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Christmas

The Port Jefferson community lined Main Street in the village Nov. 25 to welcome a very special visitor. The annual Santa Parade saw the man himself riding his sleigh through the streets for hundreds of onlookers, along with floats from local Boy Scout troops, the Port Jefferson Ferry, the Chamber of Commerce, the Village Board, Port Jefferson Fire Department, local businesses and many more. Port Jefferson’s annual Dickens Festival begins Dec. 2.

Centereach Fire Department teamed up with Operation Christmas Child to collect shoeboxes filled with gifts to be donated to needy children. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr

It wasn’t quite Santa’s sleigh, but it was large, red and carried presents, so an ambulance was good enough for the Selden Fire Department, which took over Santa’s duties last week and stuffed 100 shoeboxes with gifts for poor young children all over the world.

Volunteers help fill a Selden Fire Department
ambulance with shoeboxes for Operation Christmas
Child. Photo by Kyle Barr

“Most of these boxes are going to go to kids who never even get a gift,” Selden Fire Department Treasurer Vincent Ammirati said. “This is something that will put a smile on a face, and this is the fire department — everything we do here is for other people. All we do is try put a smile on people’s faces.”

The shoeboxes were collected as part of Operation Christmas Child, a function of the evangelical Christian humanitarian aid organization Samaritan’s Purse. The organization takes the shoeboxes from drop-off points in local churches before sending them to distribution centers that will ship them to poor communities in Africa, South America, Asia and others. The shoeboxes are labeled by age and gender, and usually contain toys like inflatable soccer balls or stuffed animals, but mostly they contain hygiene products like soap and toothbrushes along with school supplies like books and pencils.

All seven companies within the Selden Fire Department helped contribute to the stack, with some companies acting as a group and other members of the fire department contributing indipendently.

Children in Uganda receive shoeboxes of gifts from
Operation Christmas Child last year. Photo from
Danielle McCarthy

Volunteer firefighter and Operation Christmas Child Long Island Coordinator Danielle McCarthy headed the fire department’s collection drive. She said she got the idea of filling an ambulance full of shoeboxes from watching the Los Angeles Police Department and how a funeral home had pulled in with a hearse full of shoe boxes.

McCarthy has been involved with Operation Christmas Child for more than a decade, first packing boxes before becoming a local packing leader, and then area coordinator. In 2012 McCarthy travelled to Uganda to help hand out shoeboxes.

“As we put shoe boxes into their hands and they opened up those boxes I saw their delight,” she said. “To look at them having physical needs met, to be able to see the joy that came to them from these simple things like school supplies and toys and that sort of thing, that impacted me. But what really impacted me even more, and what keeps me packing shoeboxes, were all the kids standing outside the place who didn’t get shoeboxes because there wasn’t enough to give to everybody.”

Shoeboxes for Operation Christmas
Child were collected with gifts to be
donated to needy children.
Photo by Kyle Barr

Every box also comes with a picture book called “The Greatest Gift,” put inside after each is packed. The book depicts a number of biblical stories told in that country’s native language. There was a $9 fee for every package, which pays for both the book and shipping costs. The fire department pulled together $900 to go toward this cost.

“Every one of these shoeboxes to us is not just a gift that we’re giving to a child, but around Christmas time Jesus is a gift we try to give, too,” said Victor Rossomano, an Operation Christmas Child Suffolk County-area coordinator. “It’s in their language and their culture. We try to keep it within their culture; we try not to send America to them, we want them to be who they are.”

Ammirati helped McCarthy drive the shoeboxes to the drop-off point at the Grace Gospel Church in Patchogue. He said he plans on using his officer status with the Suffolk County Volunteer Fireman’s Association to try and spread the idea out to all the different fire departments in the county.

“It’s a great way to show our community presence with the fire department and also for Operation Christmas Child,” McCarthy said. “It’s taken a few years to get this rolling, but when we challenged the fire department to fill the ambulance, as you can see, the guys stepped up.”

The 100 boxes kicked off national collection week, which ran from Nov. 13 to 20. In 2009, Suffolk County gathered 7,100 boxes, but the number has grown. The group is hoping to have 20,000 boxes packed this year

Classic car owners cruised into the parking lot at Brookhaven Town Hall last weekend to not only show off their collection of vintage hot rods, trucks and wacky automobiles, but their hearts, too.

At the town’s annual Charity Car and Motorcycle Show Nov. 12 — a partnership between the Brookhaven Youth Bureau and different classic car, truck and motorcycle clubs throughout Long Island — more than 300 vehicles of all shapes, makes and models were on display for residents in an effort to gather nonperishable food and unwrapped toy donations for families in need.

