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Three Village

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Photo from school district

By Kimberly Brown

For many students on Long Island, after-school activities have been canceled until further notice due to the pandemic. However, R. C. Murphy Junior High School is one of the very few schools that were able to overcome all obstacles and revive its drama department, making their performance of the musical “Pippin,” which tells the story of a young prince in early Middle Ages searching for meaning and significance, possible again. 

Together with the help of the Three Village Central School District Board of Education, director Anthony Pollera was able to allow himself to think outside the box and find a way to organize the show as well as adhere to COVID-19 guidelines. As a result, he came up with the idea to record the show and sell it as a DVD.

Despite the restrictions, Pollera made “Pippin” safe for the students. All singing parts were prerecorded and performed 12 feet apart, and dancing portions were performed 6 feet apart. Each actor wore masks that worked well with their costumes.

“Our board and superintendent are so supportive of music, theater and the arts.” Pollera said, “They are the reason why all these programs are still ongoing. This group of leaders in our district has rolled up their sleeves and found a way to make it work for us.”

“Pippin” was supposed to be showcased last March but was abruptly canceled once schools began to shut down. Many tickets had already been sold, and Pollera said the students made it all the way to dress rehearsal when two days before the first performance Murphy officially shut down.

“They were crushed, but we felt it was only fair to do the same musical [again],” Pollera said. “However, to be fair and honest, we still held auditions and cast the parts accordingly.”

The students and their parents were more than happy to be back in show business. Dylan Saavedra, who stars as Pippin, said he couldn’t wait to be back on stage, and his parents were equally as thrilled. 

“My parents wanted me back in theater because they knew I was going crazy without it,” Dylan said. “They were pumped that we could do this safely. With masks it is harder to do acting, but they were still super pumped and excited to see it.”

Rachel Rose, who is a leading character in the musical, said while face masks made it harder for the students to act, they took a positive spin on this obstacle and saw it as a personal challenge. In the end, it would improve their acting skills. 

“I think it’s so easy to get caught up in facial expressions that you don’t realize so much of acting is your movement and your voice,” Rachel said. “Wearing a mask has definitely forced me to focus on that, but I think it’s a challenge that is only going to make us better ultimately.”

Details about the “Pippin” DVD release date have not been announced yet.

From left, Frank Franzese, Dr. Don Heberer and David Rebori are Comsewogue’s tech team responsible for transitioning the school into online/hybrid learning. Photo from Heberer

Sometimes it takes a village – sometimes it takes a whole district.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, workers in North Shore school districts had to buckle down and create a new game plan from early on. March saw the closure of schools and the introduction of distance learning. September brought a return to in-person, but a host of new issues.

With constantly changing guidelines, they had to reconstruct their plans. Superintendents had to lead their districts to continue learning and to keep their students safe, while teachers, librarians, custodians, librarians and so many more worked and sacrificed to do the best they could, often exceeding what was expected. 

Gerard Poole, superintendent of Shoreham-Wading River school district, said it was a collaborative effort. 

Superintendent Gerard Poole. Photo from SWR school district

“So much had to happen for all of this had to be in place for the start of the school year,” he said. “Administrators who didn’t take any time off this summer, to teachers who had to move around classrooms. There were a lot of things that had to be done.”

One of those things that were applauded by community members was the reopening of the vacant Briarcliff Elementary School in Shoreham, which helped increase social distancing and lower the class sizes.  Poole said that in June, after they learned the 6-foot requirement between students and their desks was going to be in place, by opening up the formerly closed school they could have every student in five days a week.

But the superintendent stressed they couldn’t have done it alone. The school board was instrumental in making this happen, maintenance workers helped move supplies and nurses were there early on ready to work. 

“It was an easy academic decision to make, but equally as important socially and emotionally,” he said. “This year seems now like a major win.” 

And while SWR had to implement a plan to reopen a closed school, Cheryl Pedisich, superintendent of Three Village school district, said early in the spring the district formed a committee that would look at the narrative, and implement a school opening plan with the ultimate goal to go back to school, as normal, five days a week.  

“The issue of health and safety was most important,” she said. 

Pedisich said they initially developed a hybrid model, but the more she and her colleagues discussed it, they became concerned of the lack of continuity, also the mental, emotional and social impacts being on a screen would have on students. 

Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich. Photo from Three Village Central School District

“We wanted to bring our students back to school,” she said. “What we experienced during the spring were a lot of students’ mental health [issues]. The children felt very isolated — it was hard to connect. There was a lot of frustration in terms in the remote learning.”

By creating an education plan early on that opened the school up to five days a week head on, the district was able to hire more staff, and prepare for socially distanced learning. 

“Even though they’re wearing masks, they’re happy to be there,” Pedisich said. “We’ve had cases like anyone else, but no more cases than districts that went hybrid.”

And schools that run independently also had to figure out how to cope with these unprecedented times, including Sunshine Prevention Center in Port Jefferson Station, a nonprofit that offers an alternative education program. The CEO, Carol Carter, said they had to work with staff to handle the change. 

“We provided support to the staff and a strong leadership to the staff, so the teachers felt comfortable,” she said. “Then we did training on it. They had to learn along with us as we’re learning — they’re learning how to run classes online, how to put homework online and how to communicate with the students.”

While their school has a very small staff, they continued to help kids who were struggling at home. 

 “We would try and reach out to students and their families almost daily,” Holly Colomba, an English and science teacher at Sunshine said. “We were trying to check in, whether it’s with their mental health or educationally, just trying to keep in contact with them and let them know we’re still here — and that we were there to help them.”

And technology was huge in every district as the COVID pandemic was navigated. Joe Coniglione, assistant superintendent at Comsewogue School District, said the district wouldn’t be running smoothly without the help and initiative from the technology department.

 “These guys made it possible with going remote and doing hybrid instruction,” he said. “They orchestrated training every teacher in the district and worked around the clock to make sure kids were learning. They went way above and beyond to help us operate in time.”

From left, Frank Franzese, Dr. Don Heberer and David Rebori are Comsewogue’s tech team responsible for transitioning the school into online/hybrid learning. Photo from Heberer

Don Heberer, Comsewogue district administrator for instructional technology, said he remembered the day well. It was March 13 and he was at John F. Kennedy Middle School, scrambling and making sure every student had a device to use at home. They delivered about 300 Chromebooks to families who didn’t have devices. 

“I relied on my staff,” he said.  “And our number one focus was how can we make learning possible.”

Heberer and his colleagues — Jan Condon, David Rebori and Frank Franzese — made sure that communication was getting out to members of the community, students and their families. Teachers were constantly being trained and students were able to access their work online.

“We were in the middle of a crisis,” he said. “We have to remember people are losing their jobs, their lives, their entire livelihood. It’s important to be empathetic to that and doing everything we can to make it a little easier — students, teachers, parents and the community.”

He said they kept people in the loop using the districts app, which has roughly 7,000 people logged in. 

School librarians, too, had to change shape to keep kids reading. 

Monica DiGiovanni, a librarian at Joseph A. Edgar Intermediate School in Rocky Point, said she and her colleagues focused this year on teaching students Sora, a reading app by OverDrive. 

