90’s Fashion Icon Ivy Supersonic Vindicated in “Sqrat” Trademark Battle

By Amy Nicole Tangel

Many people know of the famous pink feather hat worn by Pamela Anderson at the 1999 MTV Video Music Awards, but many don’t know the designer behind the hat, a true artist at her core, and now Ivy “Supersonic” Silberstein is setting the record straight after her recent settlement with Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation and Blue Sky Studios, Inc., over a character, she said she created, was stolen for use in the popular family film, Ice Age.

A battle lasting over 20 years recently ended for the artist/fashion designer when she and said companies, both acquired by Disney in March 2019, came to terms this past December, and although she cannot speak of specific details of the settlement, she is moving forward and putting her fight for justice to rest by finally obtaining the final trademark rights to bring her character, “Sqrat,”(known in the Ice Age films as “Scrat”), to life in the way she has always envisioned.

“This is remarkable.  Disney didn’t steal it, but it’s like they are running around with stolen merchandise.  It’s like if you bought the Louis Vuitton bag off the street, you knew it was stolen, you know what’s real and you have a fake one,” she said.

According to an article in Forbes magazine in 2016, the original Ice Age movie had grossed $383 million worldwide.  This amount reflects only the earnings for the first film and doesn’t account for the hundreds of millions earned on each film in the series of Ice Age movies that followed.  In a story that has more twists and turns than the yellow brick road, Ivy has been on a path seeking justice for over two decades taking her fight to court and the streets petitioning the world to hear her truth.

It all began in 1999 when Ivy said one day she was walking in the park in NYC and she saw this creature that looked like a combination of a squirrel and a rat.  She said she thought to herself, “What is this a sqrat?,” and watched it as it climbed up the tree until she got stuck to the sky seeing a vision of an animated character that was going to make millions.

With the momentum of being in the height of her career as a fashion designer of feathered hats and party planner to the stars along with her I.B.I.V Jeans’ appearance on the cover of Women’s Wear Daily (WWD) to her credit, and legal help from her late father, attorney Jerome Silberstein, Ivy said she immediately went into action to bring this character to life and started pitching to everyone she knew in the entertainment business. 

The character was taking life in print promotions and making news across the country when Ivy appeared in a segment with Jeanne Moos February 29, 2000 on CNN where they reported in headlines, “Move over Mickey, here comes Sqrat.”

Steve Azzara, renowned photographer, author and founder of 247 Ink Magazine; a tattoo lifestyle magazine with 77 million views in five years, and co-founder of the new Azzara Magazine, said he remembers seeing Ivy’s Sqrat posters and banners at events in 1999 and how happy she was when one of the banners made it on CNN.  Steve, who is president and editor-in-chief of both of his publications, also remembers her going to Los Angeles to show Fox her character, and said he was outraged when he saw Ice Age hit the theaters with their version of her Sqrat with not one credit to Ivy.

“After that, I voluntarily shot all of her campaigns in her fight against Fox. Even if you look at it like she got screwed; they made billions of dollars with that character.  At some point after fighting it for so many years they could have given her even $5 million to go away, but instead they used that negative publicity as positive publicity for their movies and they should really be ashamed of what they did to her,” he said.

People in the entertainment industry who worked with the 53-year-old entrepreneur on Sqrat’s development years ago, like Matt Sternberg,  who was working as vice president of Market Development at Universal Music Group in 1999 when he first met Ivy, are speaking out in her defense and have supported her claim to trademark rights of Sqrat.  Matt said he first met Ivy when he was tasked by his company to come up with ways to leverage the internet and broadband on behalf of their artists.  When he first saw the Ice Age movie a few years later, he said he was astounded to see Sqrat.

“I came up with the idea to illustrate Ivy as a cartoon character that would interview our artists both as a cartoon and in real life. She told me all about her idea for Sqrat, and Sqrat was prominently featured in my pitch to senior execs. While we did commission a brilliant illustration of her, the project never got off the ground,” he said.

Ivy is grateful for the support of those who have stayed true to her and now that the case is closed, she said she truly wants to set the record straight.  In November of 2019, Matt and Ivy’s former boyfriend Mike Anderson, who was a live event producer hired by Fox Family in 1999, were subpoenaed to court and both spoke over the phone on her behalf to defense attorneys.  Following the conversations, Ivy said everyone’s depositions were canceled. 

On June 10, 1999, Mike, who said he worked for Fox Family for a few years, but wasn’t internal to them, said he brought Ivy along with him to the Jacob Javitz Center to attend a licensing show he produced and to network with people in the industry.  He said he was just hoping she would have a good time, but Ivy ended up making the most of the moment and a lasting impression with Sqrat amongst those in attendance, and earned herself free publicity that movie studios had paid millions for that week of the show.

“I brought Ivy into the licensing show at the Javitz center with the hopes that she would just have a good time and maybe meet a few people.  By the end of the night the entire community was talking about Sqrat!,” he said.

Throughout the court battle, Ivy has maintained her belief that media billionaire Rupert Murdoch, who was the owner of Fox and Blue Sky at the time, knew Sqrat was her character from the beginning and allowed it to be used without her permission.  Ivy said she attended a party at Rupert’s while she was promoting Sqrat and pitched her work to executives in attendance, specifically to, award-winning composer and television producer best-known for his co-creation of Power Rangers, Shuki Levy.  She said she went as far as distributing a script and trailer throughout Fox Family.   

Ivy said even though she is vindicated by the final settlement and thrilled to have obtained the Sqrat trademark she has been hoping for this past July, she still feels like she didn’t have a chance to fight fair in court, because she just didn’t have the money anymore or power to fight such a dominant force.  Ivy was not awarded a monetary settlement, and in spite of years of pleading publicly for the truth and countless personal accounts in her defense, at the end of the day documentation is everything.

“They (Fox) thought they could steal it, because I had a problem with my trademark and a problem with my copyright, so I had two problems which legally they felt I couldn’t sue,” she said.

In an article published by Soo Theatre News in November 2009, Michael J. Wilson, screenwriter and creator of Ice Age, claimed his daughter gave him the idea for the movie’s “Scrat” and helped him with the pitch.  He said she came up with the character, came up with the pitch and coined the name.  Ice Age was released on March 12, 2002 and Ivy created her Sqrat in 1999.  There is no public information available to confirm the age of his daughter to compare with the timeline of character creation, but even if it is just an ironic coincidence it could draw reason for question.

In a court document dated March 3, 2008 filed in New York, United States District Judge Richard J. Holwell indicated the following prior to his conclusion in a previous lawsuit against Fox Entertainment Group, Inc.:

“Plaintiff’s (Ivy) claim was not baseless, however, for as the Court noted, had plaintiff sufficiently commercialized her creation she may well have been entitled to protection.”

