The nonprofits are back in Gillette House

Groups looking into Designer Showcase

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When Charlene Lehmannn, executive director of the Chestene Coverdale Food Pantry in Sayville, got the call that the nonprofits who normally met at the Gillette House headquarters could finally return after the long COVID quarantine, she did a happy dance.

(Well, sort of.)

“I said, ‘Good, a little life in the building is a good thing,’” she confirmed.

“[Councilwoman] Mary Kate Mullen told me there were five groups coming back.”

That would be Sayville Village Improvement Society, Bay Area Friends of Fine Arts, The Common Ground, Wet Pants; a local Girl Scout group also meets here.

It’s been a long haul.

“We never shut down,” Lehmann emphasized. “We offered curbside pickups by appointment and prepackaged everything so that no one congregated on the walkway. In the beginning, we worked with a skeleton crew because we didn’t want the volunteers to be at risk. We have normally 12, but it was only six for eight months.

But the challenges were never posed by the ability to provide food. “We were bombarded from the generosity of our community,” she said.

Barbara Fitzpatrick, president of the Sayville Village Improvement Society, had her group meetings outdoors in the parks and then Zoom meetings. They met at the Sayville Library last month.

Their fundraiser at Land’s End attracted over 100 paying guests, the most successful crowd in a long time.

Mullen said the town shut down pretty much all the buildings in March 2020.

“Our Parks Department and Department of Public Works decided on the reopening with the buildings, including those with outside organizations,” she said.  “I really wanted to get back to in-person meetings. I was definitely in favor to get back to as many in-person events as we could, safely. This is really an important use for them and they need to get out and see each other.”

Now the organizations in the Gillette House want to pick up the momentum for a Designer Showcase.

“We were working with Islip Town pre-COVID,” Fitzpatrick said. “The thinking was to get designers and contractors to pitch in for cosmetic and structural improvements. We did have people interested and I put in a call to Mary Kate [Mullen] to see if we can pick up where we left off.”

As most people know, Gillette House’s 1850’s bones are solid, but it does need maintenance. Plus, it’s one of the most visible buildings in Sayville, overlooking Gillette Park and its ballfields and also Common Ground across the street.

“Because schools were closed, we had a lot of vandalism here,” said Lehmann. “The back door was kicked in and the bathroom window was broken. Both were replaced with plywood. The heat is fine, but we do have a toilet bowl hanging off the wall. We’ve called the town and BAFFA has called.”

The grassy areas and ballfields are regularly maintained, but even a short tour around the outside of the building reveals stretches of mold, broken siding, screens hanging off windows, peeling paint. Calls are made, said Lehmann and Fitzpatrick, but fixing solutions are slow to come, if at all, and then, not corrected in a professional way.

“The bathrooms have peeling paint,” said Fitzpatrick. “It’s depressing for such a historic building that was the home of the first Islip Town supervisor.”

Also, Ida Gillette, the supervisor’s daughter, was a big mover and shaker, philanthropic in many ways, including funding the Sayville Republican Club headquarters.

Mullen was asked about a Designer Showcase—would she be supportive?

“Yes, I would be supportive of it, as long as we can work it out safely; changes would have to be done to code and specifications,” she said. “I think it would be a great idea.”

As for the maintenance issues, “We have a grant writer now in the Parks Department and that’s what we’re doing for different projects, including this use,” she said. “This might be something we could get a grant for.”

Mullens is headquartered in the Jacob Ockers House in Oakdale, another historic building that requires maintenance and has its own issues.

“I am optimistic we can do maintenance and upkeep,” Mullen said. 

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