She said that Sora is an electronic version of their library, so kids would still be able to access books and read them on their Chromebooks. 

Along with DiGiovanni, Rocky Point librarians Jessica Sciarrone, Catherine O’Connell and Bettina Tripp have been responsible teaching students how to use the system since the school library cannot be used due to the pandemic. 

Monica DiGiovanni, the school librarian in the Joseph A. Edgar Intermediate School, was instrumental in getting kids e-books during COVID.
Photo from DiGiovanni

“As librarians, we were like, ‘Oh gosh we can’t give them books?’ That was a huge issue,” DiGiovanni said. 

After researching platforms to get them e-books, all four librarians decided to devote most of their library budget to the electronic reads.

“There’s so much that books provide that children get out of it,” DiGiovanni said. “They enjoy going to other places — fantasy worlds — so they can get that now with e-books.”

She said they’re definitely utilizing the service. 

“Some kids prefer them,” she added. “They like to be able to finish a book and go onto something new right away.”

At Port Jefferson high school, the Varsity Club is traditionally a group that inspires a sense of community involvement in student-athletes. Teachers and advisers to the club — Jesse Rosen and Deirdre Filippi — said that what their students usually do to get involved with the community was altered or canceled because of the pandemic. 

“As a result, some new events were created by our students and we found alternate ways of giving back to the community,” Filippi said. “We were especially impressed by the fact that our students saw this phase of their life as an opportunity, rather than an obstacle.”

Along with reading programs paired with the elementary school, Edna Louise Spear,  and hanging of flags on 9/11 and Veterans Day, the club hosted a Halloween trick-or-treat drive-thru event at the elementary school. 

“Oftentimes, when we feel somewhat helpless about our own situations, the best thing we can do is help those around us,” Filippi said. “This event was a perfect representation of our club´s mentality.”

A good part of the community came to the school to experience a unique and safe trick-or-treating experience. 

Students from the Port Jefferson Varsity Club during their drive-thru trick or treat event. Photo from PJ School District

“The idea was simple, the communal impact was overwhelming,” she said. “This speaks to what we try to achieve as educators. Our students recognized an opportunity within our community and they developed and executed a plan perfectly.”

The impact the club and its students made was overwhelming for Rosen and Filippi. 

“As educators, the actions of our students often inspire us,” Filippi said. “It is rewarding to see our students take the initiative and do whatever they can to put a smile on the face of their fellow students and community members.”

Smithtown fifth-graders visited with residents at St. James Nursing Home on Oct. 30 to bring them some Halloween cheer. Photo from Smithtown school district

With the approaching emotions of the holidays, Suffolk County residents may face persistent and unwanted changes in their lives, from not seeing a cherished family member to remaining confined to the same house where they work, live, eat and study. Between now and the end of the year, TBR News Media will feature stories about the impact of the ongoing pandemic on mental health. The articles will explore how to recognize signs of mental health strain and will provide advice to help get through these difficult times. This week, the article focuses on youth.

School districts are letting their students know that it’s okay to be in touch with their feelings.

During this unprecedented and scary time, district officials across the North Shore said they immediately knew that they needed to buckle down and implement different mental programs to accommodate the changing landscape of education and the COVID-19 pandemic worry.

Jennifer Bradshaw, assistant superintendent for instruction and administration with Smithtown Central School District, said they started the school year with training for all staff members in social and emotional learning. 

“We’ve always privileged student and staff mental health and wellness, so we’re doing what we did in years past, just a lot more of it,” she said. 

Smithtown fifth-graders visited with residents at St. James Nursing Home on Oct. 30 to bring them some Halloween cheer. Photo from Smithtown school district

Smithtown has been including ongoing contact among school counselors, social workers, psychologists, administrators, teachers and other staff members to evaluate student and family needs for food, technology, mental health, counseling, and academic support.

Farther east in Rocky Point, Toni Mangogna, a social worker at Rocky Point High School, said they have been seeing an increase in student anxiety surrounding the pandemic. “Coming back to school is so different,” she said. “We’re trying to get our services out to as many students and families as we can.”

As part of their SEL programs, the district offers a virtual classroom that students can access at home or while in school to request an appointment with a school counselor or psychologist. 

“It’s a great option for kids who are working from home,” she said. “I think students miss that one-on-one connection.”

The virtual office also offers breathing exercises and tips for practicing mindfulness. Mangogna said she sees students sharing the services with their family and friends. 

“These students are really in touch with their feelings,” she said. “If we can make that connection with parents and students, I think we’re really making a difference.”

The Rocky Point social worker added that while the kids are stressed, parents are seeking help, too. 

“Parents have anxiety,” she said. “It’s difficult for parents to be that support for students when they’re having their own struggles and anxiety.” 

Her colleagues have been working to help and refer parents to local psychologists. 

“Because we don’t have that face-to-face opportunity anymore, it increases wanting to talk to social workers,” she said. “Just to have somebody in front of them that can validate that feeling. I think students miss that one-on-one connection.”

Dr. Robert Neidig, principal at Port Jefferson Middle School, said they are implementing different programs specific to his and the high school’s students. 

“At the middle school, we have a wellness and mental health curriculum with different types of activities students can do,” he said. 

Dr. Robert Neidig, the PJ Middle School Principal, talked about the different programs the district implemented for student’s mental health. Photo from PJSD

Neidig said they’ve had the program for a while, but during the COVID crisis, they “suped it up and since implemented character education lessons.” Since September, they hired a full-time psychologist for the middle school and the high school.

“During this time, it’s taken on new meaning,” he said. “Stress levels, anxiousness — we’re all feeling the effects of it. We’re trying to do the very best we can.”

He added that every teach is going above and beyond to make sure their students are doing alright.

“It doesn’t matter if you walk into a health class, an English class or math class,” he said. “Teachers are taking the time to check in students they understand if kids aren’t there mentally, the learning will be lost.”

Three Village Central School District’s executive director of Student and Community Services Erin Connolly said they also implemented a virtual program to continue and promote SEL. 

“Our district really values mental health,” she said. “We have been working on return to school protocol and mental health plan for students and family for pre-k through grade 12.” 

Their three-tier plan has a strong emphasis on supporting the district’s staff. 

“By supporting them, we’re supporting the students,” she added. “It’s a dynamic plan.”

Dr. Alison Herrschaft, a social worker at Three Village, said that early on in the school year, counselors and social work staff met with each and every student in the school. 

“By doing that, it gave those kids the opportunity to put a face to the staff who can help,” she said. “They’re more likely to seek out help if they’re really struggling and acknowledge that it’s okay to not be okay.”

By integrating themselves more into the hallways and classrooms, Herrschaft said the kids who might not have been aware of the staff before, now see these staff as “rock stars.”

“We wanted to normalize asking for help,” she said. “It’s accessible to anyone who needs it.”

Although Three Village buckled down during the pandemic to make mental health more available, they won’t stop their program even if a second wave hits. 

“A big goal with the plans we developed is if we had to go remote again, based on numbers, our SEL plans will continue while we’re out,” Connolly said. “It was really important to have a seamless transition so that doesn’t change, and it still gives kids points of contact if they’re home again, they’ll be well-versed.”

