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Amid the coronavirus, Lafazan launches volunteer shopping program to assist seniors

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The last time former state Sen. Carl Marcellino and his wife Patricia went grocery shopping at Trader Joe’s in Planview, they had a few items on their list, including the ingredients they would need for home-made chicken soup. 

As the couple browsed the store, where only 10 shoppers at a time were permitted to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, they got celery, onions, carrots and other ingredients. But, they forgot the most important item for the soup — the chicken.  

Therefore, Patricia said she was happy when she received an email from Nassau County Legislator Joshua Lafazan, an independent who represents District 18, about his volunteer senior shopping program. The program, which covers Brookville, Locust Valley, Oyster Bay, Glen Head and Bayville would enable Patricia to have the chicken she needed without putting herself at risk.

“It’s perfect,” she said. “It’s a wonderful program. When I saw it, I thought ‘I’m a senior.’” Marcellino, a former Adelphi University professor, has known Lafazan for quite some time. When he was on the Syosset School Board of Education, she invited him to speak to her graduate class. 

Lafazan’s office implemented the shopping program, which pairs a volunteer shopper with a senior or an individual with an underlying medical condition, in March. The money for the groceries is reimbursed to volunteers by check or cash secured in an envelope at the door or in the mailbox when they drop off the groceries.  

“I was thinking about how my grandparents would be able to get not only food, but medication,” Lafazan, 26, said. “And I thought if my grandparents were in a precarious situation, then there has to be thousands of seniors in my district in similar situations. So we decided to implement the program.” 

The office was able to accrue 80 volunteers, many of which Lafazan said are college students who were sent home from school in the wake of Covid-18. “Our generation has the responsibility to protect the generation before us,” Lafazan said.  

One of those volunteers is Robyn Cotler, a nutritionist with a private practice in Plainview. On Friday, she took a trip to Stop & Shop in Woodbury for the Marcellino’s. On the way there, her 16-year-old son, Ethan, practiced driving. 

“I figured that I’m going to the supermarket so many times that it’s really not a big deal to pick up anything for anyone,” Robyn said. 

She was prepared with her mask and gloves, as were most of the shoppers there. The store was quiet except for the music playing on the loudspeaker and the click of grocery cart wheels traveling through newly marked one-way aisles.  

Cotler was able to find most of the items on the Marcellino’s list, including the chicken. What she couldn’t find, however, was sugar-free apple sauce. “The fact that there’s nothing on the shelves is beyond crazy,” Cotler said.  

As she waited in line, where the floors were marked to maintain six feet of distance, she called Marcellino to make sure that she didn’t need anything else. And after confirming that the macaroni and cheese, chicken, almond milk and other goods were enough, she proceeded to self-checkout.  

“I get to meet a neighbor,” Cotler said. “I didn’t realize that the neighbor is Sen. Marcellino’s wife.”  

The next morning, the Marcellino’s were able to make the chicken soup without risking their health by shopping.   

“We have a no judgment and no questions asked policy,” Lafazan said. “Whether you’re a senior or someone with an underlying medical condition, if you can’t leave your house to shop due to the increasing threat of Covid-19, call us. We’re going to send a shopper to help you.” 

Those interested in volunteering or benefitting from the program can call Lafazan’s office at (516) 571-6218.