offer practical steps to take action.

Co-sponsored by:
The Poor People’s Campaign Long Island Chapter
The Brookhaven Landfill Action and Remedial Group (BLARG)

WEBINAR SCHEDULE
Introduction and Live Music – 1:30 – 2:00 p.m.
“Environmental Racism Hiding in Plain Sight”– 2:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.
“Homelessness & The Poor People’s Campaign’s Winter Offensive” – 3:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Wrap-up and Live Music – 4:00 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.
Webinar will be also be live-streamed via the Building Bridges in Brookhaven Facebook page. For more information, call 928-4317 or email [email protected]

State Senator Mario Mattera at the podium. Photo by Kimberly Brown

By Kimberly Brown

Republican elected officials gathered at a press conference in Hauppauge Thursday, Jan. 14, calling out Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) on the state’s failed vaccine rollout.

Elected officials in Hauppauge. Photo by Kimberly Brown

State senators, including Mario Mattera (R-St. James) and Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk), demanded that Cuomo implement a plan to fix issues that have arisen since the vaccine was authorized to be distributed.

Senior citizen and West Babylon resident, Anna Foley, shared her experience of how difficult it has been to obtain the vaccine, which she has still not received.

“I’m 83 years old, fighting two types of cancer and other underlying medical problems,” she said. “I can’t seem to get anyone to help. I have looked at the New York State website, called pharmacies, doctors, hospitals, and I even tried my union to see if I can get any information, to no avail.”

Foley mentioned the difficulties senior citizens are facing while trying to make an appointment for the vaccine, saying that most people ages 80 and over are not computer savvy, and the locations where the vaccine is administered are too far to drive to.

Mattera pointed out how the federal government still has not released the new vaccine to pharmacy chains like Walgreens and CVS, giving residents fewer options of locations where they can receive the vaccine.

State Senator Mario Mattera at the podium. Photo by Kimberly Brown

In his plea to the governor, Mattera said, “Get the vaccine here and get more locations. Right now, there are four locations, and do you know what they say? They say, ‘We don’t know what to do, we can’t help you.’ It’s unacceptable.”

The partial and full closings of businesses, mandated by Cuomo, were intended to combat rising numbers of COVID-19 cases. However, Palumbo said even though businesses are partially closed, the cases are still increasing.

“The Legislature needs to get involved, we need to get control back,” he said. “We need to get those vaccinations out, and as quickly as possible — not throw them in the garbage.”

Many of the politicians also discussed the bill Cuomo signed into law June 17, which would allow every pharmacist in New York state to administer the COVID-19 vaccine. State Assemblyman Doug Smith (R-Holbrook) demanded to know why the bill has not been put into full force.

“Now we’re in January, governor, where is your plan?” Smith said. “Why is every single pharmacy in the state of New York not able to administer this vaccine?”

 

The Capitol. Stock photo

A lot has happened since the start of 2021, only two weeks ago. 

Shortly before the insurrection at the United States Capitol Jan. 6, Long Island sent four Republicans to the New York State Senate to kick off the new legislative session.

State Senator Anthony Palumbo speaks at TBR News Media during the 2014 election cycle. File photo by Elana Glowatz

Two of those are newly elected Sen. Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) and Sen. Mario Mattera (R-St. James), both local to the North Shore. 

On top of their swearing-in and preparation for the new year ahead, various local and national elected officials released statements surrounding the horrors Americans witnessed that Wednesday.

The two state lawmakers are not condoning what happened Jan. 6.

“Most, if not all, New Yorkers were happy to put the year 2020 behind them and are looking forward to the promise of a better 2021,” Palumbo said. “Sadly, last Wednesday’s storming of the Capitol using acts of violence does not help any cause and instead leads to incarceration.”

Palumbo said he will condemn all lawless attacks on America’s institutions and cities.

State Senator Mario Mattera. File photo.

“I fully support our men and women in law enforcement who continue to find themselves in ever more dangerous situations,” he said. “I appeal to everyone’s better angels, both on the right and left. We must all focus on important issues like public health and economic recovery, not stoking division from the political extremes.”

