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Port Jefferson

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Protesters marched through Port Jefferson June 18 to call for an end to police brutality and racism. Photo by David Luces

Well over 200 protesters walked through Main Street in Port Jefferson Village June 18, calling for an end to police brutality and systemic racism. It was just one of countless other protests going on nationwide since the killing of Minneapolis man George Floyd at the hands of police three weeks ago.

Malachi Moloney, the speaker of the house for the Black Student Union at Stony Brook University, and who was at the head of facilitating and promoting the protest, said he was happy with the overall turnout.

“It means the world to me — we wanted people to leave here with a better understanding of the movement and hope we gave them examples of how to be a better ally. I think we did that,” he said.

The SBU student said the reason they chose Port Jeff as the site of the march was to give people perspective on how black communities feel on Long Island.

“Places like this, they think the status quo is serving the majority,” Moloney said. “This protest shows that we are not happy with the status quo. If you come together with a singular purpose in mind, there’s great power in that.”

Moloney said there is more work to be done.

“We are continuing the movement that has swept the nation. In the last two weeks we have had more progress from a civil rights standpoint since 1964,” he said. “That’s the repeal of 50a, the charging of Rayshad Brook’s murderers, we are still waiting on Breonna Taylor’s case.”

Jarvis Watson, Assistant Dean for Multicultural Affairs at Stony Brook University, marched with the protesters and lauded the young people who were in the demonstration.

“I want to thank these young people for being here, making sure and recognizing that Black Lives Matter,” he said. “They are not just our future, they are our now. We have to make establishments take the knee off those who are oppressed.”

Amara Ayler, from Huntington, spoke on her experiences being black on Long Island.

“It’s not OK for me to fear walking to school and I see a police car and I fear for my life for no reason because I have a backpack on. It’s not right. It’s not fair,” she said. The police are supposed to make us feel safe. The police have never made me feel safe ever in my life. They’re supposed to protect and serve.”

Ayler said every time she hears Breonna Tayler’s name, she hears her own name.

“Amara Ayler, Breonna Taylor, it sounds similar,” she said. “It could be me, I don’t want to be another name on a list, I don’t want to be a poster or t-shirt. It’s not OK.”

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Members of the Port Jefferson school independent news site The Current Peggy Yin, Christopher Parsick and Mattea Rabeno interview Superintendent Jessica Schmettan in late April. Image from PJ Current video

There were no journalism classes in the Port Jefferson School District, no journalism club or school paper. 

It’s something that some Port Jefferson high schoolers saw and thought could be corrected.

A small group of students now run an online newspaper The Current — at www.pjcurrent.com — editing and producing all content while maintaining the website themselves. The site is independent of school staff or admin, and is one of the few places for students in the small school district to practice professional communications and let students know of happenings within the school and the surrounding area.

“I’m incredibly proud of those students who have started that online content.”

— Jessica Schmettan

“At the end of sophomore year it was pretty clear there were a lot of people interested in writing and journalism, but there was really no place for it,” said Peggy Yin, a junior and The Current’s editor in chief. “It was a bunch of people getting together who said we don’t just want a place for us to write, but also to give students the opportunity to explore what they might not have had the opportunity to explore — and show other people what they’re interested in.”

Over the past year, The Current has made huge strides in its editorial content, but since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the small team has excelled in giving students and residents a unique perspective on what has been happening in their school, and especially the scientific aspect to the virus. This was handled in partnership with the school’s Science Olympiad team, and articles were edited by science columnist Grant Samara, who himself has interests in math and science. It gave a way for students and community members to understand terms when scientists said “flatten the curve” or vaccine research. The school administration even asked the student journalists if they could participate in the social distancing peer-to-peer initiative of Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) to help students learn about the importance of decreasing contact to slow the virus’ spread.

Much of the information, which dates back to April 1, covers topics such as the virus and its impact on the economy, the environment and mental health. There is also a landing page for coronavirus information and has shared links to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, links to updates from New York State and the Village of Port Jefferson.