The entrance to the new DJ’s Clam Shack in East Northport. Photo from Paul Riggio

Long Island’s second DJ’s Clam Shack is open and ready to serve.

“Bringing the seafood joint to East Northport was an easy decision,” said co-owner Paul Riggio. “We wanted to go to the North Shore, further east, and get more exposure.”

Originally founded 14 years ago in Key West, Florida, Riggio and his childhood friend, Jeff Gagnon, decided to expand the restaurant’s name to Wantagh three years ago. 

The East Northport location has a larger dining space. Photo from Paul Riggio

The original location is a hotspot down South, and has been featured on the Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.”

Both men hail from Setauket and are graduates of Ward Melville High School. Riggio said the success of the Nassau County restaurant made them want to open up another, to get the name out to people who may not frequent the South Shore. 

“What’s different about the East Northport location is that we have a full liquor license, perfect for summer cocktails,” he said. In Wantagh, they only serve beer and wine. 

So, a few months before its opening, the duo took over the space at 1972 E. Jericho Turnpike and began planning. 

“We wanted to give it a Key West kind of flair,” Riggio said. “And we’re going to keep growing it little by little.”

Known for their lobster rolls, tacos, fried ship, clams, DJ’s is a causal seafood restaurant with “a laid-back kind of feel” that combines favorite seafood dishes from the north and south. On their menu, they feature New England clam chowder and Maine lobster rolls, also mahi-mahi, shrimp and roast pork tacos. 

The space is larger than its counterpart and features more room for socially distanced dining. Eventually the owners plan on adding outdoor dining.

“The community has come out to support us and they’ve been great,” Riggio said. “It’s a casual, fun place, with homemade food that’s always fresh.”

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Members of the Three Village Chamber unveil a memorial bench dedicated to Rehn outside his former office. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Sunday, Oct. 25, would have been George Rehn’s 72nd birthday.

The East Setauket resident was rushed to Stony Brook University Hospital on March 29. While there, he tested positive for COVID-19 and passed away from pneumonia on April 3.

Because his death came at the height of the pandemic, a delayed public memorial was held this week in two locations – both that were dear to him.

A memorial plaque for George Rehn placed alongside Stony Brook Harbor. Photo by Julianne Mosher

At noon on Oct. 25, dozens gathered at the Stony Brook Memorial Garden in Stony Brook Harbor, near Sand Street Beach, to pay their respects and to remember the good times they had with their father, friend and colleague. 

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) told the crowd he knew Rehn for more than 35 years. 

“He didn’t wear his heart on his sleeve, but he wore it every day,” Romaine said. “He gave his heart to everything he did.”

For several decades, Rehn was committed to his community. A certified public accountant, he worked out of his East Setauket office located on Route 25A, across from Se-Port Delicatessen. 

He was a member of the Rotary Club of Stony Brook for nearly 40 years and was also an active member of the Three Village Chamber of Commerce. On top of that, he was involved with the Three Village Historical Society and was the treasurer of several campaigns, including one for Romaine, as well as a CPA for many local nonprofits. He was always there to help, and to tell a joke.

“Although he was taken far too soon from this terrible pandemic, he will be remembered as all good people should be,” Romaine added. “George did so much for the Three Village community and for the world.”

The plaque with his name was unveiled right by the water – one of Rehn’s favorite places. 

“He taught me how a ferry ride to Fire Island could fix anything,” his daughter, Jen Rehn, said. 

While he was a community pillar on the North Shore, the CPA was also devoted to the South Shore. He brought his eagerness to assist in any way he could to Fire Island, where he frequently visited. 

“He was truly a gracious person,” Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) said to the crowd. “We lost a great and important pillar of our community. We will never forget the contributions he made.”

And that’s why people showed up Sunday afternoon, to remember Rehn who loved where he lived. 

After the ceremony in Stony Brook,  attendees went to Rehn’s office in East Setauket to join the Three Village Chamber in unveiling a memorial bench dedicated to his name. 

Carmine Inserra, vice president of the chamber and owner of ProSysCon, shared his memories of Rehn to the crowd outside the office building they shared.

“He was a man of jokes, he was always there,” Inserra said. “I loved sharing an office with him. … And I want to carry on a legacy like he did here in the community.”

“The Three Village community and the Rotary were really important to my dad,” Rehn’s daughter said. “We’re just really touched.”

Her brother, Scott, agreed. 

“They say that the people who show up to your funeral is a representation of who you were as a person,” he said. “I think that shows here today. We all have the same amount of time here, it only matters what you do with it.” 

Rehn is survived by his wife, Liz; daughter Jen (John); son Scott (Janay); grandchildren Emma and Reece; and stepsons Joseph and Andrew.

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Playgrounds like the one above at Village Chabad preschool in East Setauket will play an important part in preschoolers’ days during the pandemic. Photo from Village Chabad

Students in the Three Village Central School District buildings aren’t the only ones that are dealing with a whole new world when it comes to attending school, children in daycares and preschools are also navigating new waters.

Preschools and daycare centers are taking new precautions which include teachers wearing masks, taking students’ temperatures, utilizing outdoor space more frequently, meeting parents outside and more. And while frequent handwashing and cleaning have been common practices in preschools in the past, now bleaching and more thorough cleaning of regularly touched spots such as doorknobs is required.

Mary Cain, executive director of Stony Brook Child Care Services, said the center closed down temporarily March 16 but then opened up shortly after to provide daycare for essential health care workers at Stony Brook University Hospital. The daycare and preschool had less children the last few months due to non-essential employees working from home.

During the early months of the pandemic, the center took care of 47 children of essential workers. With eight classrooms in total — four for infants and toddlers and the other four for preschoolers — only five were used. Earlier guidelines allowed 10 children to a room. Cain said the center took things a step further by limiting it to 10 people in the room, which included students and employees. With a maximum capacity of 160 before the pandemic, currently the childcare service has 90 enrolled, and Cain said it could go up to 120 eventually.

For children who didn’t attend, teachers would touch base with them and their parents via Zoom, and with some returning, the director said these children still recognize teachers even when they are using masks.

Teachers were concerned infants wouldn’t be able to handle their teachers wearing masks since they so often rely on facial expression, Cain said, but so far, the coverings haven’t hindered interactions.

The director added that teachers have been able to have conversations with preschoolers about physical space and the importance of distancing.

“They know there’s something going on out there in the world,” she said. “They don’t seem to be too concerned with it.”

Each classroom at Stony Brook Child Care has its own play yard so classes can go outside whenever the teacher feels it’s appropriate instead of waiting to take turns, which she said is also a big help. Cain said she’s surprised with how smoothly things have gone.

“With knowing every day there was new information and new guidelines, I didn’t think it would go as smoothly as it has,” she said.

Rivkie Grossbaum, preschool director at Village Chabad Center for Jewish Learning in East Setauket, said she is grateful that for the past year the school has more space than it did in its earlier days to help with social distancing. The preschool was established more than 30 years ago, and Grossbaum worked out of her house for one year and then from the Chabad’s Lake Grove location, which was smaller than the current space. The Chabad’s new location opened in June 2019 on Nicolls Road.