Although Ivy is infamous for wearing her heart on her sleeve and letting everyone know exactly how she feels, at the root of Ivy, beneath the word “justice” tattooed across her chest, lies a dedicated and passionate artist who just wants the truth to be known.  A turning point recently came in her life creatively, when she said she suffered back to back losses of loved ones in her family and turned to her spirituality as she began painting through her grief and praying for healing.  Her process went from painting to photographing the paintings to finding through her photographs a paranormal art which she describes as something that has just taken a life of its own.

As Ivy’s life would seem to have it, she has built on what she created once again, and morphed one piece into the next when she premiered her new documentary, Ivy’s Paranormal.  The film closely takes a look at her paintings and discusses the images appearing in her photographs which seem to have messages from beyond.  The film is produced by documentary cinematographer Bryan Sarkinen and made its official premiere at Great Neck’s Squire Theater on November 20, 2019.  The film first showed at The Cutting Room International Short Film Festival October 19, 2019 winning Best Short Documentary.

“God is behind these paintings.  The spirit is speaking through me in what I see,” she said.

For the time being, Ivy is waiting it out like many others artists living in New York and hoping when everything opens back up she will find the right people to help her finally bring Sqrat to new life, but she is ready for conversations to start happening now.

You can follow Ivy on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to keep up on upcoming events and for more information about Sqrat.  Watch Ivy’s 2000 CNN interview with Jeanne Moos here: https://youtu.be/83j05-eiaXQ

Photos courtesy Ivy Silberstein and Steve Azzara Feature Photo: Charlie Salidino

Reinventing the Wheel: Where the hope lies for Music promoter

By Amy Nicole Tangel

Musicians and the venues they call home are in an unprecedented battle to keep establishments alive while the stages are dark.   But many in the music community say they are finding their hands tied as they desperately seek ways to stay alive.

If the only hope lies in the unity of the music community, music could seemingly live on forever.  In spite of the times, Adam Craig Ellis, promoter and director of marketing at The Paramount in Huntington, N.Y., and his team are giving it their all to utilize the space the best they can to generate revenue until things can fully reopen.

Attached to The Paramount is Spotlight, an art bar, and now restaurant, supporting local artists and musicians where Adam’s new focus as promoter has been reinventing operations since they re-opened in the early summer, after only having initially opened its doors in September 2019.  From the middle of March to the end of June, the Spotlight was closed, and now it has seemingly been a lifeline for The Paramount and some of its staff.

“We were only operating for a couple months before we had to shut everything down,” Adam said.

Being the person responsible for providing entertainment in a time where it barely exists in an essential world has left Adam worried for himself and for fellow colleagues about what the future lies.  During a time when everything was completely shut down, Adam said even though he enjoyed the temporary break from the stress and the pace, he just worked to try and make things better for what’s to come.

With a career spanning 25 years, Adam started out his career doing promotions and marketing for arena football in Florida working for various companies, eventually landing with the Tampa Bay Rays as promotions assistant for a season in 1999. He made his way to New York in 2001, working as promoter for Feld Entertainment, best known for its production of, Disney on Ice.  A couple years later, he signed on with Nassau Coliseum as director of marketing for six and a half years before taking on The Paramount, which he has called home since 2011.

“It’s been quite a ride, and unfortunately now there’s pretty much nothing left of the industry,” he said.

With local venues like Revolution in Amityville, N.Y., recently shutting their doors for good as a direct result of the pandemic, losses are being felt across the board.  Performers and staff of venues across Long Island and throughout the country, including Adam, have taken action by petitioning Congress to help save their stages and their livelihoods.  The #SaveOurStagesAct and the #RestartAct have simultaneously been initiated by the National Independent Venue Association pleading for financial assistance from the federal government to be able to re-open.

Adam said, “If you look at all of Broadway to every trade show, convention, arena, stadium, performer, hot dog vendor, and ticket taker it is something not too many people put too much thought into right now, because it’s not essential and nothing about it is, but to some people it’s their entire lives.”

“It is an opportunity out there for those of us in the industry that have been affected by this to rally around some sort of cause that will be an ability, for at least the venue owners, to recoup some of the expenses that they’ve lost,” he said.

Throughout the summer, Adam brought weekly live music to Spotlight, utilizing a safe and socially-distanced space by opening the restaurant to the street and expanding what he had to work with.  The calendar was filled with events such as live music every Sunday in July and August with singer, Chelsea Takami, Audition-Night-at-Spotlight; a chance for a local Long Island musician to win a spot playing outside under The Paramount Marquee, and special discount days to dine as a way of giving back to support First Responders, Industry and Essential workers in the community.

Adam said the different themes have become an opportunity for he and his staff to become creative with the calendar with fun things to keep them excited and entertained while they wait for the stage at The Paramount to re-open.

With a seating capacity of 1,573, The Paramount is smaller in comparison to arenas and stadiums waiting to re-open, but all the more fragile in how much it can withstand with the doors remaining closed for an indefinite period of time.  Looking at the glass half full, Adam is optimistic in the idea that, because of their smaller nature they will be among the first to re-open, but it then becomes about financially being able to do it.

Although it is too early to tell, Adam said he foresees one of the primary changes to The Paramount upon reopening being the elimination of general admission.  Everyone will have to remain seated, but having previously had regular evenings of comedy shows, boxing, and seated acoustic shows, Adam has confidence in their ability to configure safe, socially-distanced shows moving forward and said furthermore, “they have to.”

“The GA floor with a thousand people on it, moshing, the dancing, the jumping, the sweating; We’re a long way away from that coming back,” he said.

Looking towards the future, Adam said the reality is a lot of people in the industry have had to rethink their careers, but he is just trying to stay hopeful and stick with it taking it all one day at a time. 

For more information about upcoming events at Spotlight, visit http://www.spotlightny.com, and to keep up to date with future happenings at The Paramount go to http://www.paramountny.com.

Photos courtesy of Adam Craig Ellis & Kate Fox

A Window to the Soul

By Amy Nicole Tangel

While summer is coming to a close and we go forward into the next chapter of the new unknown, for many artists it is a very dark time, but through it all humanity is resilient and there is a light shining bright in one musician who has turned his time off-stage into an opportunity to help others.

By day, Frank Junior Guertin has worked as an IT Specialist for Nassau County for the past 27 years, but for the rest of the time he is a father and member of Long Island Rock band, Craving Strange.  As one of the original members for the past 13 years, other than a brief hiatus while raising his son, the 46-year-old guitarist has been a foundation of the band on lead guitar.  Most recently, he has taken his found time during the shutdown to not only make new music with the band, but to start his own blog, Frank Junior: Pages of My Life; sharing some of the most painful and intimate details of his life with readers in hopes of giving insight and support to those need.

“It’s just a window into me; who I am, what I have been through,” he said.

Sitting in the Craving Strange studio in Amityville, N.Y., Frank sat back to talk about what he describes as a bumpy road in life; from his childhood to his passion for music, his life with addiction and the gift of sobriety, topped off by his love for his son and how it all led up to his recent mission to pay forward. 

