Editorial: Tragedies highlight our communities’ goodness

As our three newspapers cover Riverhead, Southold and Shelter Island each week, we are reminded how people in our communities look out for others in need.

We saw this again this week when GoFundMe pages were quickly set up to help a family in Greenport recover from a house fire and a family in Flanders deal with the shock of a beloved brother’s death in an excavating accident. 

On Nov. 9, Victor Irizarry was removing silt from a drainage pipe in Fort Salonga when he collapsed because of carbon monoxide poisoning. He died at St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center in Smithtown. He was 30.

Our story in the Riverhead News-Review recounted all the difficulties Mr. Irizarry had faced in his life, going back to when he was 20 and was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. At the same time, his mother died of a rare cancer.

According to our story: “Victor was remembered as always being positive and someone who sought a good time. He enjoyed camping and spending time outdoors with his girlfriend, Stephanie Harroun, with whom he lived. They would often travel to electronic dance music festivals.”

Friends of Mr. Irizzary set up a GoFundMe page to cover funeral expenses, which quickly amassed more than $17,000. Any monies left over, the family said, will go toward a charity in Mr. Irizzary’s name. 

On Saturday, Billy Ruffner was at work at Alice’s Fish Market in Greenport when people reached out to him. The home he grew up in, and where he lived with his mother, brother-in-law and a niece, was on fire.

Multiple fire departments arrived and the fire was put out, but smoke and water from the hoses caused serious damage. There were no injuries, which Mr. Ruffner said “is the only thing that mattered. The house is a mess; we will probably have to build a new one in its place.”

Within hours of the fire, family members set up a GoFundMe page and by Tuesday afternoon it had received more than $20,000 in donations. In her postings on a Greenport social media page, village Trustee Mary Bess Phillips said the village would come together to help the family. And that is what happened.

Mr. Ruffner grew up in Greenport, in the house damaged in the fire. That house had been occupied in the 1800s by his great-grandfather. His mother, Ruth Ruffner, works at the IGA in the village. In the wake of the fire, store employees put out a bucket to encourage people to donate clothes or any other items to Ms. Ruffner.

Across America, we are in so many ways a house bitterly divided. Friendships have shattered, family members have turned on one another as we continue to bicker over everything going on in our country.

But in Flanders and Greenport, neighbors and friends came together to help people dealing with tragedy. Their generosity speaks volumes about our communities and remind us once again of the inherent goodness in people.

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