Although this year has been defined by the grim realities of the coronavirus pandemic, it also represents a year of incredible altruism as neighbors stepped up to help one another throughout 2020.
Among them was Kevin Calhoun, 62, one of the co-owners of the Halfway Down restaurant on Freeport’s Nautical Mile.
As the first months of the pandemic overwhelmed first responders on Long Island, Calhoun and his team at the Halfway Down made it their mission to provide free lunches to more than half a dozen Long Island hospitals.
From March to August, the restaurant distributed roughly 9,500 lunches to the doctors, nurses and hospital staff working tirelessly to combat the coronavirus.
For spearheading Halfway Down’s Meals for Heroes initiative, the Herald Leader proudly names Calhoun its 2020 Person of the Year.
The effort began early in the pandemic, when the state began shutting down and hospitalization rates rose in late March. As hospitals began asking for personal protective equipment donations, Calhoun decided to drop off boxes of gloves to Mount Sinai South Nassau hospital in Oceanside.
Along with the gloves, he also brought a few cups of coffee for the hospital staff. “I was surprised by just how happy they were about the coffee,” Calhoun said. “They told me how they barely had anything to drink or eat all day, and I saw a need that had to be met.”
Together with his partners, Richard Duffy and Hugh Carroll, Halfway Down kicked off Meals for Heroes, preparing lunches and making regular deliveries to local hospitals.
The meals consisted of sandwiches, chips, protein bars and bottles of water.
Calhoun said that while his partners and their employees initially put the meals together for the staff at MSSN and Nassau University Medical Center, in East Meadow, the two hospitals that directly serve Freeport, the program quickly grew in popularity.
As word spread about Meals for Heroes, Halfway Down received calls from nurses from across Long Island about feeding the staffs at their hospitals.
The program delivered to Mercy Medical Center, in Rockville Centre; NYU Winthrop, in Mineola; LIJ Medical Center, in Valley Stream; St. Joseph Hospital, in Bethpage; and Good Samar-itan Hospital Medical Center, in West Islip.
At the height of the pandemic, Halfway Down made at least two deliveries a day to these hospitals.
“It’s amazing to see Kevin and the members at Halfway Down go above and beyond to donate to our first responders,” said Freeport Mayor Robert Kennedy, who joined them on their 3,000th meal delivery to the NUMC on April 24. “It just goes to show that there are truly great people in Freeport.”
As demand for Meals for Heroes increased, so too did the number of people helping Halfway Down. Local businesses began donating food to the restaurant, and Calhoun said that even the restaurant’s regulars began pitching in once they heard about the project.
Larry Rehwinkle, one of the regulars, came daily from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. to help assemble meals and deliver them to the hospitals. Others stopped by to make brownies and other treats.
Calhoun said that with the shutdown causing massive layoffs, volunteering at Halfway Down gave people a chance to find a purpose.
Carroll noted that Calhoun and Duffy found the most joy in the initiative, as it reminded them of the time strangers came together to help one another after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack at the World Trade Center.
“Both of them are retired captains in the FDNY,” Carroll explained. “They were there during 9/11, and it was the medical staff that was there supporting them, so the meals program was a means for Kevin and Richie to pay it forward.”
Calhoun added that there was yet another factor that inspired the meals program. Amid the devastation and chaos of 9/11, he remembered how local restaurants and food vendors set up tables for him and his fellow first responders to enjoy good food.
Calhoun said that food has always served as a comfort, so he wanted to pass along that kindness to the first responders of this pandemic.
“As a firefighter, you always hear people calling you a hero, but we were only doing our jobs,” he said. “The nurses, doctors and medical staff are doing the same thing right now, so it’s only right that we support them."