This year’s event raised 1,500 pounds of food, including canned soups, tuna and boxes of rice, which were transported by the town’s charity-based INTERFACE program to its Thanksgiving Food Drive, and will go directly to residents that need it most. By the end of the day, residents filled 25 big garbage bags with toys for children to open next month.

“This really helps allow people to have a very merry Christmas and a happy holiday,” said Sound Beach resident Dan Ryan, a member of the Long Island Chapter of the American Truck Historical Society, one of the event’s main groups that has helped collect donations since it first began about 12 years ago. “It’s just one day out of the year but it makes a big difference in people’s lives, especially kids. The crowds here are really caring people. They come out and give what they can.”

Maxine Kleedorfer, the event’s chairperson and a member of East End Olds Club, said of the day: “This is still so amazing to me. It’s Long Islanders giving to Long Islanders.”

Other organizations represented at the all-day free event were Long Island Moose Classic Car Club, the Long Island and New York City Oldsmobile Club and Long Island Street Rod Association, as well as independent car owners, who showcased everything from old Chevy Coupes to Lincoln Continentals to a 1981 Checker Taxi Cab.

Residents perusing the variety of wheels in the parking lot were treated to live music from local bands, free hot dogs and beverages, 50/50 raffle prizes and even a special visit from Santa Claus, who rolled up in an antique LaFrance Brockway Torpedo fire truck to meet with the kids and ask what they wanted for Christmas.

Adam Navarro, a vintage car collector from Centereach, said while he was happy to see so much generosity in the air that day, it didn’t surprise him all that much.

“One of the biggest things about car culture is that those involved are always giving back to the community,” Navarro said. “So you come out here, look at some great cars, sip hot chocolate, meet some friends and at the same time help out the community. You can’t get better than that.”

Joe Morgani from Mastic, who brought along his classic Corvette and several cans of soups and vegetables, called the event a win-win.

“The cars are amazing, we have the band and everything, and it all brings people together to help other people,” he said. “We need more charities like this. I love it.”

Sitting in front of a blue 1958 Chevy Bel Air was the car’s original owner, Lake Ronkonkoma’s Karl Krumsick. His wife Carol said he bought it when he got home from serving in the Korean War. The two went on their first date in the car and drove off in it after they got married.

“We come to this show every year because we love to donate to the needy,” Carol Krumsick said. “We brought a bunch of toys and canned goods. It’s wonderful here.”

Renée, Zachary and Glen Cote are the 11th family to receive a home from Joe Cognitore and Mark Baisch through their veteran program. Photo by Kevin Redding

The Cotes are home for the holidays.

On Dec. 14, the owners of the 11th home for returning veterans, Glen and Renée Cote, received the keys to their new home, just in time for 7-year-old Zachary Cote to enjoy his first Christmas in Miller Place.

The house would not have been made possible if it wasn’t for Rocky Point VFW Post 6429 Commander Joe Cognitore and developer and owner of Landmark Properties Mark Baisch.

The Cote family moved into their new home in Miller Place last week. Photo by Kevin Redding

The Cote family was chosen after Baisch heard Zachary was diagnosed with Grade 4 medulloblastoma, brain cancer, in June 2014, and endured 42 rounds of radiation and nine months of intense chemotherapy, until he was diagnosed with acute intermittent porphyria. His mother suffers from the same rare and painful metabolic disorder that requires expensive biweekly treatments, which she has undergone for 14 years at John T. Mather Memorial Hospital.

If that wasn’t enough, Zachary’s father, who was a U.S. Army combat medic from 1988 to 1992 and specialized in deployment training and immunization for a bulk of army medics in the Gulf War, suffered an on-the-job injury that disabled him.

The family had lived in a home in Sound Beach, until March, when the Cotes were told they were being evicted because the landlord had let the home fall into foreclosure.

The goal was to get the Cotes into the home on Helme Avenue before Christmas.

“To make this happen in the four months that we had is pretty monumental,” Baisch said before handing over the keys. “This house is complete. It isn’t like we have to come back and still do some stuff. The flooring is finished, everything’s done, it’s painted. This house is ready for them to move in. In fact, I intend for the Cotes to sleep here tonight.”

The family did sleep there that night and have been enjoying their new home. Especially Zachary, who was already making use of the small crawl space under the stairway in the basement. He said he’ll turn it into a play room for his new friends.

“It seems so surreal. Until the movers got there this morning, it was just like ‘they’re actually here and they’re putting our stuff in the truck.’ It’s such a blessing [and] I couldn’t ask for anything better.”
—Glen Cote

“It’s an incredible feeling; it’s overwhelming to know that this day is here upon us,” Glen Cote said during move-in day. “It seems so surreal. Until the movers got there this morning, it was just like ‘they’re actually here and they’re putting our stuff in the truck.’ It’s such a blessing [and] I couldn’t ask for anything better.”

