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Smithtown Children’s Foundation

By Leah Chiappino

Like most nonprofit organizations, the Smithtown Children’s Foundation, since the pandemic, is helping more families with less funds. 

Christine Fitzgerald, executive director and one of the founders of the Smithtown Children’s Foundation, said calls of housing insecurity especially are coming in large numbers to the nonprofit, which assists Smithtown-area families in need.

“I’m sure if you ask people who are not paying attention, they will say, ‘Oh, no, everything’s fine,’” she said. “It’s not. It’s really not.”

Fitzgerald said she received a call from a Commack homeless shelter last year about a 22-year-old woman who was raising her three teenage siblings, seeking to provide them with more stable housing. The young woman had her home health aide license, but her car was dead, so the foundation raised the funds to fix it.

After that, Fitzgerald told the shelter to call her and “vouch” for other moms in need.

“We get a lot of frequent flyers in the system, and we just don’t have the resources for that, to be throwing money around,” she said.

The next call came for a single mom with three kids working several jobs while caring for a baby with health issues. She was close to getting into an apartment but needed help paying the $1,700 deposit fee.

“She does sound like a real hustler, a gig employee, she does DoorDash, does hair, does balloon arches, does everything,” Fitzgerald said.

The woman didn’t live in Smithtown, so Fitzgerald couldn’t write the check from foundation funds. However, through Hart to Hearts, a chapter of the Smithtown Children’s Foundation named in memory of a local single dad who adopted several children, she started a fundraiser through Facebook. 

They wound up having enough funds to cover movers and are offering the mother school supplies, backpacks and gift cards for clothing.

Through the foundation’s Anthony’s Hope chapter, the foundation came across another young mom sleeping in her car. She works full-time and delivers for Uber Eats and DoorDash on the side while trying to save up for an apartment deposit. The foundation is also raising funds for her, Fitzgerald said, who said she vetted the women in need before agreeing to help with the social workers who referred her. 

“I said ‘I can’t just throw good money after bad if I’m going to pay a deposit, and then she’s going to move in and she has no way to support herself and she’s going to get kicked out,”’ she said. “I need to know more.”

These stories have been common since the pandemic, according to Fitzgerald.

“We’re getting people in shelters or people saying I need housing, and I can’t pay the security deposit,” she said.

Yolanda Robano-Gross, CEO of Ronkonkoma-based Options for Community Living, said she does come across homeless people in Smithtown and the surrounding areas.

“There’s a lot of families out there,” she said. “There are people that kind of manage and float under the radar. They couch surf from friend to friend. They are able to maintain their cars. They have a low-end gym membership, which allows them a place to shower.”

But, she added, “The large majority of the general population has a very skewed picture. They picture that person when they get off the train at Penn Station, see the show and have dinner, who has the cardboard sign and is sitting on the corner. And while that’s certainly a part of the population, it’s not the majority.”

Homelessness isn’t always visible in areas like Smithtown, according to Mike Guiffrida, associate director of the Long Island Coalition for the Homeless, which runs several outreach and direct service programs, including a street outreach team.

Giuffrida has seen homelessness increase among the elderly, who are being priced out of the housing market and generally have medical debt, and young mothers between the ages of 25 to 35, who cannot afford the cost of living and do not have established careers. 

The backlog of evictions put on hold during the pandemic has recently started to pick up.

“I think an area like Smithtown is a really good example of an opportunity to bring awareness to an issue like homelessness while it might not be overly seen and visible within the community,” Giuffrida said.

Some homeless people throughout Long Island live in their cars but do not have a consistent space to park their cars, making it difficult to track them down. It often takes good Samaritans calling and reporting the person for the coalition to offer them services.

“We really rely on the community to be the eyes and the ears because homelessness looks different on Long Island than it does in other areas, not only in the sense that you don’t see it but also in the trends of how people are living specifically,” he said.

In Smithtown, libraries have helped serve and identify the homeless, Guiffrida said. He added that giving them a place to use the computer to access resources has been instrumental. Police have also played a role.

“We’ve seen this encouraging trend where police are kind of seeking an alternative and more supportive way to engage people that are in that situation,” Giuffrida noted. “They’re contacting us and partnering with the outreach teams and other support.”

