Starting with the annual Memorial Day Parade down Main Street and Route 25A, the Three Village area is normally filled with activities all summer long. While many annual favorites were canceled this year due to the coronavirus, some event organizers are striving to stay connected with residents.
Jay Veronko, post commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars East Setauket Post 3054, said the Memorial Day Parade is usually the group’s biggest event that they host each year. This year’s parade was canceled due to COVID-19.
“I’m not sure of when the last time it was canceled for reasons other than severe weather,” he said.
Veronko said the event means more than simply memorializing former local soldiers who lost their lives in combat overseas or honoring living veterans.
“The parade also serves as a source of local pride in our way of life — the community getting together and coming out and celebrating life and the beginning of summer, as well as getting many diverse groups together to march and let the community know about them and what they stand for or do,” he said. “For the fire departments, it’s a way for the community to cheer them on for doing a great volunteer job and for the departments to display their pride and commitment to serving the community they protect.”
The post commander said many older post members are hesitant to socialize due to fear of getting COVID-19 and are not visiting the post for social interaction, something he said may not be good for physical and emotional well-being. Veronko said while the future may not be clear, the post doors and the members are there for each other.
“The VFW of Setauket will be there for the veterans who need help or want to gather in the comradeship of arms,” he said.
Gloria Rocchio, president of The Ward Melville Heritage Organization, said there have been no in-person events at the Educational & Cultural Center since the mandatory shutdowns. While events currently can be held inside with 50 people or less, WMHO, like many organizations, had to furlough a few employees, and they currently would not have enough people to work on events even if they could be held as usual. The Discovery Wetlands Cruise, which takes participants on a trip through West Meadow Creek, has been suspended for 2020, and the WMHO also decided not to hold its summer music series this year.
While it’s still a couple of months away, the organization has already canceled Walk for Beauty, which is normally held every October to raise money for breast cancer research. Rocchio said many expressed concerns about those who are battling cancer, who may be immunocompromised, attending such an event. As for the future, she said they are waiting for the updates to state guidelines.
Despite the cancellations, the WMHO president said residents have not forgotten the Stony Brook Village Center.
“We get people on the Village Green at night,” she said. “They sit there with their families usually, some might be two people, some are four people. They do social distancing, and they bring food, some even play ball at the lower part. They feel it’s a nice place to watch the sunset.”
She said residents have also noticed people taking advantage of the view more so than in previous years. To continue connecting with the community, WMHO is also offering virtual classes from the wetlands.
“We’re trying to reinvent ourselves,” Rocchio said.
Lise Hintze, Bates House manager at Frank Melville Memorial Park, said many of their usual events, including their outdoor concerts, had to be canceled this summer, but other activities have been able to take place again. She said the size of the park allows for proper social distance for various classes such as yoga, meditation and tai chi where participants have been wearing masks.
“We can continue with our community and come together, because we have the Bates House and parks grounds that are perfect for what they need with those classes,” Hintze said.
Missing this year will also be the Jewish Summer Festival at West Meadow Beach, which Village Chabad in East Setauket hosts in August. The event also didn’t take place last year due to the grand opening of its new center in June 2020. Despite the lack of in-person events, Rabbi Motti Grossbaum said the center has been trying to maintain a sense of community and connection with virtual classes and events. He said while many have said they appreciate the virtual options, the Chabad staff is looking forward to seeing everyone in person in the future.
“There’s nothing that can replace face-to-face and in-person connections,” Grossbaum said. “A community is all about interaction, sharing, schmoozing, kids playing and enjoying friendships in real life.”