The family is excited to celebrate its first holidays in the new home, but Zachary’s parents are even more thankful for the fact that their son will be able to remain in the school district that they said has taken such great care of him.

To be able to do that for the Cotes warms Baisch’s heart.

“What we’re able to do for these families is so good that it would be hard for me to think about not doing this,” he said. “Nobody feels happier than me right now. It’s a wonderful feeling.”

At the end of the celebration, Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) just had one final thing to tell the family as it walked through its new front door: Welcome home.

Kevin Redding contributed reporting

A young girl picks out Christmas gifts at Target in Commack Dec. 14. Photo from Mallory Kerley

By Victoria Espinoza

For a few families struggling to make ends meet this Christmas, local organizations got together to ensure there would be presents under the tree.

United Way of Long Island, a nonprofit based in Deer Park, and Make it Count Foundation, a nonprofit based in West Islip, worked together to donate funds so that children and their families were able to search through Target in Commack and choose any gifts they wanted for Christmas this year. They were also given holiday treats as they shopped. Kids ran through the aisles of Target Dec. 14, browsing the Barbie dolls, Nerf guns, and other toys they could take home to make the holiday special.

“Helping children in need is priceless,” Jon Reese, president of the Make It Count Foundation said in an email. “I feel it is not only our responsibility, it is an honor. Especially this time of year, when we celebrate life and hope.”

Reese said Make It Count has worked with United Way of Long Island in the past on home renovations, health and community programs, and backpacks filled with school supplies.

A young boy picks out Christmas gifts at Target in Commack Dec. 14. Photo from Mallory Kerley

“We feel that when the Make It Count Foundation and the United Way of Long Island partner, we are able to leverage each other’s resources and make a greater impact,” he said.

According to Theresa Regnante, president and CEO of United Way of Long Island, this is the second year the two nonprofits have joined together to organize the event.

“We wanted these kids to be able to celebrate the holidays, and have the joy of opening gifts that they wanted,” she said in an email. “Jon Reese has been a fantastic partner in other areas of our mission, and coming together to help kids during the holiday season was a perfect fit. We have the connections to the partner agencies who work with families across Long Island, and they had the funds to donate to help them afford the gifts. It was an easy to decision to make to put this event together.”

Families had to be nominated to partake in the event, and Regnante said other local nonprofits helped in the selection process.

“We connected with Long Island Head Start, United Veterans Beacon House, and Family Service League, who are all partner agencies of ours, and asked them to nominate families who could use some extra holiday cheer to take part in the shopping spree, as well as families who are part of our VetsBuild and YouthBuild programs,” she said. “Target generously let us utilize their break room space and provided treats to the children before giving them a tour of the toy department. It was a fabulous effort all around.”

Regnante shared what makes the event special to her.

A young girl picks out Christmas gifts at Target in Commack Dec. 14. Photo from Mallory Kerley

“The best part of an event like this is seeing the smiles on the children’s faces as they pick up that toy they’ve been asking for for months, and knowing that they can take it home that night,” she said. “You have to remember, most of these children have only the basic necessities and rarely do they have the opportunity to get things that bring them true joy. Their families are working hard to give them the best life possible, and this event allows those parents and guardians to brighten the holiday season just a bit more. The holiday season is supposed to be filled with happiness, but it isn’t that way for those who are struggling.”

She said she watched a mother and her son go through the check-out line, and as they were walking out the door, he yelled out, “I feel like Christmas is here early!” as if he couldn’t believe he was actually allowed to leave the store with his new toys.

“Watching this little boy literally skip out the door warmed my heart,” she said.

Heritage Park was filled with the sights and sounds of Christmas as hundreds flocked to Heritage Park in Mount Sinai for the Heritage Trust’s annual Breakfast with Santa.

Families could sign up for one of three morning sessions Dec. 11 to enjoy a catered breakfast while waiting for Aw Snap Photobooth to take family photos with Saint Nick. Festive decorations filled the interior of the Heritage Center and a guitarist played holiday favorites while inviting children to sing and dance with him, and later, Father Christmas himself. Children were also given candy canes and small favors for participating in the sold-out event.

Some families came with non-perishable donations to be given to a local food pantry.

The Northport Historical Society hosted its annual Holiday House Tour this past Sunday, Dec. 12. Several houses in the area were decked out in Christmas decorations, with musicians playing and treats for each guest.

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Bikers rev up holiday cheer for children at Wading River campus

Santa Claus swapped his signature red hat for a black helmet and led hundreds of bikers from Babylon Town Hall to Wading River Dec. 4 to kickstart the holiday season for children and young adults in need.