Mattera said that he supports the right to peaceful protests.

“The right to express views peacefully is a fundamental freedom for all Americans and it is essential to who we are,” he said. “But when the events become violent or unlawful, as they did last week and have in the recent past, those responsible must be held accountable and must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

Mattera said that what was witnessed must not be condoned or excused.  

“There can be no acceptance of these actions regardless of motivations,” he said. “They attacked our men and women in blue, and their actions insulted all who support the First Amendment.”

But he said that through it all and at the end of the day, Americans must work together.

“We must now join together as Americans to show we are stronger when we stand together,” the state senator said. “This nation has stood for over 240 years and we must work together to ensure its future.”

Groups gathered outside local congressional offices demanding that President Donald Trump (R) be impeached and convicted, and for Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY1) to be expelled from Congress following his vote against the certification of Electoral College ballots. 

On Monday, Jan. 11, the group Suffolk Progressives organized the protest and created a petition, demanding Zeldin leave his position. 

Shoshana Hershkowitz, from South Setauket, who founded the group, said they are against the congressman’s vote challenging the results of the 2020 presidential election — even after the deadly riots at the U.S. Capitol Jan. 6. 

“He continued to talk about his feelings despite the evidence from the country,” Hershkowitz said. “On Jan. 2, he put a tweet out saying this is a lie. … Those words unfortunately they came to fruition on Jan. 6.”

After the mass attack on the Capitol by pro-Trump extremists, Zeldin still voted to object the election of President-elect Joe Biden (D), and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris (D). 

“The combination of all of it, and then going back into the chamber after all of this violence and death, refusing to accept those results, trying to overturn the people … it was mind-blowing,” she said.

Upon Zeldin’s vote, Hershkowitz and her group penned a petition that is now up to nearly 2,000 signatures, calling for his expulsion.  

“I was hoping that after all this he would change his tune,” she said.

On Monday, Jan. 11, a group of more than 100 people gathered outside of Zeldin’s Patchogue office. A smaller group of counter-protesters stood across the street. 

Members further west rallied outside Rep. Tom Suozzi’s (D-NY3) Huntington office, asking him to demand that Zeldin be accountable. Suozzi supports the removal of Trump through the 25th Amendment or impeachment. 

The day of the insurrection, Zeldin released a statement.

“This should never be the scene at the U.S. Capitol,” he said. “This is not the America we all love. We can debate, and we can disagree, even on a January 6th following a presidential election. We can all passionately love our country, but in our republic, we elect people to represent us to voice our objections in the House and Senate on this day.”

He added that there must be “zero tolerance for violence in any form.”

Hershkowitz said she will be sending the petition to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). 

“I believe that these people shouldn’t be sitting in Congress,” the group organizer said.

The Town of Brookhaven and Suffolk County Sheriff Department honored frontline workers, including the town’s Health and Human Services Department and its contracted food workers from Florian Foods. Photo from TOB

It would be impossible to commemorate every government worker in a single article, but the massive number of people busting their back in the midst of the pandemic helped an immeasurable number of residents when the worst was underway, whether they were custodial staff cleaning buildings for people to work in, or post office workers delivering mail, there are innumerable people the community owes their thanks to. 

In this case, it was a collective of government workers from the federal government on down whose job it was to keep those of us in pandemic hot zones up to date. For that, local municipalities depended on small communication offices to relay the most up-to-date and accurate information to both government and citizens, while residents were aided by public safety and food programs for homebound seniors. 

Communications

In any battle or crisis, those on the ground will tell you what helps most is having the latest information possible.

Lisa Santeramo, assistant secretary for intergovernmental affairs under Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), was at the lead in getting the information from New York State on down to the local governments on Long Island. Her office included Theresa Santoro, a Miller Place native who was in charge of reaching out to Suffolk, and Andrew Mulvey, who was in charge of Nassau.

