“They’ve kept me alive,” Sy Lederman said of America’s VetDogs, a Smithtown-based nonprofit that helps disabled veterans by pairing them with service dogs.
The 90-year-old World War II veteran is legally blind, and makes his way around Smithtown, where he lives, with the help of a trained poodle named Merlot.
Members of the East Meadow Chamber of Commerce met Lederman after adding America’s VetDogs to the list of charities benefiting from their annual Culinary Delights fundraiser fives years ago.
The chamber has hosted Culinary Delights for 16 years with one goal in mind: to raise money for local charitable organizations. Each year, 25 to 30 local restaurants — and others from across Long Island — offer portions of their best dishes and desserts for attendees to taste. Guests can enjoy the flavors of some of East Meadow’s most popular eateries, knowing that they helped someone like Lederman.
“It’s a win-win, really,” said event co-chair Rosemary Basmajian. “Businesses have an opportunity to market and network their business, and at the same time help these organizations.”
For the fourth straight year, Basmajian and Lyndsey Gallagher are co-chairing the event, which will take place on Sept. 24, at 6 p.m., at the Carltun in East Meadow’s Eisenhower Park.
In addition to America’s VetDogs, this year’s charities include Nassau University Medical Center’s Pediatric Department, the East Meadow Kiwanis Club’s Kamp Kiwanis and the Nassau/Suffolk Autism Society.
NUMC was the event’s first beneficiary, according to Dolores Rome, a past chamber president and event coordinator. The funds finance new medical equipment, such as the hospital’s pediatric vein finder, which makes it easier to start IVs on children. The hospital has also used proceeds from the event to renovate its pediatric waiting room and purchase video games for children to play in bed.
The Kiwanis Club is also a beneficiary because, Basmajian said, “We really have a blended relationship with Kiwanis. It’s an organization that does a lot of good for the community.” Each year, the club sends roughly 30 children to Kamp Kiwanis, near Rome, N.Y., which offers a summer camp experience to those who might not otherwise have it.
The chamber has added other charities over the years, often as a result of personal connections that formed between chamber members and charities. “We meet a lot of people,” Rome said, explaining that she had met a group of local women who had children with autism. The money the chamber donates to the Autism Society funds its social services: taking children to the movies and on field trips, and fostering friendships among them.
America’s VetDogs joined the fundraiser in 2014, after Basmajian met a puppy raiser for the charity at her father’s American Legion post in Suffolk County and heard about its services. “We wanted to do something to help veterans,” she said.
The first Culinary Delights, in 2002, was chaired by former chamber President Janine Kelly and John Tufarelli. The pair headed the event for two more years. Rome then co-chaired the event from 2005 to 2010 with chamber member John Arigo, at the Mirage and Glo nightclubs, which are now closed.
“My father bought us tickets to the third Culinary Delights at the nightclub, and I fell in love with the idea,” Gallagher recalled. “Chairing it now for four years in a row is an amazing experience.”
Rome and Arigo hosted the event at the Carltun in 2008, and it has been held there ever since.
Frank Camarano Jr., the current chamber president, said that Culinary Delights isn’t about the chamber. “It’s all about the community helping us to give back and help others,” he said. “Lyndsey and Rosemary put so much effort into this event each year.”
Tickets are available for $55 at the Empress Diner, at 2490 Hempstead Turnpike; East Meadow Florist, at 2326 Hempstead Turnpike; Century 21 American Homes, at 1586 Hempstead Turnpike; Life Physical Therapy & Wellness, at 2555 Hempstead Turnpike; and NUMC’s Pediatric Department, at 2201 Hempstead Turnpike. For more information, go to www.eastmeadowchamber.com.