In addition to utilizing the indoor space, the preschool recently installed a new playground dedicated by Investors Bank. The director said it will enable even more outdoor play, which she said is important during these times, and each child will have separate bins so teachers can divide supplies such as crayons and clay.

While the preschool closed back in March, Grossbaum said she is happy that they’ve been able to reopen as she believes the relationships formed during preschool are important, and the staff is ready to help community members of all faiths.

“We may have more children if other schools don’t have early childhood programs,” she said. “We are willing to help in any way.”

Maddy Friedman, educational director of Play Groups School in East Setauket, said students were excited to return to school Sept. 14. Before the first day, teachers sent videos to their students to show them how they look with and without masks. While preschoolers are not required to wear masks, Friedman said if parents want their child to wear one, teachers will leave it on as it’s important to respect families’ wishes, “because we really don’t know the answers.”

Friedman said like other preschools, Play Group is also incorporating more programs outside on its half-acre of land which allows for socially distanced play. Friedman said teachers have used outdoor learning regularly in the past, and there are distinct areas to view birds and read books. There is even a stage and garden cupola.

The educational director said when schools first closed down due to the pandemic, she was hopeful that the shutdowns wouldn’t last long, and she never imagined the school being closed for months with teachers using remote learning tools such as Zoom and Facetime. Despite her being proud of her staff in “expertly” using the digital platforms as well as keeping in touch with families via traditional snail mail, she said she doesn’t feel it’s the best way to teach. Friedman said she was desperate to see schools open because she said it’s important for children to be with others their own age and have a “sense of classroom community.”

She added that children lost out on a lot with virtual learning, including end of the year activities such as taking a train trip into Port Jefferson and going to Theatre Three.

“I think it was a loss for the children,” Friedman said. “They adapted, but I wouldn’t look to do it permanently. However, it filled the gap and kept us connected to the community.”

File photo

By Kyle Barr and Rita J. Egan

Cops said that over the past week there have been a rash of car thefts and vehicle break-ins within the Three Village area.

Now several Port Jefferson residents have also reported vehicles were stolen from their property as well, though police said they are still investigating if the same perpetrators were committing the robberies in both areas.

Suffolk County Police provided TBR News Media a list of 16 total car thefts and break ins. The list shows a total of four cars were stolen from residences in Stony Brook Aug. 23. Two of those vehicles, a 2020 Nissan and a 2019 Volkswagen were recovered — the former was found in Connecticut while the latter was located in Stony Brook. Two other cars, a 2016 Mazda and a 2009 Acura, have so far not been located, according to police.

The 12 other incidences were petit larcenies of property from cars in Stony Brook, Setauket and Old Field. Several items electronics like laptops or earphones, while others were purses, money and car keys. All incidents took place within the 6th precinct.

Suffolk County Police Detective Lt. Sean Beran said all incidents were from unlocked vehicles. The investigation is ongoing, according to Beran, though he added there are a couple of people of interest.

Uniformed and plainclothes personnel have been patrolling the area, and the Special Operations Team has been assigned to the case. Beran said no additional break-ins or thefts were reported after Aug. 23 in the Three Village community.

Beran said it’s important for car owners to remember to lock their vehicles, make sure they have their car key FOB and remove belongings even when parking a car in a driveway.

Police confirmed that more car thefts have since been reported by locals in the Port Jefferson area as well. A man in the Harbor Hills section of the village on Landing Lane said two cars were stolen from his driveway at around 1:45 a.m. Friday, Aug. 28.

One vehicle was a 2020 Honda Accord and another was a 2016 Honda CRV, according to the Port Jefferson man’s posts on social media. Cops also said that a 2013 Mercedes was also stolen from Sands Lane in Port Jeff. That vehicle has since been recovered nearby.

Police said it is still under investigation whether the Three Village and Port Jeff car thefts are connected.

People can contact the 6th Precinct with information at 631-854-8652 or submit an anonymous tip by calling 1-800-220-TIPS (8477), utilizing a mobile app which can be downloaded through the App Store or Google Play by searching P3 Tips, or online at www.P3Tips.com.

As University Stares Down Barrel of $109 Million Financial Hole, Local Community and Businesses Could See Economic Hurt

Stony Brook University is facing a huge financial hole in 2020, including a loss of students and likely faculty. This could mean many challenges for local industries and businesses who rely on that influx of people. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr, Rita J. Egan and Liam Cooper

Stony Brook University is one of the biggest driving economic engines of the North Shore. Not only does it offer a major learning institution for students all over Long Island, but it has facilitated a large number of housing possibilities for both faculty and students. Those students, meanwhile, are a live force generating sales for local restaurants, bars and shops. 

When SBU students left in campus in March, many didn’t know what would happen in the future. Now that the campus nears the start of the semester, many students have decided they will not be returning. Photo by Kyle Barr

SBU’s announcement that it is facing at least a $109 million hole has sent a shudder through the residential and business side of the surrounding community. It has put yet another stake through the heart of so many economic centers that are already struggling from their own pandemic-related hurt.

Three Village Expects Hardship

Gloria Rocchio, president of The Ward Melville Heritage Organization, recognized the effect Stony Brook University’s financial woes would have not only on Stony Brook Village Center, which WMHO oversees, but also a broader region extending beyond the Three Village area. The shops in Stony Brook are less than five miles from the university.

SBU “is the largest employer on Long Island and that needs to be addressed,” she said. “The fact is the impact is not only going to affect the local community but the Long Island community. The ripple effect will be extraordinary.” 

George Hoffman, 1st vice president of the Three Village Civic Association, echoed Rocchio’s sentiments.  

“Unfortunately, I do think we will see some painful impacts in the community from the university’s dire fiscal situation,” he said. “The hiring freeze will reduce the pool of people buying homes in the area. Canceling the athletic season will hurt the restaurants and pubs. And having three-quarters of the students take courses online instead of on campus, will hurt restaurants and local shops that count on student customers. Stony Brook University has such a regional multiplier effect that their cuts and loss of revenue will reverberate through our area and through the entire Long Island community.”

Jane Taylor, executive director of the Three Village Chamber of Commerce, said the hope is that any effect on the community would be short lived.

“We’re grateful for the faculty and staff who support our local businesses,” she said. “This is definitely going to have an impact.” 

Impact on Port Jefferson Village

It’s hard to gauge how much business Port Jefferson generates from Stony Brook, though recent efforts to increase the number of students and staff into the village has already been squashed due to COVID-19. The village has been funding everything but the campus-side advertising for the PJ-SBU Shuttle for the past two years. The village was putting up around $20,000 of its funds for the project, while the Port Jeff Business Improvement District also put up $10,000 of its funds to help support the shuttle program.

The shuttle program was canceled due to COVID-19 March 15. Kevin Wood, the village’s parking and mobility administrator, said the shuttle was averaging about 150 riders a weekend before being canceled.

The Port Jefferson, Stony Brook University Shuttle was cancelled this March, though the village hopes to start it up again next year. Photo from Kevin Wood

“We will look to restart it for the spring 2021 semester depending on the state of the COVID-19 and restrictions,” he said in an email. “We will also look to share the expense equally between the village, the BID and SBU.” 