With some exceptions, such as veterans, youth or victims of domestic violence, households have to go through the Department of Social Services to access shelters in Suffolk County, said Giuffrida. When people call and ask for the nearest shelter, the coalition cannot give them an answer because the nearest shelter may not be available or the person may not be eligible. 

Data on the number of homeless people in the area is difficult to interpret, according to Guiffrida.

A spokesperson for the Suffolk County Police Department said they could not “quantify calls about homeless people.” When asked about the number of calls received about the homeless in Smithtown this year, due to the fact they are classified as a disturbance, a code used for several issues such as parking problems, dogs barking, loud parties, loose animals and neighbor disputes. 

Smithtown Public Information Officer Nicole Garguilo said the Town supervisor’s office had not received calls from residents about the homeless.

Data for last year on the number of homeless on Long Island from the Long Island Coalition for the Homeless include 9,687 total people, 3,692 single adults and 6,005 households with children.

If you see someone you think may be homeless, call the Long Island Coalition for the Homeless helpline at 631-464-4314, ext. 118.

Photo from SCF

After a two-year Covid hiatus, The Smithtown Children’s Foundation Community Table grand tasting event returns to Watermill Caterers, 711 Smithtown Bypass, Smithtown on Tuesday, Nov. 15. Proceeds will aid local families in crisis.

“We are overwhelmed by the generosity of businesses from every hamlet located within the Town of Smithtown. To date, we have over two dozen culinary businesses putting their best food forward at the Community Table event,” said Christine Fitzgerald, co-founder of the Smithtown Children’s Foundation.

Local donations for prizing at the SCF Community Table include a diamond ring donated by Markar Jewelers in Smithtown retailing at $3,850. Smithtown residents Vincenzo Saulle and Rich Albano contributed a wine-making session at Wine U Design (Hicksville) and an overnight stay at Smithtown’s historic Mansion at Ebo Hill, respectively and the Scotto Brothers presented an overnight stay at The Inn at Fox Hollow in Woodbury.  

The Community Table will have over 60 baskets donated by local businesses including LaVida Massage of Smithtown, Uncle Giuseppe’s Marketplace of Smithtown, Mannino’s Italian Kitchen and Lounge of Commack, Maia Salon Spa & Wellness, Husk and Vine Kitchen and Cocktails, Legends Bar and Grill, Up In Smoke BBQ, Maureen’s Kitchen, Touch of Class Car Wash, Villa Sorrento Restaurant, Florie’s Finales and many more.

The featured silent auction includes several travel packages:  3 to 5 day/ 2 to 4 night stays in Palm Harbor, FL; Palmetto Bluff, SC; Savannah, GA; Pebble Beach, Sonoma, and Los Cabos, CA;  Scottsdale, AZ; Boston, MA; and NYC. Also sports memorabilia will be available for bidding.

“One of our goals this year is to help every business lending a hand in making the Community Table grand tasting a success. This year a significant effort is driven by SCF to build awareness of those businesses through promotion and introducing them to Smithtown high school’s Industry Advisory Board for potential internship and hiring needs. It’s a win for the entire community!” said Nancy Vallarella, SCF board member and event coordinator. 

Tastings will be provided by Osteria Umbra, Nosh, Blue Beans Café, Maria’s Mexican & Latin Cuisine, Big Belly Que, Mema’s Little Italian Kitchen, Pace’s Steak House, The Fresh Market, The Trattoria, Legends Bar & Grill, Kick’n Chicken, Q Sushi & Hibachi, Florie’s Finales, Elegant Eating, Athenian Greek Taverna, Duck Donuts, Felene Vodka, Alpine Bakery, O Sole Mio, Mickey’s Ice Cream, The Whisk Bakery, Husk and Vine, Smiling Chef Catering and Watermill Caterers. Musicology will provide the entertainment along with In the Mood DJ Productions.

Tickets are available online until midnight Saturday,  Nov. 12, for $100 per person. After that, availability will continue online until midnight on Nov. 14 and at the door for $125 per person. Discounts are available for tables of ten. 

To order tickets, please visit https://www.smithtownchildrensfoundation.com/events.

Local officials joined together with the Daniela Conte Foundation, Thomas Scully Foundation, Smithtown Children‘s Foundation, Smithtown Central School District, local parent advocate Amy Beach, families and friends to kick off Childhood Cancer Awareness Month with the annual ‘Go Gold’ Tree lighting ceremony at Town Hall on Sept. 7.

