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Our Ordinary Heroes: Who stepped up during the pandemic?

People by: Chrissy Ruggeri, April 11, 2021

Kate and Aidan, who help run the Northport Sharing Table with their mother, Lisa Conway.

Life as usual was not an option during the first year of Covid-19; many people were left without essentials like food and toiletries while businesses struggled for support.

As we reflect on the past year and the many challenges it brought to our community members and business owners, we’re reminded of the individual and group efforts that gave us hope during this difficult time. Even the smallest acts of kindness had a major impact on our ability to get through the storm.

Who stepped up to help generate business and provide resources for those in need? Here’s a look at our very own hometown heroes:

1. Masks on Main, Ocean Avenue PTA

The Ocean Avenue PTA, with the help of Village Trustee Mercy Smith, sponsored the Masks on Main fundraiser in an effort to not only raise money for the school, but positively impact local businesses in Northport Village and beyond. It started as an idea that PTA President Melissa Baker floated at a meeting to involve local businesses in a school fundraiser. She and PTA Vice President Sara Abbass then designed the event details and enlisted the help of Trustee Smith to ensure that it would remain Covid safe.

The fundraiser took on a multi-layered approach, with branded masks for sale at participating stores promoting safety and pride for the village and school. Mask sales went back to the school and participating businesses offered special discounts and raffle items. “We wanted to keep the community engaged and mindful of shopping local so for each purchase at participating shops and restaurants, buyers would receive a free raffle ticket,” explained Sara. “It was such a hit!”

Melissa, Sara and business owners announced raffle winners live in several shops and restaurants. “This was an added level of engagement and interaction,” explained Sara. “A chance for villagers to meet the shop owners who would pick the raffle winners live on Facebook and bring the winners back to the store for pick up.”

In the end, the amount of work that went into the event was well worth it, with over $8,000 raised for the Ocean Avenue PTA, and businesses experiencing an increase of traction and engagement.

“Melissa and I were able to not only meet, but build relationships with the business owners and that’s what is important,” said Sara. When Village residents can see the impact their dollars can have, it is meaningful.”

2. The Northport and East Northport Sharing Tables

“Take what you need, and leave what you can, if you can!” This concept has allowed the Sharing Tables in Northport and East Northport to provide people in need with food, toiletries, cleaning supplies and other necessities. Lisa Conway of Northport set up her Sharing Table after her house was burglarized on New Year’s Eve. A mother of four, she decided to turn this negative experience into something positive for her family, and the community.

With the Sharing Tables, people can simply come and take what they need, no questions asked. Volunteers contribute to the tables day and night, dropping off essentials, clothing and home goods. Lisa’s children help with the table and are learning a valuable lesson about service and activism in the face of adversity. St. Anthony's High School, where two of Lisa's children go, is currently sponsoring a toiletries and cleaning supplies drive for the table.

Today, the Sharing Table in Northport continues operating at 155 Sandy Hollow Road. Donations are accepted seven days a week (as long as rain is not in the forecast), and can be dropped off by the fence behind the table.

3. The Takeout Project

The Takeout Project encourages residents to purchase local restaurant gift cards to be distributed to Northport/East Northport food pantries. Participants are able to purchase gift cards directly from restaurants or buy “Northport Dollars” from the Chamber of Commerce, which can be used at neighborhood eateries.

Created by Northport resident Barbara Bolen, the Project started when she wanted to order a family meal to-go from the Main Street Cafe, but realized it would be too much food and some may go to waste. She had the idea to split the meal with a family in need, which meant that she could support the restaurant she loved while also doing good for the community. With this concept in mind, Barbara connected with Carol Crowley, a volunteer at the St. Anthony of Padua’s St. Vincent de Paul pantry in East Northport.

Barbara and Carol put their heads together and launched The Takeout Project to get locally made food to community members in need of support. When asked about the project’s success, Barbara explained, “When I originally got this started, I said that even if this puts one hot pizza in the hands of a family, it would be a success. How much has been raised and how far reaching the Project has been is astounding to me.”

To date, gift cards for the Project have been purchased at over 25 different restaurants in the Northport/East Northport vicinity. All of this represents revenue the businesses likely would not have received without the generosity of the many people who donated. The Project has raised over $8,500 in gift cards and Northport Dollars. These donations have been distributed at the St. Anthony of Padua pantry and the Ecumenical Lay Council pantry right here in Northport.