“I thought there could be a lot more engaging and understanding if [classroom topics] were looked at from a different perspective,” Samara said. “A lot of what I’m writing is about trying to provide that perspective — make it easier to understand and more interesting.”

Massimo Cipriano, a rising senior, has long wanted to be involved in sports journalism, and finally had the opportunity to write about school games when the Royals girls basketball team was making waves earlier this year. Unfortunately, the pandemic cancelled practically all sports for the rest of the school year. His Medium blog, titled “The Step Back With Massimo Cipriano” now includes write-ups of recent soccer matches in Europe which are played to currently empty stadiums. 

The students also set up an interview with Superintendent of Schools Jessica Schmettan that lasted over an hour, talking about issues related to the shutdown and coronavirus in the school district.

“I’m incredibly proud of those students who have started that online content,” Schmettan said. 

It’s work the editors like to say is made “by students, for students.” 

Chris Parsick, a senior who leads the communications team, said faculty and teachers have acknowledged their work, but still all work rests on their shoulders.

“A lot of what I’m writing is about trying to provide that perspective — make it easier to understand and more interesting.”

— Grant Samara

“This year we’ve been really looking to build that mutualistic relationship with the school,” Yin said. That includes the paper’s work with clubs like the Science Olympiad.

Parsick said seeing that acknowledgment from the school has bolstered their work. The goal this year was to get 100 followers on Instagram. Today they are sitting at 114, and the school district was their 100th follower.

All the work is voluntary, including the back end of the website itself. Senior Dylan Scott has run HTML and CSS coding, and is trying to transport the website from WordPress to Ghost, another website hosting platform, which may be more manageable for the students who remain once he graduates. 

Being students, while handling the work of an entire web platform already has its own challenges without also having to take care of schoolwork and normal life. And as students move up and graduate, the issue will be keeping the project going. Several of the editorial staff, including Yin and Samara, will become seniors for the 2020-21 school year; Scott, Cipriano and Parsick will graduate this year. 

The superintendent threw her support behind the student journalists, hoping to see their work continue.

“I hope it continues, and we’ll see,” she said, also mentioning the possibility of journalism classes should there be enough interest in it. “Many started it as 11th-graders, so they will have another year. If we can support them in any way, we’ll try.” 

But through it all, the students maintain the strength of the paper partially comes from the fact it remains independent of the school district, even though it entirely depends on volunteer efforts.

“One of our big selling points is we’re by students, for students,” Yin said. “When you have the school involved it kind of takes that away. We wouldn’t get to control the direction and vision of it.”

This article was updated June 20 to correct the title of Massimo’s blog. 

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The location where Port Jeff expects to run Station Street, next to a proposed apartment complex. Photo from Google maps

Plans for an affordable apartment complex planned in upper Port Jefferson continue to make progress with a public hearing set for July 9. If all goes well, the next step would be site plan approval. 

The apartment complex now being called Port Jefferson Crossing would be located directly adjacent to the Long Island Rail Road train station and would take over the property of a now-decrepit cafe.

During a Port Jefferson Village Planning Board work session on June 11, developers provided new details on the project. 

Joanna Cuevas, senior project director for Conifer Realty, said the apartment complex will be a part of upper Port Jefferson’s ongoing revitalization efforts. 

“We want to provide high quality affordable workforce housing,” she said. 

Current plans cite the three-story complex will have 45 units in total, 37 one-bedroom apartments and eight two-bedroom apartments. The complex will also offer over 3,100 square feet of retail space.

“The units are targeted at households earning between 30 percent and 95 percent area median income for Suffolk County, with an average income of $37,000 up to $111,000 for a family of four,” Cuevas said. 

Building amenities will include a covered parking garage, a community room, laundry facilities and a gym. 

The project will facilitate the creation of Station Street, a one-way road that provides entry to the adjacent parking lots just north of the train station parking lot and just before the initial footprint for the proposed development. 

