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Smithtown

The 9/11 memorial in Hauppauge. File photo by Rita J. Egan

“One of the worst days in American history saw some of the bravest acts in Americans’ history. We’ll always honor the heroes of 9/11. And here at this hallowed place, we pledge that we will never forget their sacrifice.” — Former President George W. Bush

These were the patriotic thoughts of this president who reflected on the heroic services that were demonstrated by Americans during and after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. 

While it has been 20 years since our nation was attacked by the sting of terrorism, Americans have not forgotten this tragic moment. On the North Shore — about 80 miles from Manhattan at its easterly point — there are many memorials that honor the local residents who were killed, the dedication of the rescue workers and the War on Terror veterans who defended this nation at home and abroad for the last two decades.

There has been a tremendous amount of support from the local municipalities, state and local governments, along with school districts to never forget 9/11. People do not have to look far to notice the different types of memorials, landmarks and resting places that represent those harrowing moments and the sacrifices that were made to help others and defend this country. 

Calverton National Cemetery

Driving northwest on Route 25A, it is possible to quickly see the reminders of sacrifice within the Calverton National Cemetery. This sacred ground is one of the largest military burial grounds in America and driving through its roads, there are flags that have been placed for veterans of all conflicts — especially the most recent during the War on Terror. 

One of the most visited sites there is that of Patchogue resident Lt. Michael P. Murphy who was killed in 2005 in Afghanistan, where under intense enemy fire he tried to call in support to rescue his outnumbered four-man SEAL team. 

As the 20th anniversary of 9/11 approaches, local residents can also see his name gracing the front of Patchogue-Medford High School, the post office in Patchogue, the Navy SEAL Museum that is near completion in West Sayville, and a memorial created for him on the east side of Lake Ronkonkoma, where he was a lifeguard.

Shoreham-Wading River—Rocky Point—Sound Beach—Mount Sinai

West of Calverton, at the main entrance of Shoreham-Wading River High School, you will notice a baseball field located between the road and the Kerry P. Hein Army Reserve Center. 

One of this field’s former players, Kevin Williams, was killed on 9/11, where he was a bond salesman for Sandler O’Neill, in the South Tower of the World Trade Center. This 24-year-old young man was a talented athlete who was recognized with MVP honors on the baseball, golf and basketball teams for the high school. 

A foundation has been created in the name of Williams, an avid New York Yankees fan, that has helped provide financial support to baseball and softball players unable to afford attending sports camps. 

Not far from Shoreham, driving westward, motorists will notice the strength, size and beauty of the Rocky Point Fire Department 9/11 memorial. This structure is located on Route 25A, on the west side of the firehouse.

Immediately, people will notice the impressive steel piece that is standing tall in the middle of a fountain, surrounded by a walkway with bricks that have special written messages. In the background, there are names of the people killed during these attacks and plaques that have been created to recognize the services of the rescue workers and all of those people lost.  

Heading west into Rocky Point’s downtown business district, VFW Post 6249 has a 9/11 tribute with steel from lower Manhattan. Less than a half mile away, on Broadway and Route 25A, the Joseph P. Dwyer statue proudly stands high overlooking the activity of the busy corner.  

This veteran’s square remembers the service of PFC Dwyer, who enlisted into the Army directly after this nation was attacked and fought in Iraq. He struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder and this statue supports all veterans who have dealt with these hard psychological and physical conditions. 

A short distance away, the Sound Beach Fire Department also created a special structure on its grounds through a neighborhood feeling of remembrance toward all of those people lost.

Heading west toward Mount Sinai, it is easy to observe a wonderful sense of pride through the Heritage Park by its display of American flags. On the Fourth of July, Veterans Day and Memorial Day, residents see these national and state colors, and this always presents a great deal of patriotism for the people utilizing this park.

Coram—Port Jefferson—St. James 

More south on County Road 83 and North Ocean Avenue, visitors of all ages enjoy the Diamond in the Pines Park in Coram. There, people have the opportunity to visit the 9/11 Memorial Learning Site. This site honors all of the citizens lost from the townships of Brookhaven and Riverhead, the rescue workers and War on Terror veterans.  

For 10 years, the site has helped reflect on this assault on America through the major bronze plaques with historical information, black granite pictures, benches, and statues of a bronze eagle and a rescue dog that helped search for survivors of the attack at the World Trade Center.

Leaving this park and going north into the village of Port Jefferson, people enjoy the beauty of its harbor, its stores, and they see traffic enter via ferry from Connecticut. Through the activity of this bustling area, there is a large bronze eagle that is placed on a high granite platform.  