Frank, remembers third grade being a lonely time for him and having no friends.  Attending Catholic school during a time when all the kids on the playground were playing kickball and baseball, left Frank, who was the only one in his class listening to KISS and Led Zeppelin, sitting on the sidelines by himself.

“For years, I was just shunned away.  I had to figure out, as a child, how to take care of me…at an early age, it’s just what I had to do,” he said.

Frank always loved music and at 4-years-old he said he first felt drawn to guitars when his older sister started taking lessons.  He would beg the instructor to let him hold the guitar after every lesson and the instructor would encourage him, so when Frank turned five, he was finally able to begin taking lessons.  Beginning with lessons from Lou Capic, Frank went all-in learning how to play guitar and at the age of fourteen he first taught with Al Pitrelli, best known for his work with Megadeth, Alice Cooper and Trans-Siberian Orchestra at Focus II Guitar Center- New York Music Emporium in Bellmore.

At 16-years-old, Frank experienced a tragedy no child should ever have to face when he came home from school and found his father passed away in the basement from an aneurysm. In Frank’s eyes his father was his mentor, the rock of the family and his best friend.  He was left devastated and haunted by the memory of not only having to be the one to tell his mother, but the entire family turned to him to bring everyone together, and he said it was too much pressure to take.  Frank had never even experienced death in his young life before his father’s passing, and it turned his world upside down.  Frank ultimately turned to drugs and alcohol to deal with his pain.  Before his father’s passing, Frank said he never even thought about drugs or alcohol and that life was good; he felt safe. 

“I was alone raising myself.  My brother and sister split, my family members moved away.  I was alone, so I then dove into the wrong things, because I had such pain; I didn’t know how to cope with pain,” he said.

As much as Frank hopes readers will be validated in their own life struggles by reading about his heartbreaks, he seeks to spread positivity and hope to inspire people with his stories of sobriety which he credits in large part to the birth of his son.  The day Frank found out he was going to have a son he was also given the alarming news his unborn son had Gastroschisis, a birth defect in which the intestines grow outside of abdominal wall, and there was a high chance he wouldn’t survive. 

Frank made the decision the minute he found out he was going to be a father to stop all drinking and drugs immediately, did a two-week detox in his house and began attending Narcotics Anonymous meetings.  He would go during lunch breaks, at night, weekends and Sunday mornings where he found a men’s meeting he just gravitated to, and eventually became his home group.

“I never stopped.  I went every day,” he said.

When Frank’s son was born, the baby underwent surgery to correct the defect and Frank said he was told the baby would probably be in an incubator for months, but miraculously his son was home in three weeks and has never had a stomach issue ever again.  Although there are some special needs, they go through them together, and  Frank said his now, 15-year-old son Frankie who has recently followed in his father’s footsteps and picked up the guitar, is the strong one, a true warrior and his inspiration.

“Everything my father taught me I instilled on him, and he’s brought it back home,” he said.

The blog is not about the follows or the likes for Frank who will celebrate 15 years of sobriety this upcoming February 2, but the connection he makes with people by sharing his stories.  He said right now with all the negative, the anger and the fear in people’s minds, it turns into situations, so for his blog to be a place for people to learn how to face problems and come out of them for the better, it’s a win.

“I love helping people.  I do.  What matters is who we are inside and the love we give each other,” he said.

As for the music in Frank’s life, Craving Strange has been in the studio separately and now together throughout the pandemic.  While live shows are on hold, they have been live streaming from time to time, including a recent performance for News 12, and have just finished recording three new songs with the first titled, “Rise” being released this upcoming October.

To read Frank’s blog visit, www.frankjuniorpagesofmylife.rocks and to keep up with all happenings Craving Strange, you can follow them on  Instagram, Facebook, www.craingstrange.net, and watch live YouTube content on www.youtube.com/cravingstrange.

Photos courtesy of Frank Junior Guertin

Celebrity Chef Jonathan Scinto talks food, family and helping others

By Amy Nicole Tangel

Chef Jonathan Scinto may have reached celebrity status from cooking in front of the camera, but for Jonathan, his true focus is on his evolving homegrown entertainment company, upcoming projects, and first and foremost, his family.

Long before MasterChef and Rooftop Chopped, the Queens native said he began cooking somewhere between the age of 4 and 5 years old, and while many other children were watching cartoons, he was watching Julia Child and making scrambled eggs on the floor.  Before he even knew what he was making, he said he would take food out of the refrigerator and just blend things together.  Even though he jokes it was a mess for his mother, Jonathan said she always encouraged him and let him run with it.

“My mom allowed me to really get in the kitchen and have some fun,” he said.

Even though Jonathan loved to cook, during his school years he focused primarily on his passion for art.  He received a scholarship to study art at the University of Hartford in Connecticut, but after his first year he felt overwhelmed and something inside him told him he needed to just get to work.  Jonathan said he always had an entrepreneur mindset, and over the course of time, he continued to cook and worked for various businesses while he took classes at New York Institute of Technology (NYIT).

With time and commitment, Jonathan received a BFA in Computer Graphics from NYIT, and said learning those skills in particular benefitted him tremendously with his cooking career and his ability to maximize all of his social media platforms.  After completing his degree at NYIT, Jonathan began cooking for Post Perfect, a post production company in Manhattan formerly located in the old Daily News building, and worked his way to Catering and Client Services Manager while cooking for artists such as Alicia Keys, Mariah Carey, Linkin Park and CEOs for various television networks.  It was during his time at Post Perfect where he said he really paid attention to his clients and how they represented themselves to help him grow his business.

A year later, 9/11 happened and the NYC company suffered a financial casualty as a result of the tragedy, so when Jonathan showed up for work one day to chains on the doors, he was left blindsided and wondering where to turn.  Although the loss left him unsure about what to do with his career, the entrepreneur in Jonathan kicked in, and between 2002 and 2003, he opened his first restaurant, Home Cookin Café, in Bayshore, N.Y., with his father.  Only two years later, his father fell ill, and they sold the business.  Jonathan then became the Assistant Director of Admissions and Director of Recreational Cooking Classes at the Culinary School and worked night and day.  He tried to make the most of it, but he was wasn’t happy.

One day, he came home from work and he said his wife, Annmarie, suggested he quit his job and find something that would make him happy.  Jonathan said she told him he looked deflated and it was upsetting for her to see him that way.  He could not believe what he was hearing and was stunned.

“I just sat there and debated it for like a full day, and the next day after we had that conversation she said, MasterChef was auditioning in New York City and that I had to go audition,” he said.

At the time in 2014, Jonathan said he had already developed a decent social media presence, so when MasterChef called him, they offered a VIP Audition with only hours to prepare.  Jonathan stayed up until 5 a.m. creating a dish and said he made it to the 5:30 a.m. train by the skin of his teeth, with his backpack of food in tow.  He had three minutes to prepare with no cooking allowed, and he plated his food in less than a minute.