Mark Owen, civil engineer for R&W Engineers in Hauppauge, said the road will also have an access driveway to the east of the building, where there will be a door for the complex’s underground parking. 

Cars will be entering Station Street from the west, then going into the Long Island Rail Road parking lot at the curb cut in and then exiting out onto Oakland Avenue. Developers said they want to get as many cars off Main Street and on their way. 

Members of the Planning Board expressed concern with the amount of cars that could be on Station Street. 

“[Route] 112 gets really backed up down to North Country Road and it seems like it will be a shortcut for the majority of the people who want to go east,” said board member Tom Vulpis. 

Alison LaPointe, special village attorney for Building & Planning Department, said they actually want people to use the new 20-foot-wide street. 

“That’s the village’s hope: As part of our comprehensive plan update, we are very excited that Station Street is going in because the goal is to get as many people off that very busy roadway and away from Sheep Pasture Road as quickly as possible,” she said. “Also [it will get] the Suffolk County bus routes off of that stop right by the tracks — it leads to a significant amount of backup into Port Jefferson Station.” 

A public hearing is set for July 9 during a 5 p.m. Planning Board meeting, which will likely be held remotely online and can be watched live via the village’s YouTube page.

Main Street in Port Jefferson. Photo by Sapphire Perara

The Village of Port Jefferson approved a permit for protesters to march down Main Street June 18. 

Leaders of the protest filed an application for the protest earlier last week. Village officials said during their June 15 meeting that, originally, the protesters wished to organize by the basketball courts and make three laps of the downtown area. Considering the disruption this would cause, officials said they would allow the protesters to park in the Perry Street parking lot by the Port Jefferson train station, march down Main Street and eventually stop in front of Village Hall in order to make speeches. The protest is set to convene after 4 p.m, then start the march at 5 p.m. and end at 7 p.m.

Malachai Moloney, the speaker of the house for the Black Student Union at Stony Brook University, is at the head of facilitating and promoting the protest. He said the point of the march in PJ village is to give people more insight and perspective into how black communities feel on Long Island, especially in the wake of the deaths of black people nationwide before and after the killing of Minneapolis man George Floyd while in police custody May 26.

While village officials were concerned that those gathered wouldn’t leave the area after the time the application and flyers denoted, during the village’s live broadcasted meeting on YouTube, multiple people who claimed they were organizers for the protest said they intended it to remain peaceful, and that they would disband after holding speeches at Village Hall.

Along with the application, there is a fee attached that Mayor Margot Garant said helps to offset costs for additional village code presence. Village Clerk Barbara Sakovich confirmed protesters dropped off a check for that application fee the morning of June 15.

“It’s in our best interest to let this group organize peacefully rather than not organize peacefully,” Garant said. “At that point we would have another kind of organized protest of a different tonality.”

She added that the safety of the community “is of the utmost importance, only secondary to following the law.”

Moloney said the group originally planned to host the rally Friday, June 19, otherwise known as Juneteenth, the day in 1865 when a U.S. general finally read out orders in Texas that all slaves were free, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was enacted. However, village officials emphasized to Moloney and other organizers it could not be hosted then. The airways have been abuzz due to the connotations of President Donald Trump (R) originally planning a rally on that date in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the site of the Tulsa race massacre that took place June 1, 1921. 

Otherwise, the protest organizer said he felt the village was only protecting village commerce and could do better to respect the opinions of the protesters.

“They want us to protest in a manner that’s convenient for them,” he said. “A protest is not supposed to not be disruptive.”

Other protests in neighboring communities have not necessarily filed permits, but village trustees said the fact organizers did file an application shows a degree of willingness to cooperate.

“We certainly appreciate reaching out and filing a permit for the event application — it is a very good thing — it’s appreciated by the village and we appreciate their goodwill,” said village attorney Brian Egan.