Perched high, citizens from two different states brought together by the ferry are able to walk by this memorial that helps recognize the lost people of Long Island and the New England state. Driving near the water through Setauket, Stony Brook and into St. James, there is a major 7-ton memorial that highlights a “bowtie section” of steel from the World Trade Center.  

Due to the type of steel on display, there are few memorials that capture the spirit of the St. James Fire Department 9/11 site.

Nesconset—Hauppauge—Smithtown

Traveling south down Lake Avenue toward Gibbs Pond Road and Lake Ronkonkoma, the 9/11 Responders Remembered Memorial Park in Nesconset is located at 316 Smithtown Blvd. This is a vastly different place of remembrance, as it is continually updated with the names of fallen rescue workers who have died since the attacks 20 years ago. 

Taking Townline Road west into Hauppauge toward Veterans Highway and Route 347, you will end up at the Suffolk County government buildings. 

Directly across from Blydenburgh Park in Smithtown, is a major 9/11 memorial created by the county. This memorial has 179 pieces of glass etched with the 178 names of the Suffolk County residents killed on September 11, with one extra panel to honor the volunteers who built the memorial.

As commuters head west to reach the Northern State Parkway, they drive by a major structure that was created to recognize all of those citizens from Huntington to Montauk killed on 9/11 by terrorism. It is just one of many such monuments created by our local townships, fire departments, parks and schools.  

Even after 20 years, our society has not forgotten about the beautiful day that turned out to be one of the most tragic moments in our history.  

Rich Acritelli is a social studies teacher at Rocky Point High School and an adjunct professor of American history at Suffolk County Community College.

Many North Shore residents spent their Thursday cleaning up after remnants of Tropical Depression Ida pummeled the Island Wednesday night. In addition to the storm, the National Weather Service issued a tornado warning for the North Shore of Suffolk County.

According to PSEG Long Island, the hardest-hit areas on the Island include Northport, Ridge, Lloyd Harbor and Huntington.

Huntington

In the Town of Huntington, flooding outside of the Huntington Sewage Treatment Plant on Creek Road left several motorists stranded, according to a press release from the town. STP staff accessed the facility via payloader late in the evening on Sept.1. During the peak of high tide, STP staff were unable to access the plant from the main entrance on Creek Road or from the rear entrance near the Mill Dam gates.

 “We actually had to take a payloader out to the Creek Road entrance to bring one of our employees into the plant last night,” said John Clark, the town’s director of Environmental Waste Management. “Several cars, including a police vehicle, were stuck on Creek Road and New York Avenue — at least one driver (a police officer) had to be removed via boat by the Huntington Fire Department.”  

Steve Jappell, a wastewater treatment plant operator at the STP facility, operated the payloader and assisted fellow employee Joe Lombardo and the police officer, who was ultimately transported from the scene by the Huntington Fire Department in a rescue boat. 

“Thank you to the Huntington Fire Department, as well as Centerport, Halesite and Northport fire departments, who also arrived to assist other stranded motorists on Creek Road, and to our quick-thinking staff at the plant,” said town Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R).

According to the press release, the area received its largest rain event in nearly 20 years between 7 p.m. and 1:30 a.m. The town reported that 6.29 inches fell during the 6 ½ hours.

While the STP usually processes around 1.8 million gallons per day, between 6 a.m. Sept. 1 and 6 a.m. Sept. 2 it processed more than 3.8 million gallons. According to the town, the plane “will continue to experience above average flow rates over the next two days as groundwater intrusion and sump pump activity contribute to the increased volumes.” 

Town officials also said there were 26 reports of flooding mostly in Huntington; 29 reports of downed trees and branches; 16 reports of large pieces, sections and layers of asphalt ripped away, five manhole covers washed aside and one possible sinkhole was reported in Northport as asphalt washed away on Oleander Drive.

As for town facilities both golf courses had some flooding and were closed Sept. 2, and Town Hall had about ½ inch of flooding in the basement.

Smithtown

According to Smithtown Public Information Officer Nicole Gargiulo, there was flooding in the Smithtown Town Hall basement; however, there was no other damage to equipment or facilities in the town.

During the peak of the storm, the town received calls about flooded roads, but the streets were cleared as of the morning of Sept. 2. 

Callahan’s Beach sustained damage, according to Gargiulo. The beach had already been closed due to damage after a storm in the early morning hours of Aug. 27. 

Stony Brook University

Students in the Mendelsohn Community of Stony Brook University, which is located on the North end of campus off of Stadium Drive, were the SBU students most affected by the storm. According to communications sent out by the university, while other areas of the campus experienced flooding conditions, Mendelsohn was the most affected and students needed to be relocated.