The tree at Town Hall was adorned in gold bows, bearing the names of local children who are actively fighting cancer, in remission or have since passed away. The lights and ribbons were donated to the Town courtesy of Katia Conte, founder of the Daniela Conte foundation in 2021. Each year, new bows with the names of local kids are added. Additionally, giant gold awareness ribbons, donated courtesy of the Thomas Scully Foundation are on display at the Smithtown Bull Monument, at Town Hall, the Parks Department and at the Highway Department through the month of September. Local mom and advocate Amy Beach was on hand to distribute gold laces as a part of the “Lace up for Kids” partnership, in honor of her son Dylan, with the Smithtown Central School District.

“The month of September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. But as many of the families here with us tonight will tell you, cancer affects us all 24/7… year round. Tonight we kick off a year of awareness. However… We are also here as one community, one family, to let every parent, or caregiver, who has a child diagnosed with cancer know something…You are not alone. We are here to fight for you, cry with you, laugh with you, pray for you and share our love with you. Thanks to organizations like the Daniela Conte Foundation, the Thomas Scully Foundation, the Smithtown Children‘s Foundation and the work that Parent Advocates like Amy Beach do, there are local resources and an entire community of people who are ready to help. Whether it’s financial assistance, help dealing with insurance companies, hospital administrations, a hand getting dinner on the table or an extra hand around the house… You will not go through this alone. That is our promise to you,” said Supervisor Ed Wehrheim .

Each year, the Town of Smithtown raises awareness for Childhood Cancers in the month of September through various activities and events. These efforts are intended to help fund and raise awareness, identify breakthroughs and fill gaps in the treatment landscape, and direct research to the areas with the greatest need. This year the call for action in addition to advocacy and awareness rang clear from Amy Beach, who spoke on behalf of Katia Conte and Debbie Scully.

Pediatric Cancer has to be funded by nationwide and local groups. We run, walk, shave our heads, play golf, host gala’s and have community involvement to raise research dollars. Leave it up to the parents… As of today, hospitals are still using 30 year old toxic treatments on children that cause a lifetime of medical problems for survivors. Kids deserve the very best in cures, treatments and protocols that science can offer and that means investing in research… When you think about why it’s so important to go gold in September, then think about the statistics and how underfunded childhood cancer really is. And be truly thankful if you haven’t had to endure the worst thing a parent can go through.,” said Katia Conte of the Daniela Conte Foundation.

“The mission of the Thomas Scully Foundation is to  bring A Little Bit of Happiness to children with cancer today, while supporting a cure for tomorrow. The foundation delivers care packages to bring comfort and joy to children, while they’re in local NY hospitals. They also support a cure for tomorrow, by providing A Little Bit of Hope grants. These are given to families seeking innovative treatments for their child… The Thomas Scully Foundation would like to thank the Town of Smithtown, for helping to bring awareness to childhood cancer by going gold for the third year in a row. Not only are you helping to bring awareness but you’re also letting everyone know that you support those children and families who have been affected. We thank you for that,” added Debbie Scully of the Thomas Scully Foundation.

“Less than 4% of the federal budget for cancer research in the United States of America is dedicated to childhood cancer. Solving Kids Cancer is an organization that finds, funds and advocates for breakthrough treatment options to cure children with the most fatal pediatric cancers. They help accelerate new, next generation treatments, including immunotherapy, cancer vaccines and new drugs, by applying an understanding of the entire childhood cancer landscape to wisely invest in innovative projects… This September, we are proud to have the Smithtown Slammers U14 flash girls soccer team participating in their sixth season of Lace Up for Kids, Nesaquake Middle School has been a wonderful partner since 2018 and we are excited to announce that all of Smithtown Central School District schools will be participating again in 2022… Friday, September 16th will be a district-wide Go Gold Day. And we invite all of you as well to care, wear and share your gold throughout this month of September. Last year, we stood in front of this tree, as so many of you pledged support for these Children and their families battling the unimaginable. It has been 370 days… Support is more than a photo opp. Tonight lets shift from awareness to action. Because every kid deserves a chance to grow up. We look forward to many years of partnership, awareness and advocacy until one day, there is a cure. Be Bold. Go Gold,” said Amy Beach, a childhood cancer research advocate and Smithtown parent. 

