SOMERVILLE, NJ – Like so many others who live in this tight-knit borough, Thomas Sfisco was stunned when he first heard the news about his neighbor Matthew Tarentino, the 29-year-old Summit police officer who was killed May 30 in a three-car motor vehicle accident on Route 78.
Sfisco had seen Tarentino just a few weeks before, walking past his house.
Dedicated to staying in top physical shape, Tarentino was a familiar sight running on the streets throughout the borough; Sfisco asked whether there was anything wrong.
“I had just walked outside to the driveway from my kitchen and noticed him across the street walking, which I found bizarre; he never walks; he was always running past like a gazelle.
“I asked him, ‘Matthew are you all right? I offered to drive him home,” Sfisco said.
“I think I just popped my knee let me try and walk it off down to the corner,’ Tarentino responded, according to Sfisco.
Sfisco first met Tarentino when he and his wife, Victoria were walking their newborn first child in a carriage past his house; Tarentino’s parents lived around the corner from Sfisco.
Both Tarentino's and his wife’s family, the Cullens have lived in the borough for three generations. The couple graduated from Immaculata High School, and attended Immaculate Conception RC Church.
Sfisco, who graduated Somervile High School in 1982, lives in the house he grew up in as a child, and is also a third-generation resident of the borough.
Immaculate Conception RC Church on Mountain Avenue hosted a memorial service for Tarentino Sunday, June 4 and a funeral mass June 5, followed by a procession of police officers, families and friends to Resurrection Cemetery in Piscataway for graveside services. The procession drove past the Tarentino’s home.
Thousands of people were in Somerville both days to pay their respects.
Tarentino was promoted to Detective posthumously by the Summit Police Department following the accident.
Sfisco, owner of Design Studio of Somerville, 67 W. Main St., now finds himself in a position where he can help Tarentino’s widow, Victoria and their two young sons, Robbie, 3 and Ray, 2. The couple is expecting their third child in August.
Lee Industries, a North Carolina furniture maker and upholstery manufacturer in operation for 44 years, sponsors a bi-annual community outreach program with its retailers in February and July called “Lee Loves Local.”
Sfisco has been doing business with Lee for years; Lee’s furniture – sofas, love seats, ottomans and benches, dining room and bedroom sets - are displayed throughout the Design Center showroom; catalogs full of upholstery samples sit on sofa cushions, glass shelves and flat surfaces, with a rack of samples in the basement office and workshop.
Lee deducts five percent from each invoice for new orders submitted by its retailers during the month of July and returns that money to the retailer in the form of a donation for a designated charity or cause. Sfisco discussed the program with Cynthia Stabile, his longtime senior interior designer; both knew immediately what they would do.
Stabile, friends with the Cullen family, reached out to tell them about the program before moving forward.
Somerville Design Studio will match that five percent donated by Lee and will donate 10 percent of all Lee sales in the store during the month of July to the online fund established for Tarentino’s young family by the Summit PAL in the days following Tarentino’s death.
As of 4 p.m. Monday, donations totaled $587,393. The site can be accessed online at youcaring.com/victoriatarentino-835682.
A Message of Thanks was posted to the website on June 12 by Vickie Tarentino’s siblings. It reads:
"We, the siblings of Detective Matthew and Vickie Tarentino, can never thank the Summit PAL enough for the tremendous gesture of starting this fund in Matt's memory for our sweet sister and their young children.
During these most devastating days, the kind words, memories, prayers, and most certainly the generous donations are humbling and comforting, and will make their navigating the road ahead just a little easier. We are so deeply appreciative.
On behalf of our sister, we extend her most sincere awe and gratitude for everything that has been done to honor Matt and comfort her family during this time."
The Design Studio of Somerville is open Monday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m.; Friday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. and Sunday, noon-4 p.m.
Call (908) 685-1921 for further information.