Also affected by the storm was the Student Brook Union, and the building is closed for damage assessment and cleanup. The university held a ribbon cutting ceremony for the newly renovated student union building last week. Employees who work in the building were asked to work remotely Sept. 2.

In an email from Rick Gatteau, vice president for Students Affairs, and Catherine-Mary Rivera, assistant vice president for Campus Residences, “the Mendelsohn buildings have no power due to 4-6 feet of water in the basement, resulting in a power failure to the building.  At this time, it is unsafe to be in the building while our teams pump out the water, assess the damage, and determine the timeline for repairs.”

Mendelsohn residents were not required to attend class on Sept. 2.

Three Village 

During the storm, the historic Thompson House in East Setauket took in 33 inches of water in its basement. Some of the water rose up to the first floor of the 1709 structure.

The building, which belongs to the Ward Melville Heritage Organization, will need to have the water pumped out, according to WMHO President Gloria Rocchio. After the water is pumped out, a cleanup company will have more work ahead of them to prevent any more damage.

According to the National Weather Service, 6.86 inches of rain fell in Setauket. The NWS reported that it was the highest rainfall total on Long Island.

Additional reporting by Daniel Dunaief.

Leg. Kara Hahn during a press conference at the Arthur Kunz County Park in Smithtown on May 11. Photo by Kimberly Brown

By Kimberly Brown

Suffolk County deputy presiding officer, Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), officially launched Tuesday the Park Stewardship Program, where community volunteers are selected to oversee local parks that do not have staff. 

County nature trails are in need of assistance as illegal dumping and vandalism are often discovered on the paths where local residents take their daily walks. 

“The responsibilities of the stewards would be to pick up trash and to notify the parks department if there is vandalism or dumping,” Hahn said. “We’ve had very high profile dumping issues, so it’s good to have eyes and ears on the ground.”

The stewards are also encouraged to help with signage to assist local residents with navigating through the trails. 

Hahn said it is important to create more signage to help residents such as mothers with children to ensure they know how far the trail is to reach a particular scenic spot. 

Photo by Kimberly Brown

County Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) expressed his gratitude for Hahn’s program, as his involvement in preserving Long Island parks dates back to 2006 when he won support for the transfer of the 365-acre former Kings Park State Hospital property to New York State parks department.

“This is very near and dear to my heart, I walk through here regularly,” he said. “This is the kind of thing that starts off small but may develop into a group where we can raise money so we can make improvements to the park.”

The falling of trees throughout Long Island trails since Hurricane Sandy in 2012 has been continuing many years later. The president of Long Island Greenbelt Trail Conference, David Reisfield, has taken it upon the Greenbelt organization to remove hazardous trees on trails that caused concern for residents. “This, to me, is the best thing,” he said. “We go out every Tuesday and cover three to four miles of trail, but the more volunteers the better. I could not be happier.” 

According to Hahn, stewards are not expected to cut down trees but are welcomed to use clippers for branches that may cause blockages on the trails. 

“It’s important that people get to go out and experience this, and sometimes a candy wrapper or a water bottle can mar that experience,” she said. “So, having stewards that are there to help pick those up is a good thing.”

If community members are interested in becoming a part of the Park Stewardship Program they can visit the county’s parks website at suffolkcountyny.gov/departments/parks and sign up online.

Photo by Julianne Mosher

There’s a place for people of all abilities to play soccer, and it’s right in Centereach.

TOPSoccer is a new program within Middle Country Children’s Soccer devoted solely to children with physical, mental or behavioral disabilities.

Rob Draper, a financial advisor at Draper Asset Management in Smithtown and club president of SB Athletico Soccer Club, said he wanted to provide a place where all different types of people can run, play and score goals together without judgment or fear. 

“Soccer helped me experience my kids’ childhoods,” he said. “With soccer, there were times where I would go, ‘Wow. That’s great,’ and our goal is to give those moments to these parents so they can experience it, too.”

Draper teamed up with Dave Phaff, also of SB Athletico, and James Malone, president of Middle Country Children’s Soccer to make this dream a reality.

“We’re all just good-hearted people that just really enjoy working with children and watching them grow into young women and men,” Phaff said. 

Officially kicking off last weekend, the program is made up primarily of skills sessions that help teach the participants the game of soccer, while at the same time providing them with an environment that is fun and pressure-free.

Phaff said the whole process took less than three months to get off the ground, and everyone was immediately on board. 

Joining the team is Tara Phaff, Dave’s wife — who is also a Doctor of Physical Therapy — who helped create the best plans for each individual participant’s needs.   

