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East Meadow Facebook fixture hosts NFL playoff fundraiser

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Many small businesses in East Meadow are struggling to make it through the winter, as Covid-19 cases rise and many residents are reluctant to dine out.

“These restaurants support our Little Leagues, our PTAs, our community events,” said Todd Weinstein, 48, of East Meadow. “It’s our obligation to come together and help them out.”

Weinstein runs a Facebook group called “Nice Things that Happen in East Meadow,” which has held a number of fundraisers for community causes. In anticipation of the Super Bowl, Weinstein set up box betting pools for the American Football Conference and National Football Conference championship games on Sunday. For $25, a bettor can secure a box in both pools.

The prizes will be gift cards to restaurants that are members of the East Meadow Chamber of Commerce, like Garden Social, Borrelli’s and the Grand Stage Diner.

The winners of the games’ first quarters will get $150 in gift cards, the second-quarter winners, $250, the third-quarter winners, $150, and the final-score winners, $450. Those who have the inverse of the score for each quarter will win $25 cards.

Weinstein is also setting aside three $100 donations for East Meadow’s American Legion Post 1082, the Mary Brennan Interfaith Nutrition Network in Hempstead, and a nonprofit food-delivery service called Drive Out Hunger Inc.

“Everybody does box pool for the Super Bowl,” Weinstein said. “I thought this would stand out if it was for the championship weekend.”

He set up the fundraiser last Friday and, in three days, sold all 100 boxes and had to turn people away.

“Through all of the things we’ve done over the years, the ‘Nice Things’ followers show up,” Weinstein said. 

His philanthropy began when he started the Facebook group five years ago, to counteract the rude comments and harsh arguments that often pit neighbor against neighbor on the social media site, he said. Not long after the page was set up, it evolved into a conduit for charitable causes when Ben Diamond, 52, of East Meadow, a friend of Weinstein’s, encouraged him to host a school supplies drive for the Mary Brennan INN.

Now “Nice Things” has over 3,100 members who support Weinstein’s fundraisers and drives, and share personal causes and charitable efforts. “I was a little nervous, because I put this fundraiser together in such a short time,” he said. “But people wanted to buy more than I could offer. They just wanted to help.

“My heart breaks for all of our merchants who are being so affected by this,” he added.

The shutdowns have had an even greater impact in East Meadow, where many large entities are exempt from taxes, including Eisenhower Park, Nassau University Medical Center and the Nassau County Correctional Center. That doesn’t affect homeowners, but the tax burden is shifted to local business owners, according to the Chamber of Commerce.   

Some local businesses may appear to be thriving, with constant customer traffic, but may actually be just keeping their heads above water after accounting for their property taxes. “I didn’t even realize how difficult it was for them,” Weinstein said, adding that he was inspired to host the NFL fundraiser after reading about the effects of the pandemic on Borrelli’s in a story in the Dec. 24-31 issue of the Herald titled “Borrelli’s gets a boost from Barstool.”

The restaurant had already taken a hit during the pandemic, mainly due to a lack of customers coming from events at the Nassau Coliseum. The situation only grew bleaker in November, when Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered a 10 p.m. curfew for bars, restaurants and gyms.

Owner Frank Borrelli’s son Frankie has worked at the digital media company Barstool Sports for the past four years, and brought his father’s financial difficulties to the attention of its founder, Dave Portnoy. The media mogul recently launched a Covid-19 small business relief fund, and named Borrelli’s the first recipient.

Portnoy’s deed inspired Weinstein to pay it forward by using his social media platform to help businesses like Borrelli’s. “They’ve been suffering for so long with all the shutdowns and restrictions,” he said. “They’ve been so supportive of our community, and we want to help them out in their time of need.”