4. Gift Thy Neighbor, Not In Our Town - Northport

NIOT Northport, a local chapter of the national Not In Our Town organization, sponsored the “Gift Thy Neighbor” program to support local retail shops and promote neighborly kindness during the holiday season. Each participant was tasked with purchasing one $10 gift for an assigned neighbor and leaving it at his or her doorstep with a message of kindness.

In a time of intense division, both nationally and locally, the NIOT founders (seven Northport moms with an anti-hate mission) thought it was important to bring people together, while showing love to the small shops in Northport and East Northport.

In total, 80 Northport and East Northport residents participated in the program, contributing over $800, and much needed foot traffic, to our community shops in the last weeks of December. When asked about the program’s success, NIOT co-founder Lauren Pluchino said “It was even more successful than we could have imagined. We were hoping to simply connect neighbors and support our local retailers, but then people started posting pictures of their gifts on Facebook and writing sweet messages of gratitude to one another. This is what small town living is all about.”

Northport resident Gordon Wood, who participated with his wife and three kids, said “It was an adventure for all five of us. Excitement about who you would match with and where would they live, and most of all, what would you get them!” He said it was fun to wrap the gifts and drop them off at neighbors’ doors, and then anticipate receiving gifts of their own. “There was the added reward of having the giftee post their find. So fun. Not to mention we got to support local businesses and got a gift, too. Who doesn’t love to receive a gift?”

In addition to this program, NIOT Northport collected over $2,500 in donations for the Northport High School Food Pantry and was able to sponsor a local family for Christmas. All thanks to the generosity of community members.

A gift bag with a hang tag that read Gift Thy Neighbor.

A gift exchange organized by NIOT Northport supported local businesses while promoting kindness in the community.

5. Northport High School Food Pantry

There are several food pantries within the Northport/East Northport community and the selfless efforts of their organizers are incredible. One such food pantry is held in Northport High School, which has been filled since last March with food, toiletries, clothing, books and other necessities for over 25 community members and their families.

For over a year, district residents and school groups have donated to this pantry, supplying young families in need of basic supplies. Denise Keenan, the assistant principal at Northport High School, selflessly led the efforts to sustain the pantry throughout the pandemic and organized the Adopt-a-Family gift drive during the holiday season. She worked with teacher Bill Slagle to organize gift giving and ensure that the pantry was always stocked with the essentials.

Throughout the year, school groups and district residents have provided much needed goods for the pantry and they continue to accept donations weekly.

6. Northport - Open for Virtual Business

Created in April of 2020 by Village Trustee Mercy Smith, the Facebook group “Northport - Open for Virtual Business” was meant to partner with local businesses to drive revenue during the shutdown and after. With over 3,700 followers, the group provided a space for business owners to showcase their goods and services, promote sales and specials, and stay in contact with their customers who weren’t out shopping or dining as usual.

This platform gave business owners an opportunity to post product pictures, videos and webinars as their doors remained closed to residents. It provided a sense of community and support in a time that felt very uncertain and for small shop owners.

Today, the group is still active with posts from surrounding retailers and restaurants. It has become a virtual display of what Northport has to offer and continues to drive support for local businesses.

7. Wonder Women on Main

In honor of Women’s History Month and in celebration of the many female-owned businesses in Northport, Lindsay Ostrander, owner of The Wine Cellar on Main and Salted on the Harbor, hosted “Wonder Women on Main” on Sunday, March 21. The event included a five-course tasting menu and wine pairing, along with raffled items from local retail shops and restaurants.

Salted chef Allison Fasano was the brainchild for the event, which aimed to highlight the women who own restaurants and shops in Northport Village. It was an opportunity to celebrate and support the female business owners who endured the ups and downs of the pandemic, and came through on the other side.

Revenue from event tickets and cash donations went to the United Breast Cancer Foundation of Huntington and participating eateries. At $100 per ticket, participants enjoyed an impressive menu served up by Allison from Salted, Darin Parker from Main Street Cafe, Maria Maroni of Maroni Cuisine, Maureen McGrath from Auntie Moe’s Frozen Custard and Casey Smith of Casey Cakes.

The event also included raffle baskets provided by local female-owned retailers. Leading up to the celebration, these women of Northport received special shout-outs on social media to draw attention to their stores.

Thank you to all of these shining stars for coming forward during Northport and East Northport’s year of need. You proved that actions truly do speak louder than words, and showed how those actions, both big and small, can aid and empower an entire community.