According to Middle Country TOPSoccer, the team encourages any child or adult who is differently-abled to get involved — and its 100% free.

With no questions asked, Draper wanted to fund the program for the families who decide to join in.

“Rob said to me, ‘I really want to start a special needs soccer program and I’ll fully fund it. I don’t care what it costs, I’ll fund it,’” Phaff added. “He has a great heart.”

While other soccer clubs do encourage inclusivity, Phaff said there aren’t too many locations where kids of different abilities can play further out east. That’s why Centereach was a great, central spot to get the ball rolling.

On Saturday, April 10, the group held its opening day at Oxhead Road Elementary School where 25 individuals, ranging in ages five to 55, headed to the field to kick, run and enjoy the sunshine. 

Some of the participants have Down syndrome, some on the autism spectrum and two children were able to play soccer from their wheelchairs. One thing they all had in common was the giant smiles on their faces.

Each player, Phaff said, gets a buddy that works with them every practice. These buddies are volunteers and soccer players, themselves, who help the individual and stand beside them the whole time — and they are anticipating even more players to come join them this season.

“The whole purpose of this is to give these kids an opportunity to be accepted and feel like they are part of something,” Phaff said. “So, we won’t turn anybody down.”

TOPSoccer has their practices every Saturday at 10 a.m. at Oxhead Elementary School in Centereach. Families who are interested in joining can register online at mccsoccer.org.

Brian Orlando shows off the new beer he collaborated with to fundraise for suicide prevention. Photo by Julianne Mosher

A local radio personality and a brewery owner are combining forces to combat suicide.

Brian Orlando, a DJ with Connoisseur Media’s 94.3 The Shark, has made it his mission to bring awareness to depression and to help those who are struggling.

Back in 2017, when his hero, and Soundgarden front man, Chris Cornell took his own life, Orlando was devastated. He began writing a song hoping to shine a light on the taboo topic of suicide, and to show that music can heal all wounds. 

A close up look at the QR reader and label on the Never Alone beer packaging. The code leads to a music video created by Orlando in memory of those who lost their lives to suicide. Photo by Julianne Mosher

He teamed up with Northport native (and the lead singer of 90s band Wheatus) Brendon B. Brown, Vinnie Dombroski of the band Sponge, Kevin Martin from Candlebox, and One Direction touring drummer Josh Devine to create “Choose Song.” 

In January 2019, the group, along with dozens of Long Island locals, filmed its music video at 1940’s Brewing Co. in Holbrook, starring Orlando’s friend, and fellow Shark DJ, Ashley Massaro, of Smithtown. 

Massaro lost her own life to suicide a few weeks before the video was set to release. 

“We watched it together,” Orlando said. “It was just a couple of weeks before she passed, and I know that she loved the video. She loved being here.” When Massaro passed away, everyone thought it was too soon to release the video online. Eventually, in July 2020, they decided to post it to YouTube, and share her story with the world. 

“There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about her,” he said. “I want people to realize that when they do see the video, they’re looking at somebody that fought to the end, even though she had problems, she was trying to help other people. That’s why she was here.”

Massaro rose to fame in 2005 after winning WWE’s Diva Search. Two years later, she was a contestant on “Survivor: China.” In 2016, she was one of several former wrestlers who sued the WWE, alleging they sustained head injuries on set that were not properly cared for, causing her severe depression. 

“When people see the video, they realize anybody from any walk of life can suffer from depression,” Orlando said. “And hopefully that’s an inspiration to reach out on that can and get help so you don’t become a statistic.”

The can he mentions is the new beer that  1940’s Brewing Co. crafted this month. Jon Brengel, head brewer and owner, was instrumental in the movement, since the video was first filmed inside his brewery. 

Jon Brengel with Brian Orlando inside 1940’s Brewery in Holbrook. Photo by Julianne Mosåher

Brengel, of Huntington, approached Orlando about creating a beer and a logo that he hopes can save lives. 

“As you try to bring people together with music, we tried to do the same thing with beer,” he said. “I thought it’d be really appropriate to have something to support mental health.”

For every sale of the “Never Alone” beer, proceeds will go to suicide prevention. They also added a QR code to the label, which brings customers to the music video’s page, and other information like the National Suicide Hotline. 

Brengel said the idea to create a beverage for a cause was thought of in December. By February, they brewed a brand-new citrus New England India IPA (flavored after Orlando’s favorite drink, tequila), and created the symbolic design.

The light blue label features a concert setting, with hands reaching up (to the singer or symbolizing reaching out for help). Crinkled paper decorates the background, symbolizing every note written and never sent. In red ink, it reminds anyone looking, “With music, you are never alone.”

