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Bellmore-Merrick residents come together amid coronavirus crisis


A woman recently stopped by Avli in North Bellmore for a hot meal. She had seen the eatery’s online advertisement offering free meals for pickup from 3 to 5 p.m., and despite the fact that she was a few hours early, the owner, Gianni Torto, served her.

“My main concern with everything going on is that it’s not just us that’s feeling it — it’s everybody,” Torto explained, “so we’re waiving what we can to be proactive. We’re just looking to help out.”

Since March 18, Avli has doled out free grab-and-go meals at its North Bellmore location, and worked with residents to arrange deliveries to those unable to leave their homes. “Although we would like to think our community will fare well during a crisis like this,” the advertisement read, “we want to offer this to anyone who needs a meal or just a reason to smile.” The to-go containers include souvlaki chicken, lemon potatoes and Greek salad.

But Avli has gone beyond feeding the hungry. Torto said he has “opened up the lines” with his vendors to help supply people with other essentials, such as toilet paper, during the coronavirus pandemic. “If you need something and we can get our hands on it, we’re happy to help everyone out,” he said. 

Torto is one example of many local people who are supporting their neighbors as the pandemic continues to affect daily life. Residents have taken to Facebook to mobilize “moms-and-dads” groups in collecting supplies for families in need; the Central High School District’s Community Cupboard remains stocked; and the local Lions are pitching in wherever they can.

Helping Our Heroes

On Monday, Merrick residents Jill Levine and Brooke Jones started a Facebook group to rally both communities in support of “essential” workers.

The goal of the “Bellmore Merrick Helping Our Heroes” group is to collect monetary donations to send food and supplies to “frontline workers” in the community — police officers, firefighters, EMTs and convenience and grocery store employees — while supporting local restaurants and vendors.

“We will be asking for small donations via Venmo and or PayPal so we can pay these merchants and support them while helping others,” Jones wrote in a post. “It’s a win-win!”

Those interested in donating may send a donation via Venmo to @bellmoremerrickhoh.

Community Cupboard

The Bellmore-Merrick Community Cupboard has expanded its reach in response to the coronavirus outbreak. Families can now access intake and inventory forms on the Cupboard’s website.

Cupboard Coordinator Catrina Christensen, a school counselor for the Meadowbrook Alternative Program, said her volunteers have been “supportive from Day One” by picking up inventory and organizing the Cupboard’s shelves. She added that people have reached out to ask if donations are needed.

“With many companies instituting temporary layoffs, or some parents not being able to work, we’re expecting an influx,” Christensen said, “but if anyone needs help, we’re here.” 

The Cupboard held a distribution day on March 26 outside Brookside School to give out pre-packed supply bags to families in need.

The Lions step up

The Bellmore Lions contribute to the Community Cupboard. Group President Camille Raia said the club has been in touch with the Central High and North Bellmore school districts to help make and distribute subsidized breakfasts and lunches to local students. 

“We’re also reaching out to seniors in the community to see if we can provide them with groceries,” Raia added. “With most of the churches, synagogues and mosques closed, we’ve sort of lost our community base.” 

Merrick Lions President Michelle Gagnon said her members have been volunteering to bring food to residents, and anyone in need can email her at michelle.i.gagnon@gmail.com.

A silver lining of the coronavirus scourge, Raia said, is meeting neighbors she didn’t know before. Since state-mandated closures have forced most people to stay home, many of Raia’s neighbors have had time to work on their gardens.

“There was one day where everyone was outside working their grounds, cleaning their lawns and flower beds, seeding and mulching,” she recalled, “so we had a garden party.”