Members of the Pi Lambda Phi fraternity at the Open Door Exchange. Open Door Exchange is a community outreach program serving the Suffolk County area. PHOTO COURTESY OF DHAVAL SHAH

For Stony Brook’s Pi Lambda Phi fraternity, spending a few hours on the weekend volunteering means much more than just crossing off a community service requirement – it means creating a stronger brotherhood and impacting the lives of the less fortunate.

On Jan. 28, Pi Lambda Phi launched a partnership with the Open Door Exchange furniture bank started by the Setauket Presbyterian Church that aims to provide furniture to those in need.

“The Open Door Exchange stands apart from other volunteer groups for several reasons, among them being the hospitality,” Christopher Forella, junior health science major and the vice president of risk management for the organization, said.

The furniture bank appreciates the fraternity, just as much as fraternity appreciates the bank. 

“We all love having them there and they’re a huge help to everybody that’s moving furniture around,” Alaina Ingram, masters student at the Stony Brook School of Social Welfare and a social work intern at the Open Door Exchange, said. “Usually I’m the one moving in the furniture, and they help with that so I can focus on other things.”

Every Saturday, a dozen brothers from the 46-member fraternity head out to the bank, load up furniture in trucks and then distribute it all to the greater Suffolk County area. Every weekend a brother has a different volunteer role at the organization, whether it’s loading or distributing, Dan Monessa, junior biochemistry major and fraternity brother since spring 2016, said.

“I wouldn’t say that we give up our weekends to do this. It’s very flexible and not time-consuming at all,” Monessa said. “It’s also very rewarding and impacting, and I love working with my brothers.”

Since the brothers partnered with the outreach organization, the program has been able to pick up furniture from 12 locations instead of just six, Ingram said.

For some of the brothers, the volunteer opportunity is a way to show their fellow Seawolves that Pi Lambda Phi is not just another stereotypical fraternity.

“Now our fraternity is making a difference in the community and people recognize us not as ‘stupid frat bros,’ but rather as a brotherhood working together to make a difference,” Killian Black, sophomore biology major and fraternity brother since spring 2016, said. “We hope to give Greek Life a better name and eliminate the stereotypes associated with Greek Life.”

Pi Lambda Phi brothers are required to complete a minimum of 12 hours of community service per semester, Black said. Brothers are also able to choose which community service projects they want to be involved in.

However, Dhaval Shah, junior psychology major and president of the fraternity, said that volunteering with the program was something different from Pi Lambda Phi’s usual beach and campus cleanups.

“One of the most gratifying feelings for me was watching families walk out with the biggest smiles on their faces,” Shah said. “Since that day, I, along with the other brothers, go to the Open Door Exchange as much as we can.”

For the Open Door Exchange, the brothers are making a step in the right direction by helping the community outside of the Stony Brook campus. 

“I think personally as a college student, it’s important for college students and people in general to really be involved in their community because, while Stony Brook feels like a community, there is still community outside of it,” Ingram said. “And I think that having like a wall up is almost saying that ‘We’re our own community, and you guys are separate,’ and that’s really divisive.” 

Forella agrees that it is important to be a part of a community and that working with the program has helped the brothers do so.

“It’s provided us with a wide range of experiences and allowed us to meet new people mainly from driving to different locations all over Suffolk,” Forella said.

Many of the brothers also agree that the partnership with the Open Door Exchange, as well as previous volunteer programs, have helped them create a lifelong bond.

“We have a lot of fun at this event. Afterward, we get Strathmore Bagels and eat lunch together,” Black said. “The relationships I’ve made with this fraternity will last a lifetime and that’s what makes all the effort worth it.”

The brothers plan on working with the Open Door Exchange for the rest of the semester and for semesters to come, Ingram said.