“This ceremony here tonight, the support and awareness is invaluable to the children we’re trying to support, those to come and to those who we have lost. The Smithtown Children Foundation was founded in 2008. What many don’t know is that the motivation and inspiration in creating the foundation, was a five year old little girl who was diagnosed with neuroblastoma and who sadly we lost a year later. While we support the community through a number of initiatives, the plight of childhood cancer awareness, of supporting families who are battling this, is one that is very close to our hearts at the foundation. We are here to provide financial, and emotional support, to provide resources, help for some of the ins and outs for families who are going through this and may be a little overwhelmed. We support your foundations wholeheartedly, we support awareness and we support the individual families to help you in any way we can,” said  Krissy Lonetto, of the Smithtown Children‘s Foundation.

“We all know cancer is an insidious disease. But when it impacts our children, it is especially devastating. Amy’s message tonight really hits home… of turning advocacy into action. That is certainly what we are hoping to do! In the next few days and throughout the month, you will see gold ribbons at each of our schools, and increase advocacy with a path towards action. Also, the Lace Up for Kids initiative in schools and at our East/West football game, will pay particular attention to this cause on Friday night. I applaud all the foundations involved here, and the Town for your continued advocacy.,” sadid Superintendent Dr. Mark Secaur, Smithtown Central School District.

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Winners and sponsors from Smithtown Children's Foundation's 2019 Wellness Challenge

By Leah Chiappino

For over a decade, Smithtown Children’s Foundation has been providing emotional and financial support for struggling families residing in the Smithtown school district. In the wake of COVID-19, the need from the community has only grown stronger, and the foundation has had to cancel the five major fundraisers that sustain its operations, such as its annual golf outing, casino night, holiday breakfast and dinner dance. “We have so many families who need us and so little opportunity to fundraise,” said Krissy Lonetto, executive board member

Nesconset resident Jennifer Draney and SCF volunteer Laura Cook load a car with fresh vegetables. Photo from Smithtown Children’s Fondation

The foundation was originally founded in 2008 to assist the family of Kaylee Ann Rivers, a local kindergarten student with neuroblastoma. Though she passed away, her legacy inspired the foundation to continue to assist as many local families as possible.

SCF pays medical and utility bills, and purchases medical equipment that is not covered by insurance for families facing a crisis. The foundation arranges delivery of meals for local families facing hardship, whether they are facing a catastrophe such as a house fire or are falling on hard times after losing a job. The foundation also funds a classroom project each year and works with social workers from the school district to provide school supplies, Thanksgiving gift cards and holiday presents. Each family that receives assistance is vetted through application forms, referred to the foundation by social workers or nominated by a loved one.

“People are struggling but are too proud to say it,” said executive director Christine Fitzgerald. “They say they are OK, and in reality they’re not.”

Even with the increased demand in need during the pandemic, the foundation has not turned away families that need assistance. However, there is concern the situation could come to that, due to the drop in fundraising.

“We will probably make a single percentage of the funds that we raised last year,” said advisory board member and local food writer Nancy Vallarella. “The need is so great, and it is very frustrating. We’re just not hitting what we need to hit, and I understand that every foundation is going through the same thing. It’s just very difficult.”

Though the foundation has sustained operations mostly through private donations and reserve funds, they have had to get creative in order to try and fundraise what they can, according to Fitzgerald, who is also a founding member of the foundation. At the beginning of the pandemic, they hosted a restaurant bingo fundraiser, in which participants made a $15 donation, and in exchange received bingo cards filled with local restaurants. When donors ordered from the restaurants and showed proof, they marked the space. Those that won “Bingo!” each received a gift card to one of the participating restaurants, benefiting both the restaurants and the foundation.

In the summer, the foundation launched a farm-to-trunk initiative in which they partnered with Red Fox Organic and Sujecki farms, to sell produce to be picked up curbside at the Watermill.

“We were really grasping at straws to try and provide a service to the community and support local farmers,” Vallarella said. “We did not make a lot of money, but it kept us in touch with the community.”

“There is literally nothing that those families want that we don’t find a way to get for them.” – Krissy Lonetto

She added that people would come from week to week, and then make personal donations or have their businesses donate.