Moloney said the group used GoFundMe to fundraise for the $400 in fees to the village. He said the protesters were willing to do that but added that groups of counterprotesters who have already said online they likely will show up in response to the march are not filing an application or paying the village to convene. Moloney said its unfair how the onus is on marchers to follow the proper procedure, while those looking to decry their message will not go through that same process.

The village has not recieved any applications to convene from counterprotesters, and officials said the village has not given any other groups permission to assemble on that day.

Police and code enforcement have been notified, officials said. Main Street will be closed while the protesters make their way down Main Street, similar to how the roads are blocked during events like the Easter parade when it makes its way down to Harborfront Park. 

The village also stipulated in the permit that masks must be worn, and on the protests’ flyer it also states everyone is expected to wear masks. 

Garant said the question of social distancing was up to state mandates, which already stipulated that masks must be worn when people are unable to socially distance themselves. 

According to Suffolk County officials, the county has already played host to around 100 protests. So far, police have said, nearly all protests have remained peaceful. 

This article has been amended June 17 to clarify no others groups have been authorized to assemble.

From left, Port Jeff chamber president Mary Joy Pipe, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, Salon Blonde owner Melissa Hanley, Mayor Margot Garant celebrate the start of Phase Two reopening June 10. Photo by Kyle Barr

With Phase Two reopening coming to fruition Wednesday, June 10, Port Jefferson village has looked for several ways for business owners to get their wares and services outside.

Debra Bowling, owner of Pasta Pasta in Port Jeff, set up tables outside for Phase Two reopening. Photo by Kyle Barr

Village officials have already talked about setting up areas in parking lots to allow for more outdoor dining space. At its June 1 meeting, the village voted to waive all dining table application fees for the upcoming season. Mayor Margot Garant said the village has been working with a host of restaurants to figure out how they may go about offering outdoor services. 

The mayor said the village is allowing space for restaurants who normally have no space for outdoor dining in right-of-ways, walkways and parking lots.

By midday Wednesday, the town was jiving. With a steady stream of cars rolling down Main Street, and with customers sitting under canopy eating outdoors, many owners said Phase Two was turning out to be a much better scenario than Phase One.

During a tour of Suffolk downtowns, including Port Jeff, County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said the difference in allowing construction in the first reopening phase and allowing salons or outdoor dining has been significant.

“After going through an unprecedented event, these are the activities that give people a sense of normalcy,” Bellone said. 

Restaurants are setting up in formerly public places, such as Ruvo East and Old Fields which are laying tents in the space behind their restaurants. C’est Cheese and The Pie are also doing outside dining behind the main building on Main Street. Prohibition Kitchen will be using the parking lot behind its building as well.

Manager of The Pie, Jessica Janowicz, said though they will be setting up a tent behind the business Friday, each week has seen a slow progression in sales. Wednesday showed a big difference, with a steady stream of customers doing takeout since the place opened. 

Other restaurants will be using pedestrian walkways for its outdoor space, including Salsa Salsa, which will have some space in the alleyway next to the shop. Pasta Pasta and Toast Coffeehouse are laying out tables at the top of the stairway along East Main Street.

Debra Bowling, the owner of Pasta Pasta, thanked the Port Jeff chamber and the village for working so quickly with permits and signage. Her restaurant now has several tables and a flower box in front of her shop, and in over 30 years of working there, it’s the first time she has seen it do outdoor dining.

Alana Miletti of Fame and Rebel speaks about Phase Two with County Executive Steve Bellone. Photo by Kyle Barr

Some restaurants that have access to the outside, including Nantuckets, Gourmet Burger Bistro, The Steam Room and SaGhar, will use their current outdoor space as long as it can be open up to the sky. Danfords has its outdoor space on its dock and now has an agreement with the Town of Brookhaven for some use of the Mary Bayles Waterfront Park.  

A member of the village fire marshals did not respond to requests for comment about guidelines for safety in walkable areas.

The Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce released a letter dated June 5 to the Village of Port Jefferson mayor and trustees asking that retailers be allowed some latitude for “outdoor merchandising.”

