Making a Difference: Det. Brian Simonsen Memorial Foundation donates $10K to NY Marine Rescue Center

Part of the mission of the Det. Brian Simonsen Memorial Foundation has centered around supporting animal rescue efforts.

Leanne Simonsen, the fallen NYPD detective’s widow, said animals were “near and dear” to both their hearts.

Shortly after the coronavirus pandemic forced many businesses and organizations to close or scale back operations, Ms. Simonsen read an article about some of the financial difficulties facing the New York Marine Rescue Center, which is located at the Long Island Aquarium in downtown Riverhead.

The nonprofit rescue center rescues and rehabilitates sea turtles and marine mammals from across the state. Ms. Simonsen said it hadn’t struck her until then that such an organization would be struggling now.

“It was like a sign,” she said. “This is a place to give to.”

Not only was it a chance to support an organization that fits the foundation’s mission, but it was also a chance to give back to Riverhead Town.

“They’ve supported me so much,” said Ms. Simonsen, who lives in Calverton.

The foundation board recently began to discuss a way to donate some of its funds to the rescue center. Early this week, the center received a $10,000 donation.

Bryan DeLuca, the Long Island Aquarium’s executive director, said a friend of his is also good friends with Ms. Simonsen and helped spearhead the dialogue.

“We had some conversations about supporting the New York Rescue Center, which of course rescues seals and dolphins and all the endangered turtles in New York waters, and she thought it was really something that was a great fit for a donation,” he said.

Maxine Montello, the center’s rescue program director, said they are “tremendously honored that they thought of us for this very kind donation.”

She said it came at a critical time as the small staff faces an increased workload amid seal pup season. Most of their staff are volunteers and interns who are not currently working.

“We’re working tremendously hard and this donation is going to support the care for the 25 sea turtles we have in-house and the seven seals we currently have in-house,” Ms. Montello said. A couple of those seals will soon be ready for release.

A pandemic hasn’t slowed down the rescue work. Ms. Montello said they field about 40-50 calls per day about seals on beaches throughout New York.

She said most of them are healthy seals. But the center has rescued three seals in the past week that were tangled in monofilament fishing line. And while people are socially distancing themselves, they’re still getting close to seals on the beaches.

“Our workload has probably doubled over the past couple of weeks,” she said.

With the aquarium closed, the center hasn’t been getting the daily donations it would typically receive from visitors. The center also had to cancel all its education programs.

Both the rescue center and aquarium have GoFundMe pages where people can support each organization. Ms. Montello said anyone wishing to donate can also visit the center’s website.

Mr. DeLuca said the aquarium remains in a critical stage with no revenue coming in. Navigating the Paycheck Protection Program through the Small Business Administration has proved challenging. He said the program is intended to provide money for payroll so businesses can bring back staff, but until the aquarium can reopen, there’s nowhere for much of the staff to work.

The Simonsen Foundation had originally planned to hold its second fundraising gala on March 29. That was postponed to May 31. And now it’s canceled altogether. Last year’s event drew close to 700 people and raised about $25,000.

Ms. Simonsen said the board decided to skip the gala for this year as social distancing guidelines are likely to remain in effect. A golf outing in August is still currently on schedule and Ms. Simonsen said she’s hopeful that event can still be held.

“I told them, I wish I could give more,” she said of the donation to the rescue center.

The Simonsen Foundation will also give two scholarships to high school seniors.