“I made a chicken marsala soup and I had a military thermos to keep it hot,” he said.

From that moment, Jonathan spent approximately four months overall going through the process to successfully make it on MasterChef Season 6.  Contestants were disconnected from the world and lived in hotels with limited access to television and communication with loved ones.  For Jonathan, this was a challenge for him having a wife and daughters at home, but he said his wife supported him all along the way.  Before he left, he said he made videos for all of them to watch while he was away to help pass the time and stay connected in anticipation of little to no contact for a period of time while filming.  Throughout the entire MasterChef experience, Jonathan made the most of everything and said he even journaled every day and took guesses on who was going to stay or go.

“These TV shows, there is real cooking; there is no question about that, but it’s story based,” he said.

The two-time New York State “Taste of America” Champion in Seafood said when he came home from MasterChef he was ready to hit the ground running and start his own business.  He began cooking for charity events and with his wife by his side, they launched, Chef Jonathan’s Private Parties & Events.  The first year they did approximately 40-50 events and he said with the goal of wanting to help people, they gave away six figures that year through dinners they were cooking for.

With the support of local newspapers, Newsday and News 12, word began to spread for Jonathan’s business and helped them gain more dinners to host to help raise money.  March of Dimes, St. Jude’s, and countless local organizations that offer services for children and mental health, Jonathan said, are especially important for him to be a part of, because of his own daughter with special needs.  The first two years was taking no paycheck and networking, and he said it was really tough, but each year they grew.

Over the years, Chef Jonathan, who became well-known for his “Itasian” style cooking; taking traditional Italian cooking and adding an Asian flare, can also be seen on cooking competition shows such as Food Network’s Chopped and has pursued a career in acting appearing on hit shows, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Quantico, Blacklist: Redemption and Homeland.  He has been featured in Forbes and Good Housekeeping magazines and makes appearances such as his most recent stop with his live cooking show, Get’n Saucy with Scinto, at the Jacob Javits Center on March 10, 2020, just days before the shutdown. 

Throughout all of the hard work and successes, Jonathan has been fighting a very rare muscle disease known as, Schulman Syndrome, and last July it suddenly caught up with him. One day, while enjoying a family lunch at a pizza place, Jonathan suddenly started sweating profusely and the whole right side of his body went completely numb.  Trying not to alarm the children, they quietly made their way out, and his wife rushed him to the hospital to learn Jonathan had suffered a minor stroke. Prior to the stroke, Jonathan appeared on the cover of Preferred Health Magazine and openly shared his story with readers across the country. He made it a mission to share his illness and began working to spread awareness with hopes to help other people who are suffering from the disease.  Having suffered such a blow to his health, forced him to once again, re-evaluate his path; leading him to make the painful decision to take a step-back from full-time cooking.

“I really hide it well.  The pain that I go through on a daily basis is just crazy,” he said.

In true Scinto fashion, this did not mean the entrepreneur was quitting anything, but setting his sights in a new direction.  Taking all his years of experience, Jonathan said he decided it was time to start filming his own shows, so the actor, chef and philanthropist created and launched, JS Entertainment. Development for Family Kitchen Revival began in January 2019 and by July they were filming.  In the show, Jonathan hosts and cooks for eight families who want to say thank you to people who have helped them get through a difficult time in life.  He said he wanted to know as little as possible about each family to keep it as real and organic as possible.

Season 1 premiered on Amazon Prime in November of 2019 to great success, and while he is hoping to create a second season when things open back up for filming, for now Jonathan said he is in the process of redeveloping the show and working with a network who is planning to bring the show to an even bigger audience and a new platform very soon.

“As a whole we reached millions of people, which is just very rare for a tv show that has no major advertising,” he said.

Currently, Jonathan is getting ready to go back into production in September with a new show called, Two Dudes Get’n Saucy, a play on the name of Dudes Gourmet, a spice company he works with. The program will be an entertainment show set in different restaurants, venues and locations to talk about pop culture with various people.  They are working on the platform, but Jonathan is expecting it will be released first on Amazon.

In everything Jonathan does he said he tries to focus on balance.  From family, to cooking, filmmaking and especially social media, he said he gives his all to every facet of his life.  With social media being such a responsibility to use, he said he has learned over the years to ignore the bullies and move on.  He said he was bullied as a child and has been bullied on social media, and he knows how that can make a person feel, so he has been especially watchful of his teenage daughter and as a parent with everything going on in the world he keeps a careful eye.

At the end of the day, family is everything to Jonathan.  He balances his life around their happiness and takes life one day at a time bringing people together wherever he goes.

Family Kitchen Revival is available to stream on Roku through the Glewed TV App for free, and you can follow Chef Jonathan Scinto on Facebook and Instagram to keep up on all happenings.

Photos Courtesy of Chef Jonathan Scinto

The Path to Serendipity

By Amy Nicole Tangel

It’s not every day moments of serendipity happen, but when they do they are sure to change your life for the better. For Jimmy Reilly and his sister Bridget, serendipitous moments have filled the chapters of their lives through unconditional love; touching people’s hearts wherever they go.

This past spring’s shutdown took a toll on countless small businesses like Barntique Village in Shirley, N.Y., a one-stop antique shop filled with sheds and small old buildings rented individually to antique entrepreneurs.  Although some long-time faces are no longer there this year, the village has seemingly remained resilient, and is now filled with new shops like Bridget’s own, Brigadoon’s.

Bridget (Reilly) Costello was born only one year before her 59-year-old brother Jimmy, and come from a large family of eight children.  They spent their childhood together growing up in Sayville, N.Y., and as an adult Jimmy continued to live with his parents and moved to North Carolina with his mother. Their mother passed away in 2017, and in 2018, the entire family agreed it would be best if Jimmy came back to live with Bridget and her husband, Mike Costello, in Mastic, N.Y. 

Jimmy was born with cerebral palsy and having been born in the 50’s, Bridget remembers it being a time where it was standard practice for a person diagnosed with such afflictions to be institutionalized.  In spite of the times and the shocking diagnosis of Jimmy’s disability at the age of 2, that did not deter her parents, and she said her late father who passed in 2005, former SUNY Farmingdale Vice President William Reilly, and mother Patricia, an advocate for special needs who became the first president of the Women’s Auxiliary of AHRC Suffolk, could not have set a better example to follow in life.

“He (Dad) was such a great influence on us.  He used to say, ‘Every house needs a Jimmy,’” she said.

With her own career in working to help people with disabilities, Bridget said she chose to go into the field not only to help other people, but to help her brother, knowing in her heart the day would come when they would be living life together again.  Over the years, Bridget has predominantly worked at AHRC and Camp Pa Qua Tuck, but now she is spending her days being a full-time caregiver and running her dream shop with Jimmy by her side.