“The consumer would have the ability to ‘shop’ in a less confined area and the retailer would be creating more opportunities for sales,” the letter states. 

Director of operations for the chamber Barbara Ransome said she has had positive feedback from village trustees on the proposal. 

Garant said they are working up guidelines that should be released sometime on Wednesday, but those were not available by press time. Retailers will have the option to have a table in front of their shops, but they will need to keep 3 feet of sidewalk clear and ensure that they do not block doorways or fire exits, as mandated by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for outdoor dining. 

Code Enforcement will be inspecting businesses and restaurants to ensure they’re not blocking too much of the curb or that they’re adhering to the CDC distancing guidelines. 

“We’re trying to keep it so that it’s nice looking and it’s not an overload of stuff,” Garant said. 

Alana Miletti, the owner of the boutique shop Fame and Rebel, said she has survived in the grueling months of the pandemic thanks to her active social media helping facilitate online orders. Though on Wednesday she said with customers able to browse, even in a limited capacity, she had not had a moment’s rest fulfilling orders since the store opened.

“People couldn’t wait to come out,” she said.

Now with Phase Two salons and haircutters are finally able to open. Melissa Hanley, the owner of Salon Blonde, said she managed to survive during the nearly three full months she was shut down thanks to federal loans. Being back in action, however, means a world of difference.

“It’s been scary — we’ve been struggling a little bit,” Hanley said. “It’s such a relief. This is my life so, to be back in business, I’ve waited a long time for it.”

People in Port Jefferson line up to eat at Prohibition Kitchen, doing their best to stay six feet apart. Photo by Kyle Barr

After two months of shutdown, area businesses were given the go-ahead to restart operations when Suffolk County reached Phase One of the state’s reopening process. It is the first of four phases as state officials slowly lift restrictions meant to curb the spread of the coronavirus. 

For many storefronts, it is the first step on the path to recovery. Here’s how things are going for a few retailers in Port Jefferson. 

Renee Goldfarb, owner of Origin of Era boutique in Port Jefferson, said it’s been a delicate balance of making sure they are operating safely and trying to make some revenue again. For select retailers like hers, they are limited as of now to only curbside pickup. 

“We’ve encouraged our customers to check out our online store and if they like a certain item they can email, and we’ll have it ready for them at the door,” she said. “It’s been difficult because we are very hands on, we want the customer to be able to try on a piece but we’re limited on what we can do.”

Goldfarb hopes owners can eventually make up for some of their losses. But she also took issue with how the state handled big retailers remaining open.  

“Do I think it was implemented the right way? I don’t think so,” she said. “I understand Walmart and Target sell essential products, but people were also able to buy nonessential items. That completely puts mom-and-pop shops at a disadvantage. They should have closed that area off [to customers during the shutdown].”

Abby Buller, who runs the Village Boutique in Port Jefferson, said sales have been slow the first few days open. On Memorial Day weekend, a time when the businesses thrive with the influx of people, Buller said she only saw about six people walking the streets. 

“There was no one on the streets, why should they come to a town where they can’t go shopping. This is a shopping and eating town,” she said. “The bars are closed; the restaurants are only allowing pickup. Right now, there is no reason for the Connecticut people to come and take the ferry — there’s nothing to do once you get here.”

With eight weeks of no income coming in, the boutique owner is glad she can start bringing in some sales. She was also frustrated with how the state handled the initial shutdown restrictions and agreed with Goldfarb.. 

“What they’ve done to small businesses is ridiculous,” she said. “From the beginning they allowed Target, Walmart, Home Depot, Lowe’s to sell nonessential products,” Buller said. “The fact that they were allowed to stay open during this time and make more money is disgusting, small businesses have been suffering.” 

Brookhaven officials have spoken out on the issue. 

“I am very concerned about the prospects for the future of our small businesses,” said Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), at a recent press conference. “We need to be safe and we need to be smart, but we don’t need rules that work against mom-and-pop businesses when there’s no reason to do that. I ask the governor and county executive to take action now and help our small businesses and downtowns fully reopen again.”