Lisa Santeramo, assistant secretary for the state intergovernmental affairs office, worked alongside Theresa Santoro and Andrew Mulvey to get up-to-date info about the pandemic out to local municipalities. Photo from Santeramo

Santeramo was just coming back from maternity leave at the end of March but suddenly, as infections grew and places started to shut down, the small intergovernmental office was a focal point for every county, town, village, as well as the dozens of civic and chamber of commerce organizations for learning about new regulations, protocols, closings and reopenings. For months, Santeramo said her office was performing multiple daily calls with different groups from town supervisors to village leadership. They were also sending out constant email updates to inform what changes were happening, even during the middle of the day.

“On Long Island, we have these nuances we have to work through, such as all the different layers of government,” she said. “I joked with electeds that we were spamming their inboxes, but more information is better.”

It was a constant rush of sending information up and down the chain of government. Down the line was Nicole Amendola, the director of intergovernmental affairs for Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D). Amendola rose through the ranks to become director in April, and where she and others in the executive’s office worked long hours to supply local government with the latest information.

Amendola, who reiterated it was a team effort, said that along with her communication work, she was also on the side of making sure different bodies such as fire departments or hospitals were getting the PPE or resources they needed.

“Things were changing so rapidly, not even from the state but even from the federal level, so we had to make sure that we were able to communicate properly and efficiently to all levels of government,” she said. “The work, definitely, was very, very top heavy in terms of hours in the beginning of everything because there was just so much we didn’t know and understand, and things were literally constantly changing.”

Once new regulations and lockdowns were underway, any new information coming in from the governor’s office was immediately poured through. Both state and county offices watched every one of the governor’s daily press conferences to make sure they could get that info to local government. 

Even with such things as trick-or-treating for Halloween, Amendola said they made it their jobs to let people know what was permitted and what was not. When people complained about what was or wasn’t allowed to open and which businesses were included in which reopening phases, their office also sent those complaints back up the chain as well.

Others in local governing offices made consistent remarks to TBR News Media on the good job both Santeramo and Amendola’s offices did during this hectic time. Their near-daily updates on COVID-19, what regulations and what restrictions may have changed, was a huge boon for people struggling to make heads or tails of what they needed to do. 

Now that numbers are spiking, both offices are on constant calls about what may or may not be coming down the pike. And with vaccines also in play, a new kind of communications blitz is incoming.

“I never thought I’d have to deal with people’s safety,” Santeramo said. “But this year and the work we did, it will be the most important work I think I’ll ever do in my life.” 

Public Safety

The year 2020 is going to go down in the record books locally not just because of the pandemic but because of other major events throughout the year. The May killing of Minneapolis man George Floyd sparked waves of protests throughout the country, including several largely peaceful demonstrations on Long Island. Interactions between law enforcement and protesters in Suffolk were mostly harmonious, but in a few places the reaction to those protests grew into a hotbed of misinformation and rumor, especially in the Town of Smithtown. While officials tried to quash those rumors, it was the Smithtown Department of Public Safety that was in the middle of the storm, both figuratively — and it turned out later in 2020 — quite literally.

The Town of Smithtown Public Safety Department made several water rescues during the summer 2020; just one of a few complications to a complicated year. Photo from Thomas Lohmann Jr.

Thomas Lohmann Jr., director of the town public safety office, said when the pandemic first hit, their office was in charge of restricting who could and could not enter town buildings, as well as handling the distribution of PPE throughout Smithtown. While other offices were being cut or shut down, Lohmann’s, with his 55 or so sworn officers and 50 additional civilian staff, was seeing a rapid need for more assistance.

“Everybody here really had to step up and work,” he said. “The communications section, which not only do they dispatch — we also serve three fire departments in the township — and they were extremely busy handling alarms for COVID-19 calls.”

Once things started to reopen, they were there in the local community enforcing restrictions on beaches and in parks. This year, with more boaters out on the water, they completed several water rescues. In enforcing compliance, Lohmann said it was not so much about shutting down businesses as much as talking with owners face-to-face to get them to meet restrictions.

“We recognize the businesses were faced with challenges, and from early onset what we focused on was voluntary compliance,” he said.