Blending the duo’s love for music, hanging out with friends and having a good time, along with the reminder that help is available for whoever needs it, the craft beer was born. 

Brengel said he hopes his beverage will rekindle friendships and bring more people together. 

“Living in the world we live in now, not having that contact, and not being able to see people as often as you want, I think the song really is a reminder to reach out to that person you haven’t spoken to in a while,” he said. “We were very cautious of the stigma of alcohol and mental health matters, but I think the idea is that this QR reader and label will be a reminder for you to reach out to the people you miss.”

Orlando said there is always going to be a stigma about drinking, “But the truth of the matter is, breweries like this are just the places to go to and be together — listen to some good music and be with good people.”

Photo by Julianne Mosher

The ultimate goal, he said, is if the person consuming the drink is feeling down or having a bad day, the QR scanner is right there on the lable, and will direct them to an inspirational video, reminding them they are never alone. 

Orlando said that since the video’s release, nearly 20,000 people have viewed, shared and commented on it, saying that the song helped save their life. 

“That’s what the song is supposed to be there for to help people,” he said. 

The Choose Song beer is available at the 1940’s Brewery and at local distributers.

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An aerial view of Smithtown from the Town of Smithtown Draft Comprehensive Plan

While many are pleased that the Town of Smithtown has laid out comprehensive draft plans for each of its hamlets, some residents are concerned with several of the proposals.

“I think we got a lot of areas of town that would make you scratch your head, and say why are there houses next to businesses, next to industry.”

— Mike Cooley

We Are Smithtown, an advocacy group for town residents, hosted an online community forum about the town’s comprehensive plan March 1 to summarize officials’ suggestions and share residents’ concerns, as well as give participants a chance to share their thoughts. Approximately 85 residents took part in the forum.

The plans

In December, the town released its Draft Comprehensive Plan and initiated the State Environmental Quality Review process. Virtual public outreach meetings were held separately for Commack, Hauppauge, Nesconset, Kings Park, St. James and Smithtown proper in January and February. In 2019, the town began the process with public meetings where town officials presented maps and offered interactive sessions. An online questionnaire was also made available at the beginning of the process.

Mike Cooley, vice president of the group, said at the March 1 forum that a lot of what residents see around town is due to piecemeal planning since there hasn’t been a comprehensive plan since 1957. He said in 2015 there was a draft plan but it wasn’t adapted.

“I think that’s why a lot of our downtowns and our main streets look the way they do, and maybe not what you picture as Main Street USA or what you’ve seen in some other places,” Cooley said. “I think we got a lot of areas of town that would make you scratch your head, and say why are there houses next to businesses, next to industry.”

He added that 97% of the town is already developed.

Housing wants

We Are Smithtown vice president Phyllis Hart said while the town talks about people wanting affordable housing, many are asking for single-family homes not apartments. She said in the town’s plan on page 40 it’s stated that 77% respondents to a town survey said they encourage or strongly encourage single-family residential. There were 44% who wanted the town to discourage or strongly discourage duplexes.

“The town is looking to throw up apartments in every vacant piece of land, which will not maintain the residential feel and character of this area,” she said. “The town has not made a clear case of why this is necessary.”

“The town is looking to throw up apartments in every vacant piece of land, which will not maintain the residential feel and character of this area. The town has not made a clear case of why this is necessary.”

— Phyllis Hart

We Are Smithtown has shared concerns about potential multihousing units in Hauppauge and The Preserves in Nesconset where developers broke ground in October. Hart made a case to why single-family homes, that add residential character, keep people in the area. Property values have increased in the town for decades, she said, and buying a home is an investment while homeowners contribute to the tax base. She added that Smithtown’s population has been stable for the last 50 years, and there is no mass exodus as many developers and town officials claim when talking about the importance of affordable apartments.

The group and other residents have been vocal that some of the proposed apartments in the area aren’t affordable.

“We had an influential developer speak with us recently and gave us an eye-popping statement,” Hart said. “With large state and local subsidies, a one-bedroom apartment in this area would be as low as $2,000 a month. As low as $2,000 a month? Affordable for who? Most Apartments in this area are over that.”

She said for most affordable housing is about a house’s price and taxes, and there’s a need for more starter homes, townhouses and condos to enable people to start putting roots down in a community. Hart added developers have said they can’t build affordable apartments without tax breaks, which she said leads to the IDA giving them tax breaks in the millions. She added that the developer gets the tax break, while apartment complex dwellers use town and school district services.