Growing up, Bridget said her house was like a group home filled with neighbors, cousins, friends; who were eating over, or staying over, and it didn’t matter.  She said Jimmy always kept up, and now he has a plethora of friends from all walks of life surrounding him.  Throughout the years, Jimmy competed in the Special Olympics and has always been a social and happy person.  He loves Elton John, and his favorite song is Celebration by Kool & the Gang.  His favorite hobby is crossword puzzles; he usually has one with him everywhere he goes.

The highlight of Jimmy’s life came when he went to Austin, TX, to be a part of the 2005 Farrelly brother’s film, The Ringer, starring Johnny Knoxville, Katherine Heigl and Brian Cox.  The comedy surrounds the Special Olympics and tells the story of a man who joins the competition under false pretenses to help a friend in trouble, and ends up becoming a better person himself, while making lifelong friends along the way. 

Bridget said the opportunity came for Jimmy when their brother, Brendan, who is a friend of the Farrelly brothers told them about Jimmy, and they asked him to come down.  By the time Bridget and Jimmy got the call and arrived in Austin, a majority of the filming had wrapped, but that didn’t stop Jimmy from having the time of his life.  Bridget said you can see Jimmy in the outtakes after the movie on DVD, but it was behind the scenes with the Farrelly brothers during their time on set where she saw him having the most fun; laughing with the brothers and making people smile.

“They loved Jimmy,” she said.

Bridget, Mike and Jimmy, along with their entire family, love spending time together and are life-long Mets fans, so much so that the couple even named their daughter, Sheaugh, after the former Shea Stadium. Up until this year, Mike would take Jimmy to Florida for spring training every year.  In the spring of 2019, Mike, who is a Vietnam Veteran and served in the U.S. Army for three tours, was asked to send out the first pitch at the Mets final spring training game as part of a day honoring veterans in Port St. Lucie. 

In Jimmy’s eyes, he took it as his day to shine and Mike wanted to make that happen, so as fate would have it when Jimmy escorted him to the mound, Mike simply handed Jimmy the ball and let him go.  Before Mike knew it, he said Jimmy had the baseball positioned in his hands; throwing a strike right down the line. 

The list of things Jimmy loves about life is long and full.  During the summer, he is an avid outdoors person who loves to play cornhole and mini-golf and relax in the hot tub.  He loves to collect sticks for firewood, and recently thanks to hurricane Isaias, he has been happily spending his days taking walks through Barntique Village and picking up countless sticks while spending time at Brigadoon’s.

“Jimmy is all about goodness.  He is all about sharing, smiling and being social,” Bridget said.

She said Jimmy has always been about turning lemons into lemonade and he exemplifies that everywhere he goes.  Thanks to a loving family and a supportive community, Jimmy has had every opportunity to live the fullest life possible.  For Jimmy, competing in the Special Olympics and being a part of a movie that tied it all together are moments he does not forget.  While reminiscing about his favorite moments of the movie, he was proud to say he still remembers his line and said, “Let me win.  But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt,” the oath of the Special Olympics and a motto Jimmy seems to live by.

Brigadoon’s at Barntique Village can be found at 327 Montauk Hwy in Moriches, N.Y.

Pandemic Summer Gardening

Special Edition

By Amy Nicole Tangel

The summer of 2020 has seemingly become a season of gardening for many people as we seek ways to pass the time at home and make the most of it.  People who have always had a garden have grown bigger ones this year and people who have never gardened are trying it for the first time. For myself, I have always been a gardener, but this summer, I decided to go all-in and maximize my time at home by expanding my garden and learning from fellow gardeners to guide me along.

In years past, I grew my vegetables in pots out of necessity, and I was always left feeling like I was missing out by not having my garden in the ground. Having dogs and limited yard space was always my reason for not planting in the ground, but it really came down to putting the time in to and committing to the work it requires.

This past spring, I began thinking about exactly what I wanted to plant and how.  Throughout many seasons, I observed my backyard space and took note of exactly what area received the best sun for the longest periods of time by how the garden grew in size and what it produced.  I came to learn over time what shadows were cast on what objects when, how much shade I had in the morning to get things done while it was cool and how much light I had left before it was too dark to work anymore.

I decided I was going to keep it simple this year and really focus on just a few vegetables at a time to maximize the space I had, so I planted what I would eat the most of; zucchini, pickling cucumbers, snap peas, cherry and beefsteak tomatoes.  I started most of them inside from seed and brought a couple starter plants back home from a farm in upstate NY.

The time I have spent working on my garden this summer, has been different than years past as it has provided a peaceful focus which has been beneficial to me in countless ways.  The passion for my garden extended to other areas of my backyard as well, and my hibiscus is full of beautiful flowers and there are bees and butterflies everywhere.  Not only has it provided an overflowing of vegetables, the time dedicated to my garden has given me an inner-peace and an overall healthier living this summer.

Fresh salads, sautéed vegetables and zucchini bread have been plentiful, and as we near the end of August my cherry tomatoes and zucchini do not seem to be slowing down yet.  I often share what I harvest with friends and try to spread the goodness around any chance I can.  Being able to provide something good for others and having a garden master to mentor me along the way has been the icing on the cake.

I have been gardening since I can remember and learned from my parents and my grandfather, who was an avid gardener, and had a very full garden for years.  I have so many fond memories of pulling carrots and watching the pumpkins grow in his garden.  There was always a big harvest in the fall, and I would always be amazed at how many different vegetables he would jar and store in the basement.  On my mother’s side we have a family tradition of making pickles and we would gather every summer to make pickles galore.

Over the last decade, I have lost my mother and both of my grandmothers; leaving me with a huge void of traditions I knew and loved.  I feel close to my mother when I garden and it is a life-long gift she passed down to me, so I have tried to make the most of it in spite of the loss.

Last spring, I ran into a local musician at a charity event who I had written about years prior, and he shared with me he had recently made a life change to healthier living by creating an organic garden after having gastric bypass surgery.  A light bulb instantly went off, and I told Karl “BD” Reamer, I wanted to write about his garden in attempt to learn more and help his mission of community involvement.  His garden is an open door, and he welcomes members of the community to come help harvest and to take home fresh vegetables.

As a sign of the times this summer, the barter system has become very popular this season with Karl’s garden and people have been very creative in what they trade.  He said he is a member of various garden community pages on Facebook and through other people sharing they trade and learn from each other.  People have traded homemade pizzas, pies, bread, eggs and even wheel barrels.  He said people suggest to him all the time to sell his vegetables, but he does not want to. 

“I don’t exchange money.  I just don’t like doing that,” he said.

This summer I am grateful for having the time to build my garden and learn from Karl’s.  He is outside from dusk until dawn and his calendar says he is in the garden from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.  He has a shed with an outdoor kitchen area, so you are likely to enjoy a farm to fork meal or snack when you stop by.  I recently helped out at his farm and harvested mounds of wax beans.  In return, I received many lessons as always, and a delicious lunch from the garden.