During Tropical Storm Isaias in August, the town safety office also became engaged in the work of checking up on people who lacked power. The year 2020 has been fraught with challenges, but for many law enforcement out there, as COVID numbers have risen dramatically in the past two months, the work does not stop.

“We can’t hang a shingle and say we’re shutting down,” Lohmann said, “We’re doing everything we can.”

Government Meal Programs

When the pandemic was at its zenith in late March and early April, the thousands of people who relied on government meal programs found themselves at an even greater loss, unable to get out of the house to even go to the local deli. As senior centers and government offices closed, the many people responsible for getting people food did not back down.

The Suffolk County Office for the Aging works with towns throughout Suffolk in their weekly meal programs. Holly Rhodes-Teague, who heads up the office, is not only in charge of a network of meal programs throughout the 10 towns, she had to keep up with case management, home care, transportation and home repair to allow older adults to remain at home while the pandemic raged outside.

The Town of Brookhaven and Suffolk County Sheriff Department honored frontline workers, including the town’s Health and Human Services Department and its contracted food workers from Florian Foods. Photo from TOB

Before COVID hit, the office was helping to arrange meals for around 2,700 seniors in congregate programs and home deliveries. Once the shutdowns occurred, that jumped to 4,200 people. To this day, those numbers have only slightly dropped to a little over 4,000 folks who depend on these daily meals.

“We were able to transition overnight to adding onto home delivery — we took the current program and made it into a grab-and-go type program for meals,” Rhodes-Teague said. “It was amazing how fast they did that. They didn’t skip more than a day.”

And it wasn’t just food. Through the towns, Holly-Teague said they managed to give out items like hand sanitizer and toilet paper, especially when such items were vacant on store shelves. In between everything, her office was calling elders, some of whom are over 100 years old, to just check up and see how they were doing. In one instance, a caseworker could not get a hold of one of their clients after August’s tropical storm. After visiting the elder at home, the caseworker found the electricity was gone, and the person’s life support had gone out.

“All our people stepped up to the plate,” she said.

In the individual towns, the separate Meals on Wheels programs were suddenly inundated. Laura Greif, Smithtown’s senior citizens program director, said the number of seniors they service doubled during the beginning stages of the pandemic, to over 320 meals a day. What made the situation harder was they had half the staff on, and half off. Other staff within the town came through to help instead. With the Smithtown Senior Center closed to visitors, she said they were making over 2,000 calls to elder folk within the town to check up on them regularly.

Once things calmed down, she said her crew even started taking some seniors food shopping. She thanked everyone who worked with her.

“In the beginning it was difficult as we were half-staffed,” Greif said. “Without such an amazing staff and town, it would have been difficult to get it all done. We’re very happy to do this much-needed service.”

Alison Karppi, commissioner of Housing & Human Services at the Town of Brookhaven, said before the pandemic they were supplying meals to 130 homebound seniors, plus those in their congregate program. Once the senior centers closed, that number jumped to over 500 seniors a day. Additionally, the town’s senior citizen division delivered 208 boxes of food to residents in need through Suffolk County’s food insecurity program.

It would take a whole host of Brookhaven employees to reach every single one of those who needed food every day, and not just those from HHS. Workers from other town offices such as the parks department would become drivers to get meals out to seniors spread throughout over 500 square miles. Karppi said unlike other municipalities that were forced to make meals cold, thanks to the town’s cafeteria in Town Hall and its food contractor, Florian Food Service, Brookhaven was regularly sending out warm meals to its seniors. 

Making sure the food stayed warm took a whole lot of effort on the part of multiple employees, and Karppi wanted to thank all those drivers whose constant work provided such a necessary service, as well as Dawn Marcasia, who created the route list for drivers every day of the week. Delivering meals also served as a way to check up on seniors, and when there was no response at the door, that information was passed onto the senior citizen division.

Through all of that, the town workers helped deliver over 75,000 meals to seniors at their homes from March through December. 

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) expressed how this service has been critical, even as we’re still not out of the woods yet.

“This pandemic is far from over, we’re at least another year anywhere back to where we were before,” he said. “This has been a lifeline to so many of these people.”