Gyrodyne problems

James Bouklas, We Are Smithtown president, said the forum presenters didn’t have time to go over all the developments, but touched on Gyrodyne in St. James. Groups such as We Are Smithtown and the Three Village Civic Association have protested in the past the proposed plans to the former Flowerfield property which includes subdivision of the 75-acre-property to build a 150-room hotel with a restaurant, two assisted living centers, two medical office parks and a 7-acre sewage treatment plant.

“This is simply too big for St James, and I can’t even imagine something this size and scope that doesn’t transform our community.”

— James Bouklas

“This is simply too big for St James, and I can’t even imagine something this size and scope that doesn’t transform our community,” Bouklas said.

He added a development such as what Gyrodyne has proposed is inconsistent with the town’s draft plan and pointed out page 56 of the plan.

“It discusses that highly traveled corridors are not compatible with commercial development,” Bouklas said. “There’s an  idea that a very high-traffic corridor shouldn’t be promoting commercial development. You know, 25A is one of those high-traffic corridors.”

There are also environmental concerns about the property, he said, as the property was once used to manufacture helicopters. People fear that industrial solvents may be in the ground and other legacy toxins. He said any toxins could destroy nearby Stony Brook Harbor and groups have called for a forensic environmental audit to be done on the property.

“Is there a plume that we don’t know about?” he said. “Are we going to be disturbing it by all this development and are we going to be allowing that into our drinking water? Is this going to be the next Superfund site.”

Judith Ogden, a participant in the meeting and Head of the Harbor trustee, said she is working with the newly formed St. James-Head of the Harbor Neighborhood Preservation Coalition.

She said one of the concerns brought to her attention after sitting in on the town’s virtual public outreach meeting for St. James is that it’s the second most densely hamlet with the least amount of open space.

She agreed that Gyrodyne’s proposed development is not in agreement with the comprehensive plan. Residents are also concerned about talks that Bull Run Farm on Mills Pond Road in St. James may be slated for an assisted living facility, she said.

Ogden added during the hamlet meetings, the town sometimes says what is convenient but not accurate. She gave the example of town officials saying the county would be buying the development rights to BB and GG Farm on Route 25A down the road from Gyrodyne. However, at the time of the meeting the farm owners had not yet agreed to Suffolk County’s offer and the deal did not go through.

As of Feb. 25, a letter was sent to the owners from the Suffolk County executive’s office saying the offer from the county had expired, this after a 60 days extension requested by the owners back in December.

Ogden said many in the coalition are concerned that open spaces are disappearing, and they are asking residents to call and email town Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) and Town Board members and ask for a moratorium on large-scale plans until the comprehensive plan is finalized.

Bouklas said all questions, concerns and suggestions from the meeting are being compiled and will be sent to the town.

For more information about We Are Smithtown, visit www.wearesmithtown.org.

Stock photo

School districts across Long Island have been offering free meals to children throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and the policy from the U.S. Department of Agriculture has extended the program to the end of the school year. 

Over the summer, at the height of the pandemic, the USDA allowed school districts to apply for free meals for all students. Usually, districts only provide free breakfasts and lunches to students who qualify for free or reduced lunch. 

But the coronavirus prompted the federal government to create child nutrition waivers based upon available funding at the time to end in June, then December and now throughout the 2020-21 school year. 

And it’s benefiting hundreds of students, local school representatives said. 

Mara Pugh, Elwood school district food services director, said when the pandemic started in March, USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue gave schools the flexibility and waivers to be able to serve lunches to everyone in the community who were learning from home. 

“Back then, we had a grab and go for any family,” she said. “No matter what the financial eligibility was, they would get a free lunch.”

Before the pandemic, families who were struggling or below the middle-class line were able to enroll their children in the free or reduced-lunch programs. The pandemic, however, affected everyone, and some students who came from middle-income households were now struggling. 

When the waiver was passed again at the end of the 2020, Pugh said it was “a relief.”

“It definitely will help to ensure all the children in our district and community have access to the nutritious foods they need,” she said. 

Whether the student is remote learning or in-person, everyone is eligible if they so choose, no questions asked. 

“We have around 2,500 kids in our district,” she said, “And about 30% to 40% of them are taking advantage of it.”

Remote families are able to pick up their meals at the school, where the district packages meals for two or three days at a time, she said. 

“There’s no enrollment needed,” she added. “With these times, people who were well-off last year may not be well-off this year.”

In a release last year, USDA stated that the challenges facing the country called for an effective way to feed children. The waiver allowed changes, like serving meals in all areas at no cost, permitting meals to be served outside of the typically required group settings and mealtimes, waive meal pattern requirements and allow parents or guardians to pick up meals for their children. 