Barbara Ransome, Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce director of operations, said the pandemic has already done such a number on local businesses. She said village businesses are open and are being “respectful and careful” in compliance with New York State regulations, and she hopes those shops that stayed strong will survive, barring another shutdown.

“My gut would say sure, it’s going to affect us,” she said. “The Port Jefferson Village is going to have a deficit — everyone is going to have a deficit. Everything’s going to have a trickle-down effect.”

Impact on Real Estate

Multiple local realtors in the surrounding community said the effect on the housing market surrounding the university is still uncertain, though a loss of students and faculty because of enrollment declines and a hiring freeze could put a damper on the industry.

“The surrounding real estate is yet to be determined,” Port Jefferson-based American Way Real Estate’s David Guzzetta said. 

The number of campus residents has declined by 40%, which could potentially tank the market, he added.

“If demand went down 40%, it would affect local housing by 5 to 10%, which doesn’t seem like a lot, but it is,” he said. “Anything more than that would be devastating. It sounds like a recession.”

Though there is still time before the school year starts, the Port Jefferson realtor said the deficit could actually be good for the real estate market. 

“It could be the complete opposite,” Guzzetta said. “We won’t know until the semester starts, but students may not feel safe staying in a dorm and therefore want to live in off-campus housing by themselves to feel safer, which would actually boost the local real estate market.”

Frank Edwards, a realtor from Douglas Elliman Real Estate located in East Setauket, said he believes that students will choose to stay on campus.

“These kids aren’t going to be renting homes,” he said.

Whether it be positive or negative, the East Setauket realtor said students will be the main driver in the market.

“I don’t think it’s going to really affect staff as much,” Edwards said. “It’s really going to be driven by the college students. They’re going to take up the on-housing campus too, but COVID may change that.”

Edwards said he believes the market will continue to be sustainable.

“I don’t think it’s going to really affect the real estate market,” he said. “I believe the market will be fine, when houses come up they go quickly in this area. I think we’re in a strong area. I think Three Village is a strong area.”

The uncertainty surrounding the market may come as a result of COVID-19. When the pandemic began, it seemed that the market was going to decline on Long Island, but realtors in the area have actually seen the pandemic being a positive force in the market.

“If you asked me four months ago, I would say we were going into a housing crisis but, believe it or not, Long Island is in a little spike because everyone from Manhattan with income is coming out to Long Island.” Guzzetta said. 

The Miller Place Teachers Association along with Tuscany Gourmet Market organized a soup donation to Mather Hospital. Miller Place alumnae, Sammy Schaefer and Nicole Ellis, are among the people on the front lines. Photo from MPSD

By Rita J. Egan and Kyle Barr

With so much going on day to day, with people stuck at home and fearing for the future, there are consistent hopes provided by the men and women doing more to help the people most in need. Whether it’s people making masks for essential workers or meals for hospital employees on the front lines, we asked local officials, business and civic leaders who they would like to thank during this time of crisis.

New York State

State Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) wanted to thank both those on the front lines and the “unsung heroes.”

“I want to thank each and every one in our community who has been on the front lines of this battle,” he said. “Doctors, nurses, first responders and all of our volunteer firefighters have been fighting a war that they never expected. Their efforts are truly heroic, and we owe them a debt we may never be able to repay. But equally as notable is the work of our unsung heroes — retail workers, postal employees, cleaners, truck drivers, restaurant employees, delivery people and every single person who continues to show up every day to help make sure we have food on our table, gas in our cars and electricity in our homes. This is an effort that requires so many to work together and these men and women are the ones who will lead us to victory over this virus. We say thank you for all you do for all of us.”

Rocky Point residents the Palifka family have been putting up signs saying “Rocky Point Strong” on people’s front lawns, as a simple way of keeping spirits high. Photo by Jane Bonner

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) is thankful for several local residents.

“We owe a debt of gratitude to the members of our community who, week after week, have shown up for their jobs — our health care workers, first responders, grocery workers and all the others who have provided the crucial services we need to get through this shutdown. Through their courageous commitment to service, essential workers have enabled the rest of us to do our part by staying home.”

Englebright was grateful also for those doing their part at home. 

“For those of us at home, it is hard to reconcile that staying put is actually doing something important,” he said. “But by working from home, helping our children with their schooling, social distancing and wearing masks when out in public, our responsible behavior has worked to flatten the curve and slow down the transmission of the coronavirus. So, my gratitude goes to everyone who responded so admirably to the challenge before us. Your collective actions combined with others around the state have literally helped save thousands of lives.”

State Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport) said it’s difficult for him to just name one person or one group of workers.

“Everybody’s different and everybody, in different ways, has done so much incredible work,” he said.

He said in addition to medical and nursing home professionals, it’s important to remember the volunteer firefighters and EMS workers.

“They’re basically volunteering to put themselves in harm’s way,” he said.

He also credited police officers who have had to assist more so in ambulance calls during the pandemic.

“They are busier than they have ever been before, but it’s less with crime and more with dealing with so many health emergencies,” he said.

Gaughran added that medical calls are more involved than before as additional protocols need to be followed to protect first responders from COVID-19.

He said he has seen so many restaurant owners doing remarkable work too, donating food to nearby hospitals and firehouses.

“Some of these businesses are operating almost on their last dollars, just using it to help people,” he said.

Suffolk County

Suffolk County Legislator Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) had health care and front line workers as well as residents on her mind when giving thanks.

“I would like to thank the doctors, nurses, aides, pharmacists, respiratory therapists, techs, phlebotomists, dietary workers, custodians, mechanics, grocery workers, restaurant workers, car mechanics, moms, dads, grandparents and daycare teachers and aides who have sacrificed their personal health and safety during this time as essential workers,” she said. “I would also like to thank all of those that continue to wear masks, maintain at least a 6-foot distance from others, sneeze and cough into the crook of their arms and wash their hands frequently. These little efforts protect not only them and their families from COVID-19 and other viral and bacterial infections, but they protect us all! Stay strong, stay safe!”

Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) also had an array of people to thank.

Bagel Express employees custom made and donated 50 feet of hero sandwiches spelling out “thank you” to health care workers at Stony Brook University Hospital. Photo from David Prestia

“During this unprecedented pandemic, it has been wonderful to see our neighbors coming together to support and help one another,” he said. “All of our essential workers (first responders, health care providers, postal and delivery people, store clerks and many more) deserve our gratitude for the sacrifices they make each day to do their job to help keep us safe and healthy. It is important to recognize everyone stepping up to make a contribution, from students sending kind messages — to sewing groups and seamstresses making and donating face masks — to restaurants/food establishments donating meals — to the libraries and businesses making PPEs and hand sanitizers — to nurseries donating plants to residents and health workers — and to the newspapers and media outlets keeping us informed. The work of those on the front lines is truly heroic and I can’t thank them enough.”

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) wished to thank Heritage Trust and the Mount Sinai Congregational Church for their food drives, which each raised thousands of food and toiletries items that will go to those who need it. She also thanked essential workers including law enforcement, health department and Department of Social Services.

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) said she’s grateful for a range of people.

“Like so many others, my gratitude goes first to our health care and frontline workers,” she said. “Their courage and devotion is the brightest star in this dark time. I’m grateful that people in our community are staying home, following social distancing guidelines, and wearing face coverings in public so we can all help slow the advance of this invisible enemy. We all have that essential role to lower the toll COVID-19 takes by being responsible.”

