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Stony Brook Fundraiser Supports Sayville Soup Kitchen

A $5,000 donation from a Stony Brook University fundraiser enables Sayville’s Having Friends Inn to pay for required kitchen improvements.

Organizers of Sayville’s Having Friends Inn soup kitchen joke that they cook “everything but soup” in preparing hot dinners for those in need. Recently, however, kitchen safety problems have limited their menu options as the group made a public plea to raise $11,000 for necessary improvements. Now, a Stony Brook University fundraiser has helped get things cooking again at Having Friends Inn.

Stony Brook Credits Patch For Raising Awareness

As Patch on January 31, the Inn was forced to turn off the gas on its stove. In December, fire marshals determined that the stove could not be operated without proper exhaust and fire suppression improvements. The price tag to fix the problem was $11,000, and volunteer leaders called for the community’s help. Private donations started coming in, raising about half the money needed.

Laura Valente read the Patch article, and knew that she help make a difference. Valente is part of Stony Brook University’s Residential Program department, which runs an annual fundraiser, ‘Tis The Season.

“I saw that [Patch article] and knew we could help,” she said.

According to Valente’s coworker Beth McGuire, ‘Tis The Season typically raises about $20,000.

“This year, we hit our mark and exceeded it [to $31,000],” McGuire said. “When we started this fundraiser 10 years ago, we set our goal to raise one dollar for every resident student. That was about 7,500 students. Now, we have roughly 10,000 and to raise three times that number really says a lot about our students’ efforts.”

“Even in these hard economic times, we still pushed to make our goals,” fellow-coworker Gerald Stannard said. “We worked to get more students on board, and get more departments on board."

Added Celeste Demby, also staff in the Residential Program department: “It’s all student driven, which is really great. It gets students involved and gives them an opportunity to give back.”

Through a series of late-fall events, funds are raised for local charities. As it turned out, the group had not yet allocated the remaining $5,000, Valente said. So when she learned of the Inn’s challenge, it seemed like a logical place to offer their remaining funds.

Menu Has Changed, But Effort Has Not

Contractors were on site last week to review final plans, which call for a venting system to be installed in the kitchen—located behind the Sayville Congregational Church on Middle Road—for exhaust and fire-suppression management.  Inn Director Steffen Utne said the work should be completed within four to six weeks, including time needed for permits to be secured.

“For the past few months, we’ve had to use hot plates, roasting pans and microwaves to prepare food,” said Utne, a Shirley resident who is stepping down as director after 10 years. “We’ve had to change our menu a bit, making smaller meals. But we always prepare hot meals.”

Incoming director Sonny Greco, from Oakdale, estimates that the group of 150 volunteers provides on average upwards of 40 meals daily from Monday-Thursday.

Many areas businesses, such as Cricket's in Sayville and Modern Italian Bakery in Oakdale, have donated food, and the has donated floral arrangements for tables. Guests routinely travel from points as far as Bay Shore and Patchogue. The Inn is part of the Interfaith Nutrition Network, whose next nearest location is in Wyandanch.

“We have people who take the bus to get here. We’ve served more meals as of late because of the economy,” Greco said. “We serve a full hot dinner, complete with meat, potatoes, vegetables, salads, dessert and coffee. Really everything you would eat at home. Without the soup.”

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