“As our nation recovers and reopens, we want to ensure that children continue to receive the nutritious breakfasts and lunches they count on during the school year wherever they are, and however they are learning,” Perdue said. “We are grateful for the heroic efforts by our school food service professionals who are consistently serving healthy meals to kids during these trying times, and we know they need maximum flexibility right now.”

Three Village school district also has taken advantage of the waiver. Jeffrey Carlson, deputy superintendent for business services, said that he thought it was “a great idea.”

“I’ve felt for a long time that school lunches should be free for all schools,” he said. “Either the district pays for it or the federal government pays.”

Carlson said the free lunches also have gotten better than when parents were in school. 

“It used to be a lot more obvious as to which kids were getting free lunch and then the stigma comes along with it,” he said. “So, if every kid just got lunch in school then we wouldn’t have to worry about that anymore.”

While there are still snacks and extras that must be bought à la carte, he said that daily participation in the program has increased. 

“I think it’ll go up even more after COVID,” he said. “People will be more comfortable with food being prepared for their children again.”

Beth Rella, assistant superintendent for business at Middle Country school district, said they are “thrilled” to be able to offer the program to all of their students — whether they attend in-person, virtual or hybrid classes. 

“Although we began the year starting a little lighter than typical, which was anticipated due to COVID, we have noticed an increase in the number of meals served daily as the school year has progressed,” she said. “We see more and more students enjoying tasty breakfasts and lunches each day. We hope that students, who may have not tried out the food services program previously, use this as an opportunity to taste the various menu items.”

Carlson said that when USDA extended the program, there wasn’t a big announcement about it. Rella added that her district has “utilized ConnectEd messages, board of education meetings, printed flyers, the website and have even encouraged faculty and staff to spread the word about the program.” 

Middle Country students even had the opportunity to design and compete in a “Free Meals for All” poster contest, where the winning poster was used as a promotional display. 

Smithtown school district publicized the program via email to parents. Superintendent Mark Secaur wrote back in September, “The USDA recently announced that all school districts participating in the National School Lunch Program could temporarily serve free lunch to all students until Dec. 31, 2020. We have now also received approval from NYSED to participate in the free lunch offering.”

Memos were sent out to residents within the Port Jefferson School District, too, and Deputy Superintendent Sean Leister said that while “around 10% or 15% of students are remote, this brings a level of normalcy to them.”

Leister added his district has also seen an increase in families participating. 

“There’s always a gap of people who don’t feel comfortable with signing up for the reduced lunch program,” he said. “But the federal government, state and Port Jefferson School District all realize that not having a meal is important to keeping students engaged and attentive — and no one will know they got it for free.”

Rella said Middle Country offers a week’s worth of frozen meals so students can continue to enjoy hot meals during their time off. 

“Having the USDA free meals for all program has not only allowed more students to participate in the program, it has helped to lessen the financial burden that was produced,” Rella said.

Doug Jansson spent 63 days away from his family, battling and almost dying from COVID-19. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Doug Jansson finally got to spend Christmas with his family — nearly two months after the holiday.

Friends and family gathered outside St. Charles Hospital to cheer Doug on. Photo by Julianne Mosher

On Dec. 12,  the 42-year-old pastor was brought into Stony Brook University Hospital after he and the rest of his family contracted COVID-19 in late November. He was intubated in the Intensive Care Unit on Christmas Eve, and placed on life support where it was thought he wasn’t going to make it.

“I think I remember him being sick only a handful of times in the 20 years we’ve been married,” his wife, Kelly, said back in January. “When we got COVID, he was worried about me — nobody was worried about him getting hit this hard.”

But now, the lead pastor of Living World Church in Hauppauge is back home in Smithtown after 63 days.

On Feb. 12, the father of three was wheeled out of St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson, where he was undergoing rehabilitation for nine days, since being discharged from Stony Brook on Feb. 3. Jansson said he was able to get up and walk out because of prayer. 

Early on in the pandemic, Jansson organized prayer parades with his church, often visiting local hospitals to support essential workers and victims of the virus. 

Doug embraces his family after two long months apart. Photo by Julianne Mosher

But then he became ill, himself. After being in the ICU for not even two days, he began complaining of severe pain. A CT scan revealed a pleural effusion (fluid in the chest), a secondary pneumonia, pleurisy and a small pneumothorax (air in the chest). His right lung collapsed.

That’s when his wife knew she had to share his story. Kelly logged into his Facebook account and began updating his friends, family and followers of his progress. Some days were better than others, but one thing she kept asking of everyone was to keep praying. 

Kelly said she began receiving messages from people all over the world, telling her they were keeping Doug in their thoughts and prayers. Now he’s finally home.

