Stony Brook fraternity brothers making a difference

Stony Brook fraternity brothers making a difference

Christopher Forella, standing, third from left, and Dhaval Shah, standing, third from right, with fellow members of Pi Lambda Phi at the Open Door Exchange. Photo from the Open Door Exchange

One fraternity at Stony Brook University has opened the door to a new volunteer adventure that benefits families in need.

When Christopher Forella, a member of the fraternity Pi Lambda Phi at Stony Brook University, was searching the school’s Handshake database for volunteer opportunities, he came across the Open Door Exchange furniture bank. The fraternity’s vice president of programming and risk management said he knew it would be the perfect place for his fraternity brothers to volunteer at this spring semester.

Pi Lambda Phi members from Stony Brook help with the Open Door Exchange. Photo from Open Door Exchange

“I really liked their mission — getting furniture and donating it to people who need it, helping people in need who really can’t afford it,” Forella said in a phone interview.

The Open Door Exchange is an outreach program that allows the underprivileged to shop for furniture free of charge at their Port Jefferson Station warehouse. Kate Jones Calone, a Presbyterian minister affiliated with the Setauket Presbyterian Church, manages the organization. When she heard the fraternity brothers were willing to volunteer at the warehouse, she said she was thrilled.

“It’s especially exciting for us to be able to connect with the university,” Calone said. “The Open Door Exchange really is a community-based project, and the university is such an important part of our community. To be able to work together with students on something that benefits the whole community is a really nice gift for us.”

For Sanjay Jonnavithula, a senior at SBU and a member of the fraternity since it was founded in 2014, the experience of helping those in need to acquire furniture for free has been a rewarding one.

“Furniture is often overlooked as a vital ingredient for a stable household, so it makes me feel incredible that our fraternity is able to aid this great organization in the work that they do,” Jonnavithula said.

The senior said the experience is one that will stay with him even after graduating from SBU, and he believes it has made a positive impact on his fraternity brothers as well.

“I’m sure I speak for all graduating seniors in Pi Lambda Phi when I say that the amount of different community service projects we’ve been a part of, especially Open Door Exchange, has tremendously influenced our lives,” he said. “We are all diverging on our separate paths next year, but we will continue to aid our local communities and get involved with the local charitable organizations in whatever way we possibly can.”

Dhaval Shah, junior at the university and fraternity president, said this type of volunteer work is different from the beach cleanups and assisting at a Head Start preschool like the group has done in the past.

“Something like Open Door Exchange, we see results right away,” Shah said. “We see people coming in and taking the furniture, and the impact on their lives.”

“Furniture is often overlooked as a vital ingredient for a stable household, so it makes me feel incredible that our fraternity is able to aid this great organization in the work that they do.”

— Sanjay Jonnavithula

Forella said the fraternity has 46 members, and when it comes to volunteering every other week at the warehouse for three to four hours, they usually will have about a dozen members working together depending on their schedules. Most of the students help to unload furniture from trucks, but some go out with the loading trucks to pick up donations.

“It’s really making good use of my time to be out helping people who can definitely use the help,” Forella said.

Calone said the other volunteers with Open Door Exchange have enjoyed working with the college students, and they have brought a lot of energy and enthusiasm to the project.

“They’ve extended our capacity to do what we do in a really meaningful way,” the minister said. “It has a real big impact on what we’re able to do.

Calone is even more appreciative of the time the fraternity brothers have given the organization because she understands how valuable free time is to college students.

“They’re taking time out of their weekend, and it’s precious time for students,” she said. “And giving back to the community, that’s something just really nice for all of us to see what the university brings and how it benefits all of us. These students — the way they are giving back — is just really nice for the community as a whole.”