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neighbors helping neighbors

Benten’s Kenneth Lee was surprised and grateful when he heard his friends and community members wanted to start a GoFundMe page for him that will help pay his overhead. Photo by Julianne Mosher

A Miller Place woman is asking sushi connoisseurs to help support a local business who was hit hard thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Benten Sushi and Fine Japanese Cuisine on Route 25A has been struggling to keep their doors open, like many restaurants and small businesses, over the course of the last year. 

Marlene DuBois, a friend of Kenneth Lee — who has owned the spot for nearly two decades — decided to start up a GoFundMe online, to help support him as he adjusts to this new normal. 

“He’ll never ask for help,” she said. “But he was mentioning there were some problems and I knew this was a serious thing.”

DuBois said she and Lee have been friends for about 30 years, since his family opened up their first location in Mount Sinai, but she’s also a good customer — noting that the sushi at Benten is different than all the rest. 

“He is a real stickler for authenticity,” she said. “It’s super fresh, he’s the only person who gets fish from local Long Island fishermen.”

Compared to other local sushi joints, he offers pure authenticity. A quiet business owner, when Lee mentioned his stress maintaining his shop throughout the pandemic, DuBois said something had to be done. 

“If we go on for another six months to a year in the pandemic, all our local eateries are going to be gone,” she said. “Any mom and pop shop that we can help, and support is important.”

DuBois created the online fundraiser in early February and to date it has over $2,500 of generous donations that will go to Lee’s location.

And he was shocked when he found out his friend was doing this. 

“I am so grateful,” he said, modestly. “It’s been very tough.”

Lee said the funds his friend raised will go to upkeep of the restaurant, which has been too expensive to fix in COVID times. 

DuBois said that supporting a restaurant, like Benten, is crucial as Long Island nears the one-year mark of quarantine. 

“If people don’t want to donate to the GoFundMe, I’m just trying to encourage them to order from him,” she said. “Support your favorite restaurants… It’s important.”

Visit gofundme.com for more information

Sharon Gatz-Philbrick, Christian Neubert and Erika Gronenthal are striving to help their neighbors in need. Photo by Ottilie Philbrick

By Courtney Rehfeldt

When three residents of Port Jefferson saw COVID-19 presenting a financial impact on community members, they decided to come together and form Hometown Hope Port Jefferson. 

Launched by Sharon Gatz-Philbrick, Erika Gronenthal and Christian Neubert, the trio works to assist those in need while bringing the community together during a difficult time.  

“At the peak of the pandemic, businesses and schools closed, leaving families struggling to make ends meet,” Gatz-Philbrick said. “Families faced much uncertainty as bills piled up, and paychecks didn’t come. There was a struggle to put food on the table, and grocery shelves were bare. The list of worries seemed endless and the need for support and hope became apparent.”

Remembering the kindness she personally experienced from Port Jefferson locals, Gatz-Philbrick wanted to return the favor. 

“In the midst of a challenging time, residents from the village did so many amazing things for my children and me,” she said. “I wanted to create an organization that continued these amazing acts of kindness. Alone we can do so little, and together we can do so much more.”

Besides providing a helping hand, Hometown Hope has connected local volunteers and businesses in a joint effort. 

“Port Jefferson village is a small town,” Neubert said. “In a place where everyone knows your name, we wanted to allow neighbors to help neighbors. One small act of kindness can lead to an entire town of encouraging acts of goodness and positive change.”

Hometown Hope provided Thanksgiving meal boxes and collected gift donations for the holidays, teaming up with Torte Jeff Pie Co. and other local businesses to fulfill their mission. Mather Hospital has provided donations, and the group has gotten support from Infant Jesus food kitchen and Rima Potter Designs.

“There comes a time in all our lives where we need assistance, it is a humbling moment, and we are hoping to pay it forward in our community,” Gatz-Philbrick said. “A little bit of kindness goes a long way. We don’t always see who is hurting or why, but we want to be there for them if they need extra help or assistance. We believe having a strong support structure is perhaps one of the most important steps to healing.”

In addition to collecting monetary or specific item donations, Hometown Hope Port Jefferson is also looking for volunteers to donate their time to help collect and distribute items as well as assist with future initiatives in the new year. 

People who live in the Port Jefferson Village who need to apply for help can be nominated through the organization’s website, or can contact the group through social media. The organization can be found on Facebook by searching Hometown Hope Port Jefferson. or online at hometownhopepj.org.