Other events went virtual, like a recent online basket auction, and an online gift registry using the website Elfster, in which donors could directly purchase a gift from the wish list of a local child in need, which totaled around 50 families.

“There is literally nothing that those families want that we don’t find a way to get for them,” Lonetto said. “We’re almost like Make-A-Wish.”

She is a teacher at Accompsett Elementary School who joined the group after it helped her launch the annual Mike’s Hike run/family walk in honor of fellow teacher, Mike Denaro, who died suddenly in 2011. She said that the number of families whose information the foundation received from social workers to receive holiday gifts is normally around 15-20, and this year totaled around 25-30. At Thanksgiving, the number of families who received gift cards to purchase a meal increased from around 15 to 40.

Over the years, the foundation has developed different chapters to expand its reach, and most are in honor of local children who have passed away. Tristin’s Wish, which was started for Tristin Hart, a local toddler who passed away from a bacterial infection, funds holiday presents. The Silent Night chapter, launched on behalf of Dylan Beach, gifts presents to patients at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital. The Smi1es 4 S3an chapter was launched in honor of Smithtown West student Sean Cook, who passed away from cancer with the goal of assisting other families who have a child with cancer. Anthony’s Hope was started in honor of Anthony Raso, a Smithtown student who committed suicide after a long battle with depression, in order to raise awareness for suicide, mental illness and opioid addiction in teenagers and young adults.

The foundation has expanded into a Hauppauge chapter which is headed by board member and local insurance agent Jennifer O’Brien, and is devoted to assisting families residing in the Hauppauge school district.

Local non-profit pivots fundraising effort and aids local farmers, community, and economy

The Smithtown Children’s Foundation has spent the last twelve years helping local residents in need. Funds are raised primarily by large gathering events. C0VID-19 has canceled all of those events for 2020. “We had to pivot just like every other business. Unfortunately, need is at an all-time high, when our funds are at an all-time low,” said Christine Fitzgerald, President, and Co-Founder of Smithtown Children’s Foundation. “We had to get creative.”

Farm to Trunk is the brainchild of SCF board member and former Nesconset Farmer’s Market Manager, Nancy Vallarella. “COVID related social media posts revealed local residents were ordering product from distributors that were sourcing produce from all over the country. With Long Island’s harvest approaching, why not organize a minimal contact delivery system that would help Long Island farmers, the local economy, and provide the consumer with the freshest, nutrient-packed produce available?” she said.

Red Fox Organic Farms, located on the property of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Brentwood, was the first Long Island farm to join this fundraising program. Jim Adams, Red Fox’s Farm Coordinator remarked,” We are thrilled and so grateful to be working with SCF. It’s just the connection we needed to begin sharing our food with the Long Island community.”

Smithtown resident Dawn Mohrmann has purchased the Red Fox Organic produce box for the past four weeks. “The Farm to Trunk Smithtown Children’s Foundation program has been an easy decision. A great foundation paired with great local, organic, farm-fresh food! Healthy produce for our family is what we look forward to every week,” said Mohrmann.

SCF’s Farm to Trunk will be bringing Sujecki Farms (Calverton), back to Smithtown as an additional produce provider for the Farm to Trunk Fundraiser. “Sujecki Farms has a following here in Smithtown. They have been an anchor in Smithtown’s Farmers’ Market history for over a decade,” said Vallarella. “They are a family that has been farming on Long Island for over 100 years. We welcome their products and are excited to continue to support their farming effort.”

All orders are placed directly with each farm and are delivered to Watermill Caterers, 711 Smithtown Bypass/Rt.347, Smithtown. Smithtown Children’s Foundation volunteers deliver the produce boxes to the customer’s car trunk from the southwest corner of the Watermill’s parking lot every Wednesday from 5:30 to 7 p.m. There is no on-going commitment. Consumers can order week to week.

Information on the program can be found on the Farm to Trunk — Smithtown Children’s Foundation Facebook.

Order links:

Red Fox Organic Farms — https://www.redfoxfarm.farm/product-page/red-fox-box

Sujecki Farms — https://www.sujeckifarms.com/product-page/smithtown-farm-to-trunk-veggie-box

Photos from Nancy Vallarella