The comments came after recommendations from the town’s post-COVID-19 task force looking at economic recovery. Members of the committee said the state’s plan has favored big box stores.

Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) had similar sentiments. 

“We are asking the state to take a different approach when reopening businesses and use a more objective standard, such as the square footage recommendation made by the town a few weeks ago,” she said. “This will place our small businesses on more equal footing with the other larger and big box businesses.”

With Phase Two close by, owners will have to continue to obey social distancing guidelines. Retailers will be required to limit capacity. Patrons and workers are also required to wear masks.

Mary Joy Pipe, the president of the Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce and owner of East End Shirt Company is trying to make the best of their current situation as they look towards phase two. 

“Sales have been near zero, though we’ve had some customers,” she said. “But it’s important right now to be open, present and let people know we’re here.”

Going into phase two, Pipe will be changing the interior of the store to meet social distancing guidelines. Masks and the use of hand sanitizers will be required. 

“I think many of us look forward to starting a on a new page, looking back is painful,” she said. “We’re grateful to the community, they’ve had us in their minds and we feel that.”

In addition, once Phase Two begins, Goldfarb may implement an appointment-only model where up to six people can be in the store at a given time. She is also considering private shopping experiences. 

“My store is 700 square feet, we’re in a confined space. I’ll be requiring customers to wear masks until I feel it is comfortable to stop,” Goldfarb said. “I may lose customers but it’s our responsibility to be safe.”

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Port Jefferson Village Hall. File photo by Heidi Sutton

Port Jefferson village continues to plan for a number of ongoing projects. Here’s some notes from the June 1 meeting.

• The village has voted to waive all dining table application fees and outdoor dining public hearings, and permits would be effective for the full 2020 season. One example officials gave was Tiger Lily Cafe, which has one outdoor table setting but could expand to host more of its services outside. The village is still working out details with some restaurants, such as Ruvo East and Old Fields, to use residential parking lots as outdoor dining space for shops looking to participate.

• As the Port Jefferson Fire Department will not be making a decision on the annual July 4 parade until mid-June, the board voted to push back the fireworks show, normally held at East Beach, until potentially later in the summer. Mayor Margot Garant suggested the dates of Aug. 1 or 2 to coincide with potential graduation plans with the Port Jefferson School Districtm although no dates have officially been set as of yet. Fireworks by Grucci, which normally hosts the village’s fireworks displays, notified officials they would see no problem in providing the displays at a later date.

• Bike racks have already been installed at the small park by the village center, and now there are new bike racks next to the basketball courts near Rocketship Park. 

• A new electric vehicle charger has been installed at the parking lot in front of Rocketship Park. So far there have been 31 charging sessions with each session averaging a total of 1 hour and 21 minutes. The village plans to install another charging station at the Barnum Avenue parking lot once the lot is finally constructed.

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File photo

Suffolk County Police said they arrested a man in Port Jeff for allegedly committing a lewd act in front of people at a park in Port Jefferson.

Police said a pedestrian saw a man committing a lewd act at Harborfront Park, located at 101 East Broadway at around 10:15 a.m. Thursday, June 4 and called 911.

6th Precinct  officers said they arrested Frank Cappuccio was. Cappuccio 70, of 12 Hemlock Path, Port Jefferson was charged with Public Lewdness.

Village trustee Kathianne Snaden wrote on Facebook the man was “acting innapropriately” in a semi-dressed state while in his car.

Cappuccio was issued a eesk appearance ticket and is scheduled to be arraigned at First District Court in Central Islip on June 24.

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Rev. Patrick Riegger, pastor at Infant Jesus, says hello to churchgoers Sunday, May 24. Photo by Kyle Barr

Though those of many different faiths and houses of worship readily await the time when congregations can meet again after the pandemic finally slows down, one Port Jefferson church has found a way to give its hundreds of parishioners the sort of connectivity they’ve lacked since the start of the crisis.