Hahn also pointed out the importance of mental health professionals. 

“I am grateful too for the mental health professionals providing counseling, guidance and emotional support for domestic violence victims, as well as the many among us who are struggling to hold on to hope and the tattered shreds of what was a normal life just a few short months ago,” she said. “As someone with a social work background, I know for certain that these caring individuals are critical to the wellbeing of our community. We need their skills and their caring hearts now more than ever.”

Hahn added that the community has played an important role to help fight the pandemic. 

“From people making masks for others, delivering food to seniors and neighbors in need, to journalists bringing us the facts and stories or the lost and to the families teaching their kids at home, I see bravery and love everywhere,” she said. “It gives me hope that we will come through this stronger than ever.”

Children across the county have been writing and drawing encouraging messages in chalk. Photo by Stefanie Werner

Suffolk County Legislator Susan Berland (D- Dix Hills) thanked not only those on the front lines but also her staff members and many others. 

“During this most unprecedented time, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to all essential workers,” she said. “You are on the front lines providing us the goods, services, care and protection we need to keep moving forward. A special thank you to the members of the Suffolk County Association of Municipal Employees who prove time and time again that their willingness to serve the residents of our county knows no bounds. I would also like to thank my staff for their hard work during long days that often become long nights. Their commitment to serving the constituents of the 16th Legislative District and all residents of Suffolk County is most admirable.”

She also had praise for the residents of the district.

“Thank you for demonstrating what makes Suffolk County the best place to live,” she said. “As a community we have shown that we are in this together, and surely, if we can get through this together, then we can get through anything together.”

Brookhaven Town

Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) said she has been holed up in her house since the start of the pandemic, only having one kidney and knowing it’s a potential comorbidity. Still, she said she has seen a tremendous amount of community support, such as from Rocky Point residents Quentin Palifka and his mother Alicia who have been putting up signs saying “Rocky Point Strong” on people’s front lawns, as a simple way of keeping spirits high.

Otherwise, both she and Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) pointed to Lighthouse Mission, which despite all the constant pressure and expanding need has kept up its mission to give food to those who need it. In April, the town gave Lighthouse Mission the green light to start delivering food and toiletries directly to homebound residents. With volunteers which has included a few elected town council members, they have been delivering upwards of 100s of meals a day, Romaine said.

Margaritas Cafe in Port Jefferson Station, along with the owners’ other franchise The Cuban in Patchogue, is just one of many examples of businesses supplying food to hospital workers during the ongoing crisis. Photo from Facebook

The supervisor also looked to thank the town personnel who are delivering close to 425 hot meals to seniors who were in the town’s congregate nutrition program. That is 425 meals each and every day.

“People feel like somebody still cares,” Romaine said.

Along with that, he also thanked all the people who are continuing to operate the many food pantries in the town of Brookhaven. 

“They are doing God’s work — they are helping people in desperate need,” he said. “Nobody should go hungry.”

Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) said she was thankful for many “hometown heroes.”

“I am incredibly thankful for the essential workers who are diligently providing support to individuals and families, including those most vulnerable, in our community during the COVID pandemic,” she said. “Without their commitment, none of us could be safe. In addition to our outstanding health care and medical professionals, I would like to highlight and thank the janitors, custodial, and maintenance staffs that are keeping our essential facilities and businesses running, as well as the grocery workers, the United States Postal Service and the many delivery drivers who continue to ensure that we receive the food, medicine and other supplies that we need during this time. A final thank you goes to all those hometown heroes in our community, too numerous to name, who have stepped up to fill a community need during this challenging time.”

Smithtown

Town of Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) had many to thank from restaurant owners to residents and community organizations that have taken the time to help out others to his fellow “partners in government” at the federal, state and county levels. Most of all, he wanted to show town employees his gratefulness.

“None of this would be possible without the hard work and dedication of the town’s department directors and our labor force who stepped up in every way, during this pandemic,” he said. “The department leadership has worked through this entire pandemic, without time at home to be with their families. Our Senior Citizens Department teams and volunteers have pushed through exhaustion to deliver weekly meals for over 200 homebound residents. Our parks department has worked tirelessly to keep town buildings and grounds sanitized, while helping us to deliver PPE supplies to local frontline workers and facilities. And most of all, the job that our Public Safety department has done over the last two months has been nothing short of extraordinary. They did not get to rotate out of the schedule and work from home like all other departments. Public Safety has managed our Emergency Response, patrolled our parks, assisted SCPD, enforced social distancing requirements and all executive orders from the state. They have done an exceptional job, in an impossible situation and we all owe them a debt of gratitude.”

Huntington

Town of Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinaci (R) also had a number of community members to thank.

Susie Owens of St. Charles Hospital delivered a special message to her colleagues in chalk. Photo from St. Charles Facebook

“While it goes without question that all frontline workers deserve our heartfelt thanks, special recognition is due to the volunteers who have come out of the safety of their own homes, out of retirement, or who have traveled to Long Island from less affected areas of our country to put their lives on the line to participate on our front lines,” Lupinaci said. “From fire, rescue and EMS volunteers, to retired volunteers serving alongside our doctors and nurses, and military service members who are supplementing the efforts of our local front lines — our thanks can never be expressed fully enough. As we plan to kick off National Nurses Week on May 6, I’d like to thank Theresa Sullivan, whose Huntington Hospital Meals initiative delivered thousands of meals and raised over $150,000 to thank medical professionals and staff at Huntington Hospital over the several initial weeks of the pandemic, giving a boost to our doctors and nurses, who have found themselves in the difficult position of filling in, bedside, for the families of isolated patients during overwhelming, non-stop shifts. I encourage everyone who is still working and collecting a paycheck to join me in donating to the Northwell Health COVID-19 Emergency Fund to support our amazing nurses!”

Three Village

Jonathan Kornreich, president of the Three Village Civic Association and a member of the district’s school board, said he would like to thank the teachers.

“These people have devoted years to learning their craft and developing the skills to be effective in the classroom, and they suddenly find themselves engaged in a practice very different from what any of us could have predicted,” he said. “And yet, they have risen to this challenge with compassion, with great effort and yes, with newly developed skills.”

Kornreich said that even though school is not in session in the usual ways, Three Village Central School District teachers are working harder and longer than usual “and in ways that have challenged them professionally and personally.”

“I think that many parents have a newfound appreciation for what’s involved in getting developing minds to focus on learning,” Kornreich said. “I’m thankful that the kids of Three Village have a warm, dedicated and professional teaching staff to keep the wheels on this thing as we head into an uncertain future.”

Gloria Rocchio, president of The Ward Melville Heritage Organization, said she is thankful for Three Village residents.

“They just keep giving and giving freely,” she said. “It’s just extraordinary.”

Rocky Point community members and the VFW Post 6249 arrive at the Long Island State Veterans Home to show support despite horrible losses suffered inside. Photo from Facebook

Rocchio said she has witnessed a huge number of philanthropic acts during the pandemic that it’s hard to narrow it down to just one. The WMHO along with Stony Brook Village Center restaurants created a health care meal program and are currently donating meals to Stony Brook University Hospital. Rocchio has been touched by the number of residents who have been donating funds to help with the mission. More than 9,000 meals have been donated to health care workers.

