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Heat, running water restored at historic house in Sayville

Sarah Isaacson, left, and Mary Lou Cohalan volunteer

Sarah Isaacson, left, and Mary Lou Cohalan volunteer Tuesday at the food pantry at the Gillette House in Sayville. Credit: Randee Daddona

Several Sayville nonprofits received a needed gift this holiday season: heat and running water.

Islip Town officials restored those utilities at the historic Gillette House last month after a food pantry and other community groups went nearly a year without them.

Volunteers bundled up in cold weather. They sat in running cars to stay warm. They crowded around space heaters provided by the town or into the food pantry, which still had heat. And some went without their morning coffee, just in case.

“It was difficult because, many times, recipients are cold,” said Charlene Lehmann, director of the Greater Sayville Food Pantry. “We have a couple homeless and people who don’t have proper heat in their own homes.”

The challenging conditions began in January, when pipes froze and a radiator burst in the 170-year-old building.

Officials waited for state grants before completing the work, which included replacing all radiators, installing a new boiler and converting from oil to gas, town spokeswoman Caroline Smith said.

The work was completed by the end of November after the town received two grants totaling $100,000 from the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York, Smith said. She estimated the grants will cover between 90 and 95 percent of the work’s costs.

People who work at the house described the 11 months without heat and running water as uncomfortable, while expressing gratitude that they have use of the historic building. Nonprofits there do not pay rent and include the food pantry, the Bay Area Friends of the Fine Arts, the Sayville Improvement Society and the Wet Paints Studio Group.

The Greater Sayville Food Pantry, which serves about 200 people a month, started pre-packing meals and encouraging patrons to take them to go, volunteers said.

“We didn’t want people sitting in the cold,” Lehmann said. “We got them out as quickly as possible.”

The pantry's operation was cut down by an hour each of the three days the pantry operates. They struggled to clean up spills or wash dishes without running water.

The Bay Area Friends of the Fine Arts had to cancel middle school and high school student art shows during the nonprofit’s 50th year of operation, and the office manager had to work from home.

“We were pretty much out of business here,” said Carole Sheppard, president of the arts group.

Other groups moved their meetings to the library or Masonic lodge.

The perseverance of volunteers in these conditions is a “testament” to them, pantry volunteer Mary Lou Cohalan said.

“We do what we have to do,” she said. “We’re not shutting down.”

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