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East Meadow family washes cars to support local causes

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A van pulled into the driveway of the Diaz home in East Meadow on May 30 and, within minutes, Damien Diaz and his daughters Ysa, 10, and Celia, 9, went to work.

Celia began wiping the vehicle down with cleaner, while Ysa scrubbed its tires. Damien sprayed it with a hose, quietly singing along as the Beatles’ “Hey Jude” played from a Bluetooth speaker. The hot spring sun painted rainbows on the wet blacktop as it began to run with foaming, soapy water.

The Diaz family has kept busy through the coronavirus pandemic by starting their own car wash business for local residents who otherwise couldn’t patronize one due to the “New York on Pause” shutdown.

“We’re doing it for charity, but they’re learning a lot along the way,” Damien said. “It’s a good experience for them to learn how to speak to people and deal with transactions.”

“I learned how to wash cars,” Ysa said. “I also learned how to make a difference.”

The Diazes charge $10 to wash large vehicles and $8 for small ones, and have donated 75 percent of the proceeds, plus any additional donations, to Nina’s Deli and the No Kill Project. Nina’s is an East Meadow catering company that has donated meals to medical and emergency services workers for the past two months. And the No Kill Project is a Bayshore-based animal rescue group that advocates for an end to the killing of shelter animals through education, sterilization and adoption.

“We’ve gotten some pretty significant donations, too,” Damien said, adding that one resident stopped by for a wash and added a $500 tip for the two charitable causes.

Ysa and Celia have been saving the remaining 25 percent of sales for another pet. They currently have a cat they adopted from the Town of Hempstead Animal Shelter, two orange kittens that they adopted from the No Kill Project and four kittens they are fostering from the same agency. They also have a pit bull named Chandler that they adopted from the Binghamton-based nonprofit Pibbles and More Animal Rescue.

The sisters wanted to start their own business venture in March, before the shutdown, to save up for a new pet. After businesses closed and they started seeing the impact on their community, the Diaz family wanted to give back, and brainstormed the car wash idea.

Ysa and Celia have been scheduling all the appointments, and washing the cars with their father. They researched the best methods to clean the vehicles effectively. They use special microfiber cloths that don’t scratch the finish, and employ the two-bucket method: ringing out the dirty water in one bucket and soaking up clean water from another before scrubbing the car again.

“You also have to keep up a fast pace,” Damien said. “You don’t want the soap to dry or it will leave a stain.”

Two years ago, Ysa and Celia set up a lemonade stand. Another cat of theirs had just died, and they wanted to raise money in her memory for the Last Hope Animal Shelter in Wantagh.

Over the past three months, Damien and his wife, Stacey, have been working from home. Damien is a project manager for a furniture company, and Stacey is a teacher at Gotham Avenue Kindergarten in Elmont. They didn’t take a financial hit in the pandemic, Damien said, “so it made sense for us to help others.”

They have been washing as many as 12 vehicles each weekend for the past eight weeks. So far they have raised just over $2,100, and plan to continue the effort as long as they see a demand for it.

Benny Diasparra, the owner of Nina’s Deli, said he was overwhelmed by the volume of donations he has received from community efforts like the Diazes’ car wash. Damien recalled a conversation the two had about the philanthropy they have seen in East Meadow over the past three months. “I told him that I hope the generosity becomes more contagious than this virus,” Damien said.