“It’s such a wonderful place to live,” she said.

Port Jefferson/Port Jefferson Station

Barbara Ransome, executive director of the Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce, thanked A Cake in Time and its owner Sherry Sobel, who after a donation to help her business, took that money and made cookies and then made arrangements to have them delivered to the underserved. She thanked other individual businesses including the Fifth Season Restaurant, with owners John and Deb Urbinati and Steam Room manager Vinnie Seiter who have been supplying lunches and dinners to the Welcome Friends Kitchen without any compensation.

Indu Kaur, who with The Curry Club’s Feed the #HealthCareHeroes Campaign has been raising money and donating meals since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis back in March. They have donated 2,000 meals thus far and hope to continue our work and feed the homeless shelters, and families that lost their jobs due to the pandemic.

Carolyn Benson, a musician and singer, partnered in The Journey Home Project to support veterans through the pandemic. People can go to www.carolynbenson.us to buy a shirt which now through May 31 all proceeds are going to The Journey Home Project, which assists nonprofits aiding vets.

Front Porch Photographer Andrew Theodorakis of Yellow House Images has been taking front porch photos and setting up a Gofundme page to then donate that money for meals for the underserved through the PJ Chamber.

Rebecca Kassay of Suffolk County Creators of Covid-19 Medical Supplies and her team of volunteers have been making facial masks by the hundreds.

Debbie and Jerry Bowling, the owners of Pasta Pasta, have been cooking countless meals donated to charitable causes, hospitals, women shelters.

Legislator Sarah Anker joins the Island Heart Food Pantry, which operates out of the Mount Sinai Congregational Church, in a food drive. Photo from Anker’s office

Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Chamber of Commerce Community Liaison Joan Nickeson named several chamber and non-chamber community members alike, including Jennifer Dzvonar, owner of Bass Electric and president of the chamber who helped purchase nearly $700 in groceries for the needy in the community; Jackie Kirsch, of PJS, who has been making masks for a variety of organizations since March; and Toni St. John of PJS, who is sewing as part of Facebook page Operation Headband making the straps hospital workers use to hold masks to their face, taking the stress away from their ears. St. John is also one of the costume designers down at Theatre Three.

She also wished to thank Debra Quigley, a trained Literacy Suffolk volunteer — who while in-person Comsewogue Library ESL classes have been cancelled, she has managed to offer ESL classes virtually through the library. 

“Our parents in this community are diversified,” Nickeson said.

Smithtown

Town of Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) had many to thank from restaurant owners to residents and community organizations that have taken the time to help out others to his fellow “partners in government” at the federal, state and county levels. Most of all, he wanted to show town employees his gratefulness.

“None of this would be possible without the hard work and dedication of the town’s department directors and our labor force who stepped up in every way, during this pandemic,” he said. “The department leadership has worked through this entire pandemic, without time at home to be with their families. Our Senior Citizens Department teams and volunteers have pushed through exhaustion to deliver weekly meals for over 200 homebound residents. Our parks department has worked tirelessly to keep town buildings and grounds sanitized, while helping us to deliver PPE supplies to local frontline workers and facilities. And most of all, the job that our Public Safety department has done over the last two months has been nothing short of extraordinary. They did not get to rotate out of the schedule and work from home like all other departments. Public Safety has managed our Emergency Response, patrolled our parks, assisted SCPD, enforced social distancing requirements and all executive orders from the state. They have done an exceptional job, in an impossible situation and we all owe them a debt of gratitude.”

Port Jefferson/Port Jefferson Station

Barbara Ransome, executive director of the Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce, thanked A Cake in Time and its owner Sherry Sobel, who after a donation to help her business, took that money and made cookies and then made arrangements to have them delivered to the underserved. She thanked other individual businesses including the Fifth Season Restaurant, with owners John and Deb Urbinati and Steam Room manager Vinnie Seiter who have been supplying lunches and dinners to the Welcome Friends Kitchen without any compensation.

Indu Kaur, who with The Curry Club’s Feed the #HealthCareHeroes Campaign has been raising money and donating meals since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis back in March. They have donated 2,000 meals thus far and hope to continue our work and feed the homeless shelters, and families that lost their jobs due to the pandemic.

Thank you signs outside Mather Hospital in Port Jefferson. Photo by Kyle Barr

Carolyn Benson, a musician and singer, partnered in The Journey Home Project to support veterans through the pandemic. People can go to www.carolynbenson.us to buy a shirt which now through May 31 all proceeds are going to The Journey Home Project, which assists nonprofits aiding vets.

Front Porch Photographer Andrew Theodorakis of Yellow House Images has been taking front porch photos and setting up a Gofundme page to then donate that money for meals for the underserved through the PJ Chamber.

Rebecca Kassay of Suffolk County Creators of Covid-19 Medical Supplies and her team of volunteers have been making facial masks by the hundreds.

Debbie and Jerry Bowling, the owners of Pasta Pasta, have been cooking countless meals donated to charitable causes, hospitals, women shelters.

Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Chamber of Commerce Community Liaison Joan Nickeson named several chamber and non-chamber community members alike, including Jennifer Dzvonar, owner of Bass Electric and president of the chamber who helped purchase nearly $700 in groceries for the needy in the community; Jackie Kirsch, of PJS, who has been making masks for a variety of organizations since March; and Toni St. John of PJS, who is sewing as part of Facebook page Operation Headband making the straps hospital workers use to hold masks to their face, taking the stress away from their ears. St. John is also one of the costume designers down at Theatre Three.

She also wished to thank Debra Quigley, a trained Literacy Suffolk volunteer — who while in-person Comsewogue Library ESL classes have been cancelled, she has managed to offer ESL classes virtually through the library. 

“Our parents in this community are diversified,” Nickeson said.

North Shore Brookhaven Civics/Chambers of Commerce

Civics have also noticed the massive amount of support generated by local residents. Bea Ruberto, the president of the Sound Beach Civic Association, thanked Rose Mayer and her daughter Lily, who as their own organization, The LilyRose Collective, are making masks along with Facebook group Long Island Love for police and other essential personnel. 

“We’re (the Civic) planning to donate to help her do this,” Ruberto said. “We’re also going to be asking the community at large to donate fabric, etc., and she will give us the masks to donate to whoever needs them.”

Health care workers at Stony Brook University Hospital crowd together after the flyover April 28. Photo by Kyle Barr

Chambers also wanted to respect the multiple strides businesses have made in the community despite the strains and stresses from lost business. The Rocky Point Sound Beach Chamber of Commerce thanked Dan Reinwald of Tilda’s Bake Shop who donated pastries, donuts, rolls and bread to Mather as well as Hope Academy at Little Portion Friary in Mount Sinai in appreciation of medical professionals and security staff. 

Tom O’Grady of Tuscany Market, who partnered with the Miller Place Teachers Association and organized soup and food donations for Mather Hospital,wanted to recognize our medical professionals.

Roy Pelaez of Island Empanada donated empanadas to the Suffolk County Police Department to show appreciation for our law enforcement. 