As the summer gardening season begins to wind down, I am already searching for new fall harvests.  I am going to begin with radishes by planting seeds directly outside and harvesting them in about 30 days.  With seeds from Karl and extra woodchips from his farm to help keep moisture in the ground, I am ready to start preparing outside for fall.

Although I don’t want to rush what’s left of summer, I am excited for pumpkins, apples and cool nights.  Planting mums and changing leaf colors is not far away.  Until then, I will enjoy the last few weeks of my garden and be thankful for all it has provided.

The Power of Social Media

By Amy Nicole Tangel

Patio Pizza of St. James, NY, has been a family-owned and operated staple in this Long Island community feeding people for the past 43 years, and recently owner, Guy Caligiuri has been thrust into the public eye making national news after receiving a recent tweet of support for his business from the nation’s President.

A little over two weeks ago his whole world was turned around when a customer came into Patio Pizza restaurant and told one of his employees she would boycott and put an end to Guy’s business by spreading the word on social media if he did not take down a Trump 2020 flag hanging outside the back entrance to the pizza place. Having been in the food industry for a long time and after years of dealing with customers, he said he didn’t think too much of it, but within a very short time Guy began receiving notifications from people that in fact his name and business were being attacked on social media.

“It’s just hanging out in the back there.  You really have to go out of your way to see it,” he said.

In a sign of the times, Guy said he had decided to hang his flag discreetly in the back of his establishment after his wife expressed concerns about having it hanging at their home due to the possibility of it causing conflict on their block.  He said he did not want any trouble, but as an American citizen and a human being, he said he felt he had a right to express his opinion in a respectful manner and exercised his right to do so.

The next day, Guy said an impromptu rally of support formed in front of his restaurant leaving him feeling “blown away by the response and outpouring” from his community. People from all sides of the spectrum showed up to support the business.  Guy said he is just a person who loves his family and his community, and he wasn’t trying to offend anyone.  The following day he wrote a post on Facebook sharing his story of what had transpired and what it meant to him, and his post spread like fire.

“This was all in response to her post.  It was the community that got together to say, ‘hey, this is wrong, and we’ve got your back.’ I have a lot of friends in this town after 43 years,” he said.

Still in disbelief at how fast it all happened, Guy said before he knew it, he was on the phone with Fox News and was asked to be a guest on Varney & Co. to share his story.  On July 30, 2020, the pizza proprietor was interviewed by Stuart Varney during the Fox Business segment and within minutes of the interview a tweet came from President Trump’s Twitter account expressing his support of the establishment.

“Support Patio Pizza and its wonderful owner, Guy Caligiuri, in St. James, Long Island (N.Y.).  Great Pizza!!!” tweeted the President.

Thanks to the tweet, “People are coming from all over Long Island. From Montauk to Brooklyn,” he said.

In an ironic twist of fate, what started out as an attempt to bully and defame a person and their business, because of a difference in opinion, turned into an example of kindness and compassion from not only Guy’s community, but from across the country.  Guy said his initial reaction to the boycott attempt against his business on Facebook was disbelief.  He said he could not believe all of his years of service to the community was being threatened by someone who didn’t even know him, his family or any of the things he has done to help people in St. James.  Through it all, the Smithtown native said he is grateful most of all for the customers and his staff.  In the kitchen, Guy takes great pride in his cooks and said they have been dedicated to their careers with their lengths of employment starting at 17 years, topping out at 35 years and counting.  Patio Pizza was opened by Guy’s father in 1977 a few steps down the road from their current location on Lake Avenue, and throughout all the years, Guy said he has been dedicated to making sure he takes care of his employees and his customers.  On any given day you can find him stopping by seemingly every table to say hello and chatting with his customers while busing tables and doing whatever is needed to help his staff.

“They are at work and they are happy.  They are happy to be here.  If I prosper, they prosper,” he said.

Whether it’s hurricanes, blizzards, blackouts or floods, Guy said he is open through it all. When Hurricane Sandy hit, he walked from his house a mile and a half away and climbed over downed trees to open, and said with his two generators running, he had power and began feeding people.  He said it is important to him to make sure he is there for his community when they are in need.  Throughout the pandemic, Patio Pizza has contributed to nursing homes, Stony Brook ER, Long Island State Veterans Home and has supported many organizations in St. James throughout the years such as sporting events at Smithtown High School. 

“If they can’t cook, I’ll cook for them,” he said.

Aside from the pizza, Guy said the signature dish of Patio Pizza is his Chicken Cisco, an entrée of chicken, spinach and fresh mushrooms served over rigatoni in a pink sauce, but his eggplant is a quick second, followed by other customer favorites like their chicken parmigiana hero and turkey melt.  While you dine at Patio Pizza during the summer months, you can enjoy your meal at one of the many spacious and socially distanced outside patio tables with full-service waitstaff and a relaxed and uplifting atmosphere of the live music currently provided daily.

Family is at the root of everything to the father of five and grandfather of six.  As inspiration, Patio Pizza regularly hosts annual events such as “Cinderella Night” and “Superhero Night,” where the staff dresses in theme and families can bring their children dressed in costume for a family-filled time of pony rides, live music, and face painting.  Guy said it’s all about making kids happy and even though he is disappointed it cannot happen this year due to COVID, he is looking forward to next year.  Hanging on the wall in the restaurant is a mural of photos of countless people–family, friends, and customers who have touched Guy’s heart.  He said he is just a friendly guy who tries to be kind to others.

For more information about Patio Pizza you can visit them on Facebook or at http://www.patiopizzastjames.com.

Photo credit: Amy Nicole Tangel and Kate Fox

Nashville inspired lounge brings country to the forefront of Patchogue

By Amy Nicole Tangel

Daisy’s Nashville Lounge opened in the Village of Patchogue, N.Y., a few short days before the world as we knew it went on pause, and they, like many other restaurants, shut their doors temporarily. Now they are back in the saddle, and the new country-themed lounge is working to make its mark.

From the menu, to the staff and live music, co-owner Brian Adams, is putting his heart and soul into giving his patrons a true Nashville experience when they visit.  Although Brian, alongside co-owner and long-time fellow restauranteur, Tim McCarthy of McCarthy’s Pub in Centereach, N.Y., opened the lounge on March 12, 2020 to an abrupt setback due to COVID, the resilient establishment has seemingly become a welcomed addition; filling a gap in the market for country lovers across Long Island.    

Brian, a New York native who was born in Yonkers and grew up in Smithtown, has worked in the industry with Tim dating back over two decades, starting when Brian worked for Tim’s father at their family-owned pub early in his career.  Since then, he spent the last 20 years living in Arizona and working in the industry opening and managing restaurants most notably, alongside retired Phoenix Suns player and restaurant owner, Dan Majerle.  When the time came for Brian to make a major life change, he moved back to New York to be closer to his family and he began looking for the right opportunity to plant his roots and partnered with Tim for the venture.  With a career and expertise in opening restaurants and handling their management, Brian said he thought about places he loved to go, and they decided to open a place where friends are able to hang out, relax, dine and listen to country music. 

