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Person of the Year

Franklin Square teenager helps feed local veterans in need

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When everyone was stuck at home under Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s New York on Pause order in March, Nicholas Talamo, of Franklin Square, began worrying about all the disabled veterans who were struggling to put food on their tables.

He saw how his grandfather Vito Talamo, a blind U.S. Army veteran, was having difficulties amid the coronavirus pandemic, but was lucky enough to have the support of Nicholas’s family. But not every disabled veteran was as fortunate, Nicholas realized.

“There’s a lot of veterans out there that are just at home” and don’t have families to support them, said the 17-year-old Talamo, a senior at H. Frank Carey High School and president of Venturing Crew 2718, a group of older Franklin Square current and former Boy Scouts sponsored by VFW Post 2718. But, he said, they shouldn’t have to go out shopping for food, either, because “we don’t want them to get sick.”

So Talamo spoke to his father and Charlie Grippaldi, the Venturing Crew leaders, about how the crew could raise money to feed local disabled veterans, and Operation Thank a Veteran was born. Each member of the crew chipped in $10, and Grippaldi worked to get the message out on social media, with a link for the public to donate money to help the teens purchase food for the veterans.

By the end of the summer, the Venturing Crew was providing nearly a dozen veterans in the Franklin Square and Elmont area two meals a day three days each week, and expanded its efforts to help the technicians who were fixing the ventilators at NYU Winthrop Hospital in Mineola, now NYU Langone Hospital–Long Island.

The crew continued to feed the veterans on the holidays, and is still providing food to one local veteran and his daughter each week.

For spearheading this effort, and thinking of others at such a difficult time in American history, the Herald is proud to name Talamo its 2020 Person of the Year.

 

A veteran Boy Scout

Nicholas got involved in scouting 11 years ago, when he joined Cub Scout Pack 372, under the leadership of his mother, Jeanna. A few years later he worked with his older brother, Andrew, who was in Boy Scout Troop 485 at the time, to organize a coat drive and raise money to feed the victims of Hurricane Sandy in Far Rockaway, Queens. The family made two five-gallon buckets of soup for the residents, many of whom had seen severe property damage in the storm, and served them hamburgers and hot dogs as well.

“Both Nick and his brother, Andrew, are kids who will hold the door open for anyone and wish them a good day,” said their father, Andrew Talamo Sr., adding that Nick will always stop and say hello to those he has helped in the past.

He joined Troop 485 in 2013, and became an Eagle Scout five years later. For his Eagle project, Nicholas took part in the “Ready, Set, Engage” program, in which volunteers from the New York City Police Department’s 103rd Precinct loaded backpacks with school supplies for children in Jamaica, Queens, who were still displaced, years after Sandy. He set out to fill 50 bags with notebooks, loose leaf paper, pencils, crayons, rulers, glue sticks and markers for the precinct’s annual back-to-school event, but by the time it took place in August 2017, he had collected more than 100 bags of supplies, and handed them out to children in need.

“No matter what Nick takes on,” said Debra Hansen, an assistant scoutmaster of Troop 485, who served as his Eagle Scout project coach, “he sees it all the way through and gives 110 percent.”

Nicholas attained the Eagle rank in 2018, and helped other scouts in the troop fill out their Eagle paperwork. “ The paperwork can be a lot for a teenager,” said Andrew Sr. “Nick found it easy and made it fun.”

And he enjoyed learning new skills and making new friends so much that he didn’t want his time in scouting to come to an end. So he worked with his father and Grippaldi to found Venturing Crew 2718 in July 2019.  Its members, between ages 14 and 21, focus on outdoor activities — cooking, camping, hiking and surviving in the wilderness — as well as sportsmanship and learning how to handle firearms. The members of the VFW provide a space for them to meet and ensure that the leadership is following the guidelines of Boy Scouts of America.

In turn, Grippaldi said, “We’ve always helped out the veterans.”

“My youth members and adult leaders have a deep connection with our veterans,” he previously told the Herald, “and feel it’s important to help the men and women who fought for the freedoms we enjoy in this country.”

 

Operation Thank a Veteran

The crew raised more than $500 in the first week of its Operation Thank a Veteran food drive this year, and Nicholas and his father began handing out the food in April. They rang veterans’ doorbells, Nick said, and left them premade meals from local businesses such as Tulip Caterers and DaVinci Gourmet Market, in Franklin Square, Antonio’s Italian-American Deli, in Malverne, and Patsy’s Pizzeria, in Queens.

“We think it’s for a great cause,” said Charlie Davi, co-owner of DaVinci Gourmet Market. “Any time you get a chance to help people in need, especially our veterans, it makes us feel good and gives us a chance to meet some great people along the way.”

Davi and his father had started talking to Rosario Trovato, a 98-year-old World War II veteran living in Garden City South with his 65-year-old developmentally disabled daughter, because of the operation, Davi said, and bonded over their shared Sicilian heritage. Trovato, his father and his brothers all served in the military — his father in World War I, some of his brothers in World War II and his younger brothers in Korea.

Trovato is now having trouble taking care of himself and his daughter, and in April he reached out to Gina and Vincent Centauro, founders of the Franklin Square-based Rescuing Families Inc. about his need for essential items like masks, gloves, paper towels, toilet paper and cleaning supplies. When Gina dropped some of these items off at his house, she noticed that he didn’t have much food.

Trovato didn’t want his home health care aides going shopping for him, fearing they might contract Covid-19 and bring it back to him, and whenever he went shopping, he told Centauro, “there was nothing left for him.” He struggles to walk, he explained to the Herald, and must use a walker or canes to get anywhere.

Centauro got the community involved in a “meal train,” cooking low-sodium meals for Trovato that she delivered to his house with notes from the people who made them. But when Grippaldi found out, he immediately got Talamo and the Venturing Crew involved as well, and they provided Trovato with three days’ worth of meals every Tuesday. Grippaldi and the Talamos kept up that schedule through the summer, and continue to provide the Trovatos with two meals a week.

Trovato said that he didn’t have much faith in many nonprofits anymore, but has “a lot of faith” in the Venturing Crew, which provided nearly a dozen veterans with boxes of food for Veterans Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Talamo’s efforts earned him a mention in the Boy Scouts of America Theodore Roosevelt Council’s newsletter this year, as proof that scouting “is still going strong in Nassau County,” according to Senior District Executive Brian Gorman. Gorman described Talamo as “one of the best Eagles I’ve seen come out of Franklin Square in a while.”

Nicholas will join the U.S. Coast Guard next fall, where he will serve as a private E-2, a higher rank than most due to his success in scouting. “I couldn’t be more impressed and proud of one of my scouts,” Grippaldi said, “whom I consider a great friend.”