Rev. Rolando Ticllasuca gives drivers the blessed sacrement. Photo by Kyle Barr

Volunteers and staff from the Infant Jesus R.C. Church in Port Jefferson directed traffic along Main Street in front of the driveway to the parish. It’s a Sunday morning, May 24, and hundreds of vehicles pull up the ramp into the church’s parking lot. Some Sundays, the line stretches all the way up the road to the PJ Lobster House at the corner of Main Street and North Country Road. It’s a mix of old and young, big SUVs and compacts, but nearly all smile as they say “hello” to their pastors and receive a drive-through version of the Blessed Sacrament from the Rev. Rolando Ticllasuca. 

The scene has largely remained the same every Sunday for the six weeks since Easter. It offers that small bit of community connection for the parishioners living in the area, so many of whom have been cooped up at home, working through the anxieties of the ongoing pandemic.

The Rev. Patrick Riegger, pastor at Infant Jesus, knows nearly every person in each vehicle on sight, even through their face coverings and masks. He said church members, of whom the total families number close to 5,000, find that the event helps them reconnect with their community.

“It shows support for them during these unprecedented times,” Riegger said. “For the last six weeks, this is where the community has been, here at Infant Jesus.”

New Infant Jesus seminarian Jonathan Pham helps direct traffic into Infant Jesus R.C. Church’s drive-through Sunday service. Photo by Kyle Barr

He said the weekly event started when church members Peter and Karen Helfrich suggested they host some kind of event for Easter to allow members to participate in some way on the holiday. Performing the event the following Sunday, parish staff were surprised by just how many continued to come out. Week after week, 300, 400 or even 500 vehicles show up from all over the local area in the three-hour period the service is hosted. It may not be the same people every single week, but many have returned once or twice over the span of the service. With the fact that cars often contain families, members estimated they likely receive over 1,000 people a week.

Michael Dyroff, a commissioner with the Terryville Fire Department and lifelong church member, came to the drive-through service with his wife Debbie and said they are “blessed” to have the religious staff willing to perform the service.

“It’s a way of connecting with folks,” Dyroff said. “It’s a wonderful idea.”

The church relies on staff and volunteers, including from the local Knights of Columbus, to help direct traffic up from Main Street and around through the parking lot. Members in their cars keep a distance from the clergy and receive the Blessed Sacrament from afar. 

Corrine Addiss, the head of religious education for the church, stood outside helping to direct traffic. She said the number of cars coming through really starts to pick up after 9:30 a.m. She thanked the volunteers who “could be in bed, sleeping,” but are instead helping their parish. 

Cars line up the driveway for the Infant Jesus Chruch’s drive through church services. Photo by Kyle Barr

Of course, it will not make up for a real service hosted inside a church, but it may be several more weeks or even months before that can begin. Perhaps most important for Riegger is the act of communion, which hasn’t been hosted since the church was closed to anything but private prayer back in March. 

Even when churches open, it may be very different than what churchgoers are used to. The Archdiocese of New York released a five-phase reopening plan May 21 that included first opening for private prayer and confessions, before moving on to attendee-limited baptisms and marriages, distributing Holy Communion outside of Mass, then hosting limited daily or funeral services before finally allowing Sunday services at a maximum of 25 percent the usual occupancy. 

Riegger said they would be following New York State’s and the Archdiocese of New York’s guidelines. 

Still, Infant Jesus plans to keep the drive-through church service alive as long as the pandemic and shutdown order mandates people keep apart. That might include pews marked with tape to keep people from sitting too close, or communion being done wearing gloves and a mask.

“When you have a crisis like this, where everything’s closed down, how do you give them that sense of community, that sense of assurance that God is with them?” said Dominik Wegiel, a seminarian at Infant Jesus. “This is our sort of our way of connecting them to the parish, connecting them to the community, but more importantly connecting them in that God is with us even in these times.”