“We said, ‘What doesn’t Patchogue have?’ and we both love country music.  When I grew up, my dad listened to the old country music,” he said.

When you walk into Daisy’s you can expect to hear a wide range of country and country-rock from yesterday and today providing a little something for everyone who enjoys country music.  In the front window of Daisy’s to the left sits a small showcase stage for band’s to play just like they do on Broadway in Nashville, and more space in the V.I.P. area and in the center where stages can be set. 

Brian is country fan himself with favorites like Travis Tritt and Randy Travis, and is lining-up live entertainment to the best of his ability with social distancing limitations, but he said he is excited to have a constant flow of demos coming in and is looking forward to supporting New York’s own country musicians like, Massapequa native and emerging country artist, Carolyn Miller. 

Although live music will be a staple at Daisy’s, Brian said line dancing will not be permitted due to the lack of space. For line dancers and country music fans alike, Brian and Tim have created a welcoming place for country music lovers to flock, filled with artistry like no other place for miles around.  With the potential to become a destination spot, Brian has worked piece by piece filling the lounge with pictures and paintings of country music legends specifically created just for Daisy’s and is still in the process of adding more décor to the honky-tonk theme.  On the back wall of the V.I.P lounge hangs an eye-catching original, framed picture of Chris Stapleton made out of guitar picks, designed by artist, Amy Reader of Tennessee, who Brian said is currently working on another framed picture of Carrie Underwood for another wall, as well. 

To the right of the bar is displayed a mural of Johnny Cash, painted graffiti-style on a brick wall that visually captures the essence of “The Man in Black,” by New York-based artist, Dean Goelz. 

Daisy’s also has a section in the works with final touches being made for an Instagram photo wall made-up of a backdrop of yet another original painting, this one, of a carnival poster with a girl on a horse made by Long Island artist Chelsea Carol from Painted Treasures by Chelsea, which will be complimented by a saddle on a log for people to sit on to take pictures once complete.  With creative touches being made daily, Daisy’s is seemingly a place to find something new every time you walk in the door.

“We want it to be a fun place where you can take your kids out to eat during the day,” he said.

Even when the doors were shut, Brian said they were at the restaurant daily working on fine touches, and they continue to do so today as they work on finalizing their southern-inspired menu.  Fried chicken, wings and pulled pork are staples at Daisy’s no matter what, and with an open floorplan, the tables are comfortably spaced apart to ensure safe social distancing. 

While trying to move forward in a safe and enjoyable manner, Daisy’s now has additional outdoor dining every Sunday for guests starting at 12 p.m. as part of the Village’s “Sundays in the Street” weekly closure of Main Street providing local restaurants and diners additional safe dining options throughout the pandemic. 

As for live entertainment, this Saturday evening select members of Long Island’s own country band, SouthBound will be playing live from 6 to 9 p.m., but you must remain seated and dine while you enjoy the music.  What ties everything all together for the whole experience is the staff, and Brian said although they lost some people due to the pandemic, they could not be more pleased with the group of team-oriented people working at Daisy’s now.

“This staff is good.  They are ambitious, friendly and happy.  We are very happy with the staff,” he said.

Daisy’s Nashville Lounge is located at 22 West Main Street and is open for dining Tuesday through Sunday.  For more information, visit www.daisysli.com or you can find them on Facebook and Instagram @daisys.li.

Owners pictured left to right, Tim McCarthy and Brian Adams.

Photos courtesy of Brian Adams

One Song at a Time

By Amy Nicole Tangel

Musicians in Nashville are currently feeling the heavy impact of being shut down, once again, after a recent rise in COVID cases, and many are resorting to taking their tip buckets and guitars to social media to make a means to survive and feed their families, but for one singer who has built her career by opening her own doors, it is her time to shine.

Rising above difficult times is nothing new for Nashville musician, Allie Sealey, who in large part has built her career as an independent artist with the help of all the tools social media has to offer, but with the current pause to the live music scene, she is putting in overtime using those skills to continue to share her music online with fans and support the recent release of her new single, “Wherever I Go.”

Before Allie decided to take a leap of faith and dedicate her life to making music, she was living in Northern California where she was born and raised in the bay area outside of San Francisco and taking care of her grandfather.  She was his primary caregiver and he was her biggest fan.  He was her best friend and he listened to her sing day in and day out.  He kept encouraging her to make a go of it, but Allie said it was when her grandfather passed away when she finally found the courage.  The painful feeling of grief was so traumatizing and devastating to her she said it made the fear of making a full go of her music career just disappear. 

“I only want to play music all the time.  That’s it.  I literally wake up for it,” she said.

Since that time, Allie has moved to Nashville and released two albums, ‘Best Friend’ and her most recent, ‘Long Road.’  In the midst of her drive to make things happen these past few years, she also regularly auditioned for The Voice, and said it was on pure principle to keep going back to prove to herself she could do it and vowed to herself she was not giving up.  Allie said although she didn’t get the glory like some people at the end of the day, she did get a call-back in Nashville with an on-camera interview and couldn’t have been more proud to have received a red card amongst thousands of other people.  

“I went there just to prove a point that I am not a quitter.  I will keep showing up; you will keep seeing my face,” she said.

Live streaming is nothing new to Allie, who has been maximizing her social media tools long before she moved to Nashville.  The day Allie decided she wanted to make a life of music, she picked up a guitar, learned how to play and hit the street making her own stage.  She said she didn’t care if anybody gave her a penny, she just wanted to sing and wasn’t going to wait for opportunity to knock on her door; she was going to open it herself.  From performing up and down Broadway in Nashville, to now singing to her fans from home, Allie is once again creating her own path by maximizing Facebook, Instagram and iTunes to stay connected, share her music and continue to build her career.

“Mostly, I have really been hustling the Facebook platform,” she said.

Although Allie said she has always had a hard time labeling herself in any specific genre as she loves music across the board, her heart is with country.  She said she was taught early on in the music business that you have to make your own yeses and you can’t rely on one thing to make your way.  Allie believes when there is a will there’s a way, and she said she is seeing now in light of the times how businesses are realizing how technology can be used to their advantage.  She is grateful now, more than ever, that she developed these skills long ago.

Last month, Allie had a milestone day in her life and her career when she turned 30-years-old on June 30, and her new song, a tribute to her grandfather, “Wherever I Go” was released from her second album making the charts on iTunes the very first day.  In a moment of celebration during her birthday week, she decided to lighten things up and get out of the house, so she took a drive to Kentucky to sing with a Kid Rock tribute artist at an outside event.  When the video of the performance made it on Instagram and Facebook, she said people thought she was really singing with Kid Rock, and although she enjoyed the humor of it, she said if ever given the opportunity she would love to sing with the real Kid Rock someday.