Doug embraced by his wife, Kelly, while hospital workers cheer on. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Feb. 12 was always a special day for the couple, Kelly said outside St. Charles Hospital the day of his release. Twenty-one years ago, on the same date, he proposed to her. 

And to celebrate his release, nearly 100 people gathered outside with balloons, signs and streamers to cheer the pastor on as he got in his car, ready to go home.  

“I’m thankful that we’re here and so grateful,” Doug said before he addressed the crowd outside. “I know that God has set it up to be just a miracle and something that we can’t express that we know we don’t deserve. But he’s giving, so we’re really thankful.”

When asked how this whole experience made him feel, his voice broke. 

“I would say two words keep coming to mind when people ask me that,” he said. “One is painful. It’s been very difficult, fighting through this and being away from my family. But the other word is, in a weird way beautiful, because I’ve gotten to see doctors and nurses and health care people in a different light and really get to know them.”

He said the essential workers have been there for him and his family. 

“I also feel like God’s put me through this to try to be there for them, to encourage him, pray for and bless them,” he added. “I know that, for whatever reason, this story has impacted people and, you know, that makes going through it worth it because I know people are being drawn to Jesus.”

The family pet, Chewy, was happy to see his dad again. Photo from Kelly Jansson

Nearly a week home, one of his first requests, he said, was to get a slice of pizza from Ciro’s in Smithtown. And on his way home, the pizzeria donated two large pies to the family to celebrate his homecoming. 

The family was finally able to celebrate Christmas, and their dog, Chewy, was so happy to see his dad again.

“He’s doing really well,” Kelly said on Feb. 15 in a phone interview. “He’s working so hard on getting stronger. There’s still a way to go, but we will help him get there.”

And Doug said his couldn’t have done it without the support from his family, church, faith and the prayers from strangers. 

“I am so grateful to God to be home with my family after all this time,” he said. “We are enjoying every second of it.”

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Photo from the town

By Chris Cumella

Through a Zoom meeting Feb. 4, the Smithtown Town Board and residents gathered together virtually to elaborate on the efforts of the town and H2M Architects and Engineers, of Melville, to implement a comprehensive master plan within the next couple of years. The meeting followed other public outreach meetings that have been held since the middle of January to discuss specific plans for Commack, Hauppauge, Nesconset, Kings Park and St. James.

On December 15, 2020, the town released a draft comprehensive plan and initiated the State Environmental Quality Review process.  

Directing participants through a slideshow of statistics and ambitions allowed Allyson Murray, principal planner of the Planning Department, to detail the progress of their collaborative efforts with H2M.

Murray said that the town’s former plan “is outdated,” considering the last time it had been adopted was 1957 — and once more before that in 1949. She especially elucidated that the plan’s proposals were only hypothetical and subject to alteration at any point in the next two years.

“There have been questions in some of the past presentations where people thought some of the made recommendations in the plan were 100 percent going to happen,” Murray said. “That’s not really the case — these are guiding policy recommendations that may be implemented.”

The town extended its public outreach to the community in advance in 2019. Murray emphasized that announcements had been made at each of the Town Board meetings, fliers distributed in the downtown areas and in schools, and mentioned the various articles featured in local newspapers.

The presentation made available to those on the call had been made possible from the result of public outreach that the Town Board extended. In addition to the 1,200 responses that the town had garnered in the spring of 2019, it also hosted 370 participants over the course of six community-planning workshops.

“This is the public input over the course of months we were taking it,” Murray said. “H2M took these comments, met with the town, and began preparing that draft plan.”

The plan’s formulation took one year following community feedback.

Smithtown residents felt there was an increased need for safety and renovations, also people needed high quality to be upheld and refurbishments made in several areas of the town.

Pedestrian safety was highlighted as a significant concern, which included enhancing walkability along Main Street as well as the general streetscape. The community also wanted to see the removal of fences that separate the town, county and state parks, and more buildings added to the National and State Registers of Historic Places.

Murray advised what the next steps of the plan would entail for the town and community. In March, a public hearing on the draft plan is set to occur with a date to be determined, which would allow for further public feedback and revision of the plan as necessary. Another hearing will occur in May when the final comprehensive plan will be formatted.

The Town Board recommends that the community continues to provide as much feedback as possible by utilizing its website and to see what the comprehensive plan holds in store for Smithtown’s future.

For more information about Smithtown’s comprehensive master plan and to view the public outreach meetings, visit www.smithtownny.gov/648/draft-comprehensive-plan.

On Monday, Feb. 1, the first snowstorm of the year hit Long Island, causing people to stay home and shovel nearly two-feet of snow.  We asked residents to share their snow day photos with us.