Joe Cognitore and the Rocky Point VFW Post 6249, escorted by Peter Oleschuk, Rick Mees and the North Fork Cruisers, took to the Long Island State Veterans Home at Stony Brook University to pay tribute to the staff and volunteers serving there as well as to remember and honor deceased heroes. 

Eufrasia Rodriguez of Justice 4 Autism has been donating masks to ambulance drivers, nurses at Stony Brook, Good Samaritan Hospital, Pilgrim State and Southside Hospitals along with local businesses like Spiro’s, Fantasia Bridal and Bakewicz Farms.

Tino Massotto of Cow Palace donated complete dinners to St. Charles Hospital’s ER Department and ICU as well as Good Shepherd Hospice.

Michelle LaManno of C.P. LaMannos Have a Pizza in Miller Place donated salads and pizza pies to Mather Hospital, and Michelle and Stelios Stylianou of Studio E hosted free virtual art classes for the community.

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Pentimento in Stony Brook Village Center is offering 50 percent off meals for hospital and EMT workers in the Three Village area. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Three Village residents, business owners and community leaders are finding ways to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Chuyu Liu, co-principal of the Center for Chinese Learning at Stony Brook, left, and Shaorui Li of the Long Island Chinese American Association, right, present masks to Dave Sterne, district manager of the Setauket Fire District. Photo by Chang Duan

While Stony Brook University was chosen by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) for a drive-through testing center for the virus, along with an external facility for extra beds at the campus, other help has been provided in the area.

The Three Village Civic Association has been emailing members with any updates it receives to ensure residents are informed. In a March 23 email to members, civic association President Jonathan Kornreich wrote of “countless acts of kindness and compassion, large and small” in the community.

Among those acts have been the Della Pietra family creating a community challenge to raise $500,000 for Stony Brook University Hospital. According to SBU’s website, the family is pledging a $250,000 dollar-for-dollar match. The funds raised will go toward critical supplies and treatments at the hospital. At press time, the challenge had nearly 650 supporters donating more than $330,000.

Kornreich said in the email he also noticed residents doing good things in small ways.

“Even in supermarkets I’ve seen people sharing and taking a moment to show some kindness to stressed-out neighbors,” he said.

The civic association also announced that the Three Village Central School District consolidated its food pantries into one location at the North Country Administration Center in Stony Brook. Those who need to access the pantry, or would like to donate, can call Anita Garcia at 631-730-4010. As always, nonperishables and toiletries will be accepted, and gift cards for supermarkets and gas stations are also needed. Civic association volunteers picked up bags of donated items for the food pantry March 25 from residents and have pledged to do so as long as necessary.

Extra steps to help out SFD

The Long Island Chinese American Association donated 120 KN95 masks to the Setauket Fire District last week.

In a March 16 Facebook message, the fire department asked residents to let dispatchers know if there is anyone in their home who is under quarantine when calling to report a house fire. The information will allow responders to ensure they have the proper protective equipment.

Dave Sterne, district manager of the Setauket Fire District, said first responders are in the same position as the health care industry when it comes to the shortage of personal protective equipment.

“We are in unprecedented times with the way we are using and reusing all types of PPE and any donations we receive are very much appreciated,” he said.

Sterne said the district was grateful for the Long Island Chinese American Association’s donation as well as some masks from resident Mark Andrews.

Emma Clark library stays connected with community

While Emma S. Clark Memorial Library is closed until further notice due the ongoing pandemic, it still has numerous services to offer the community. The library announced in a press release Monday it will offer remote technology help for patrons who need to set up communication options like FaceTime, Zoom and Google Hangouts. They can also help remotely with office applications, web browsers, Roku and Fire Stick devices and with general support with mobile devices, phones, tablets and laptops.

Cardholders can send an email to [email protected] and include their library barcode number and phone number.  A library employee will call back to schedule one-on-one telephone help.

For those who don’t have a library card, the library is also providing temporary digital cards that will allow them to access some of Emma Clark’s online resources including OverDrive and Hoopla for eBooks, eAudiobooks, movies and music. Also, temporary digital cardholders will be able to access databases and the classes in Learning Express. People can go to www.emmaclark.org and find “Get a Library Card” at the bottom of the page to sign up.

Library director, Ted Gutmann, said in an email it’s important for the library to stay in touch with the community.

“A big part of what the library does at all time is connect people with information, with resources, with help, with each other,” he said. “Our virtual time with a tech service is just one example of how the library is reaching out to the community in this period of social distancing, when it’s so easy to feel disconnected and unsure about things.  We’re asking our patrons to come to us like they always have. It may not be face-to-face, but it’s still person-to-person.”

The director added when residents use the library’s Time with a Tech service they will be speaking with the library’s technology librarian or IT manager, or “real people, real voices — not some anonymous ‘someone will get back to you.’ I think this is reassuring, and I hope many of our patrons will feel that way too.”  

Businesses adapt to new climate

Many business owners are coming up with new ideas in order to stay open. One option many dance schools and martial arts studios have taken is creating videos and making them available online for their students.

Nick Panebianco from Alchemy Martial Arts and Fitness of East Setauket last week spent two days working practically nonstop creating 40 videos to put on his school’s website. He said it was something he was thinking about for a couple of months but didn’t get a chance to do, and he knew now was the time to create the online lessons.

The studio owner said during the pandemic he knows children will be spending more time with their families. In the videos, he shows parents how to use everyday items such as oven mitts and pillows to help with a student’s practice.

“I basically teach the parents how to teach the kids,” he said.

Panebianco added that he goes over drills that he normally does in classes and points out ways to adapt to different body types. At press time, he already had 50 subscribers made up of current and former students. He has extended the invitation to watch the videos to community members too. The service is free and can be accessed by going to the studio’s website and signing up.

“It’s pretty cool so far,” he said. “People are sending me videos of their kids working with them. I’m very excited right now. I want to keep adding to it.”

With students currently out of class, he said he feels it’s important to keep them active instead of looking at their mobile devices all day, adding that the videos can also be helpful in general for those who can’t afford or don’t have time to do a full class at the martial arts studio.

As for the Three Village community, the Port Jefferson Station resident said he’s seen many businesses coming up with creative ideas.

“People are adapting fast,” he said. “It’s pretty impressive.”

Lisa Cusumano, co-owner and general manager of Pentimento restaurant in Stony Brook Village Center said even though the restaurant had to lay off most of its staff, they are still providing curbside pickup and delivery to those who are homebound.

Cusumano said they are also offering 50 percent off meals for all hospital and EMT workers in the Three Village area who show an ID as they realize these community members are on the front lines fighting the pandemic.

“We’re trying to do anything to help,”
she said.

Cusumano said when she first heard of the coronavirus she bought more cleaning supplies than usual, and the staff cleaned more regularly than average starting weeks ago, even wiping menus after each use.

She said the restaurant, which has been in business for 26 years, is taking it day by day and as long as they have the ability to open they will.

“As long as we have products and people working, we’ll take care of the community as best as we can,” Cusumano said.

We would love to hear about what readers are seeing in our community. Let us know about residents or business owners who are dealing with COVID-19 pandemic in innovative ways or helping out their neighbors by emailing [email protected]