Most recently, Country Rebel, a clothing line and online news source for all things country music featured Allie’s new cover song of Wynonna Judd’s, “No One Else on Earth,” on their Facebook page earning over 82,000 views to date and rising for her video.  With a growing fanbase and commitment to what she loves, one by one, Allie is taking every opportunity as a blessing that comes her way to share the songs she sings with the world anyway she knows how.   Through it all,  she is making the most of the situation and is hoping the future holds opportunities to travel again with her music, but at the end of the day she simply just wants to make music every single day no matter where she is.

“I want to take this to a place where I am able to do what I love, which I do, you know, play music and writing songs to be able to live,” she said.

Allie Sealey’s music can be found on most streaming platforms such as Pandora, Spotify and you can purchase both albums in their entirety on iTunes. For additional information, you can visit www.alliesealey.com.  To keep up to date and to see Allie’s most recent live music videos you can follow her on Facebook.com/alliesealeymusic and Instagram @alliesealy.

Photos and video courtesy of Allie Sealey

Helping Feed the Families

By Amy Nicole Tangel

Even though school is out for summer and the doors have been closed long before, children across the country still depend on the daily meals provided to them so they don’t go hungry.  One inspiring man on Long Island has made it his life’s mission to help people in need to put food on their tables and make people smile.

Keith Caputo,39, has spent the past five years building his non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, Helping Makes U Happy, alongside his mother, Cassy Caputo with the support of an entire community.  As Founder and Board member, the Center Moriches resident has worked tirelessly to help other people by successfully organizing and producing countless fundraisers, events and drives to raise funds, food and items for those in need.  With the guidance of his dedicated and loving mother who has given him the tools to rise above his developmental disability, Keith has created an organization and brought people together in ways one may never even dream of in a lifetime.

Most recently, Helping Makes U Happy is preparing to kick-off its annual Feed the Families project to feed children and families throughout the summer, who are without the breakfast and lunches they receive for free or reduced during the school year.  With the help of local businesses and members of the community who donate to the cause, they are well on their way to begin feeding families on July 6, 2020.  From that day on, families will receive meals once a week, every Monday through September, but Keith and Cassy said there has been a big jump in numbers of families in need.

“It’s a big list this year,” he said.

Cassy said they usually have an average of 22 families and this year they have 38 families who will be receiving assistance who are referred to Helping Makes U Happy through support of the school district’s social worker, psychologist, the parent-child home program liaison and the liaison to the Poospatuck Reservation.  This year, Keith and Cassy said they were concerned about whether they would have enough volunteers to make this happen with everything going on, but the response from the community has exceeded their expectations.

Suffolk Federal has been a long-time supporter of Helping Makes U Happy, and Keith said he was amazed at their generosity this year.  With the current pandemic, the credit union was not able to host a food-drive they had planned this past April, to benefit the Feed the Families project’s upcoming initiative, so they did the next best thing, and donated a check for $3,000 to help Keith’s mission.  Longwood SEPTA, the Longwood School District Special Education PTA, is currently holding an ongoing virtual spin-it to win-it auction to raise funds for various organizations and this past Sunday, when they hosted a Helping Makes U Happy fundraising day. 

The event raised a whopping total of $13,000 for Helping Makes U Happy to not only buy food for the project, but to pay the rent for their building and utilities, and to also help provide approximately 250 backpacks Keith calls “comfort cases” with special items of comfort for children in Suffolk County removed from their homes due to neglect; leaving Keith and Cassy with a huge blessing to simply focus on feeding and supporting families with necessary items to live one week at a time.

“Thank God for the community, because they very generously always donate to our Feed the Families project,” she said.

Local farmers and food establishments alike have not let the current struggling economy stop them from helping out those in need as well.  Cassy said the Eastport Green Project, an organization focused on keeping Eastport, N.Y., green and looking beautiful, has offered to continue providing fresh vegetables this year as they have in years past.  Nettie’s Country Bakery in Center Moriches is providing fresh bread every week for the project, and Cassy said that is a huge savings for them and delicious for families, too. In addition, they are grateful to the people who raise chickens and give them eggs, but Cassy said those have been hard to come by so far.

One of the biggest hurdles preparing to feed the families this summer for Keith and Cassy has been being able to get the grocery shopping done.  They both are immune-compromised and have not been in a grocery store since this past March.  In years past, when there was a need for items and they did not have enough volunteers, they would simply go out and buy what they needed themselves, but this year it is not an option.  Thankfully, with the help of Mattituck High School Special Education teacher, Jennifer Cressy, Helping Makes U Happy is now utilizing a free virtual signup sheet to schedule and manage volunteer tasks through an app called, SignUp Genius.

Jennifer has been a special education teacher for the past 17 years, and she said she came to know of Keith through of the contributions he has made in the community individually and through Helping Makes U Happy.  She said she always read about the organization’s fundraising activities and wanted her family to become involved in the mission. 

With the upcoming project, Jennifer said Cassy reached out to her asking for help to come up with a new way to organize the drive, and together they decided on SignUp Genius.  According to Jennifer, the new sign-up program has been a hit and immediately they had volunteers signed up to not only shop for necessary items, but to sort and pack food as well as deliver to the local families in need.  While Jennifer is humble in her help, she credits Keith and Cassy for doing all of the work.

“Our community has benefited from Keith’s commitment to helping, and he always has a positive attitude.  Keith truly understands the joy in giving and is a role model for us all,” she said.

Keith said his favorite part of Helping Makes U Happy is talking to parents and kids, and the inspiration he leaves them with.  Keith said he loves to speak at schools, and to boy scouts and girl scouts to tell them about his non-profit.  Keith truly loves what he does, and he already has his sights set on his next vision to help raise funds this summer for Helping Makes U Happy with an upcoming, Summer Staycation Raffle.  Cassy said this raffle will offer items for people to use in their yards, their homes and with their families.  Beyond the summer, Keith was looking forward to celebrating his upcoming 40th birthday celebration-Casino Night- planned for November to benefit the organization, but he is now hoping that even if it cannot go on as planned, it will be rescheduled for 2021 when we can all come together again.  Of all the things Keith loves, most of all, Keith said he gives his heart and gratitude for everything to his mother.

“I am most grateful for my mother.  She is the best mother ever,” said Keith.

At the very end of the summer when the Feed the Families project comes to a close for the season, Helping Makes U Happy makes a symbolic donation of backpacks filled with supplies for every child in each family with their last food delivery; sending kids back to school a little more prepared and with a bit of extra happiness to start the new year.

Helping Makes U Happy is currently in need of eggs, and jelly, and could always use juice boxes and Chef Boyardee canned goods.  Boxes in good condition for delivery in safe and socially distanced practice to families are also needed at this time.  Check Helping Makes U Happy Facebook page for updates.  For more information or to contact to donate, please visit http://www.helpingmakesuhappy.org.