An old rotary phone was unveiled at the Suffolk County Environmental Center in Islip on Sunday for grieving people to "call" their loved ones "on the wind." NewsdayTV's Steve Langford reports. Credit: Newsday/Kendall Rodriguez

In an unlikely corner of a Suffolk County park in Islip stands a solitary yellow rotary phone wired to nowhere.

The phone, housed in a wooden hutch, is alone. No buildings, no sidewalks — just a nearby bench surrounded by trees, grass and potted flowers, with a sign that reads: “For people with no earthly phone number: The wind will carry your message.”

Called a wind phone, it was unveiled Sunday in a garden at the Suffolk County Environmental Center by members of Gabriel’s Giving Tree, a nonprofit that offers financial assistance to families who have lost a loved one to a substance abuse disorder. The phone, members said, is meant to serve as a physical place for people to speak with loved ones who have died.

“It’s a comfort tool for people who are grieving,” said Carole Trottere, 68, of Setauket, a volunteer with the charity who came up with the idea.

Trottere, who lost her son in 2018, said she was inspired by a video she saw on CBS News about a wind phone in Washington state. It took around a year to see the idea to fruition, with a volunteer building the rotary phone set-up at no expense to the charity.

Trottere said she hopes to install more wind phones across Long Island, noting the one unveiled Sunday is the second in the region. The first was installed in November at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Huntington.

Nearly 200 wind phones are registered worldwide with My Wind Phone, a website tracking the locations. The rotary phones are modeled after the first one built in Japan in 2011.

Some 2.8 million New York residents 12 years and older have a substance abuse disorder, according to a 2023 state report.

More than 6,000 state residents died of a drug overdose in 2022 and a little over 2,000 died from alcohol-related causes, the report showed.

Sharon Cebulski, 65, of Port Jefferson Station, was the first to use the wind phone after it was formally unveiled on Sunday. She said she spoke with her niece, Elisa Levinson, who died at 29 after taking oxycodone laced with fentanyl.

“I felt at peace being connected on the telephone,” she said.

The rotary’s mission matches the purpose of the park it was installed in, Gabriel’s Giving Tree Memorial and Serenity Garden at the Suffolk County Environmental Center.

Paulette Phillippe, 78, of Mattituck, founded the charity group and garden in 2019 in honor of her grandson, who died of a fentanyl overdose in 2010. She said that, besides helping families with funeral expenses, part of the nonprofit’s mission is to help people find “a place that they can go for contemplation and healing.”

She hopes the wind phone will be another draw for grieving families to use the park as part of their healing process.

Phillippe used the rotary phone herself on Sunday. After unveiling the installment in front of a crowd of well-wishers, she held the yellow receiver to her ear. She listened silently for a few moments before hanging up.

“It really works,” she said.

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