For the past 30 years, the staff members and young residents at Little Flower Children and Family Services of New York have welcomed the Long Island Harley Owners Group to their Wading River campus for what has become Long Island’s oldest toy run.

The group bands together with other motorcycle clubs across Long Island to deliver gifts to the children of the not-for-profit charity organization. Little Flower, founded in 1929, provides programs and services to children, families and adults with behavioral and developmental disabilities living in the area, and offers residential services and compassionate alternatives to state-run institutions.

“I’m very thankful,” said Russell, 15, of Syosset. “They come out and they use their time, and play with us and do different things with us on their own time when they could be sitting at home.”

There are approximately 100 students between the ages 10 and 21 living on the Little Flower campus in cottage-style homes. Most of them are there primarily for educational purposes. The students are special education children with a variety of challenges who are referred to the organization by local school districts.

They struggle with mental, developmental and behavioral problems, but because the student body at Little Flower is relatively small, there’s more of a hands-on approach to catering to their individual needs.

“I’m very thankful. They come out and they use their time, and play with us and do different things with us on their own time…”

—Russell

Corinne Hammons, CEO of Little Flower, said the organization strives to help and embrace the kids as they are. She said often students come from tough circumstances and have challenges that can’t be helped at home or in local schools. She said she’s very proud to partner with the Harley group and have its longstanding support.

“We don’t take this partnership for granted at all; every year they could choose any charity and they keep choosing us, and we’re very grateful,” Hammons said. “The idea of them coming to us wanting to give is very meaningful for the kids, who sure look forward to it each year.”

While the Harley Owners Group is involved with several charities throughout the year — including veteran fundraisers — members of the group consider this particular event the one they look forward to most all year. It’s also the only event that non-Harley-Davidson owners can join.

Bob Brinka, director of the Long Island Harley Owners Group, said what keeps the group coming back year after year are the smiles on the children’s faces.

“Doing this for kids that don’t have a lot is really important to us … this is the one that’s most dear to our hearts,” Brinka said. “We look forward to making people’s lives a lot nicer and giving the kids something they don’t have. Because we have, we can give.”

He said this year the group had 276 registered motorcycles for the ride plus another 30 that joined them along their route.

Those at Little Flower watched in glee as bikers arrived in traditional fashion to the campus. The parade of Christmas-decorated bikes roared down a long driveway, each one equipped with a pile of gifts all donated by members. They brought everything from giant stuffed teddy bears to skateboards and remote control cars.

Maureen Fox, vice president of external relations for Little Flower, said for the kids, the event is all about the “spectacle” of seeing the bikers arrive.

“Doing this for kids that don’t have a lot is really important to us … this is the one that’s most dear to our hearts”

—Bob Brinka

The event went inside to the gym on campus, where children were excited to hop on stage and meet with Santa, played by Harley Owners Group member Nick Klopsis, and choose from the big pile of gifts. Chili and drinks were available, as well as holiday-themed entertainment. Some members joined children on stage to perform impromptu choir bell renditions of Christmas songs.

Thom Kister, a 12-year Harley Owners Group member, pointed out a beaming girl carrying a teddy bear off the stage and said he bought the gift three months prior to the event.

“It’s all about the kids and seeing their faces on the stage,” Kister said. “And when we do the precession, coming up, just having everybody out there waving really fills you up and makes you feel good. This is so different from everything else we do because it’s open to all the biking community. We love it and we love doing it.”

Chris Evel, a member of 30 years, echoed Kister’s sentiment.

“Nobody helps the community like the bikers,” he said. “Whatever [the kids] need, that’s what we’re here for. It could be anywhere on Long Island — we’ll be there to help.”

According to Fox, before the bikers hop back on their motorcycles and hit the road, some of them deliver gifts directly to the developmentally disabled residents on campus who are unable to get to the gym.

Alex, 16, of Bellmore, said not just the event, but the entire month of December is special for him and the rest of the children at Little Flower.

“It’s a nice thing that [the Harley Owners Group] does because it’s all volunteer … they didn’t have to come here,” he said. “This month is probably the best month for everybody here because we had the Christmas tree lighting a few days ago, and then next week we have a party, so all the kids are happy that we’re doing this.”

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Smithtown decked the halls this past Sunday, Dec. 4 as the Smithtown Rotary Club hosted a tree lighting at the Smithtown Library.

Huntington Town and Northport Village hosted holiday parades this past weekend to get into the Christmas spirit. Live reindeers, Santa and Mrs. Claus, and fire trucks dressed up in lights paraded through Northport, while over at Huntington, fire departments from all over the North Shore competed in a float contest.