For 75 years, the Freeport-Merrick Rotary Club has lived by its motto, “Service above self.”
But the Rotary has faced many obstacles since the coronavirus pandemic broke out last March. The organization, which depends on public events for fundraising and community contact, faced dissipating funds and obscurity as large events were canceled and people fell into financial hardship, said club President Florence Marc-Charles, of Queens Village.
Despite the setbacks, Marc-Charles and her fellow Rotarians moved their weekly meetings to Zoom, and began brainstorming ways to help Freeport, which was among the hardest-hit communities in Nassau County.
The club has donated more than 6,000 masks to the village, helped stock the pantries at Long Island Cares’ Harry Chapin Food Bank and the Freeport Salvation Army, and distributed Christmas gift cards to local children living in shelters.
“The pandemic is still ongoing,” Marc-Charles said, “and we plan on doing much more to help and protect Freeport this year.”
Vice President Marc Rigueur, of Huntington, said the Rotary never missed a beat, even when the shutdown forced the club to cancel its weekly gatherings.
Rigueur, who has worked at Freeport’s CYBS Accountants and Tax Specialists for 15 years, recalled how Rotary members quickly moved to online meetings to discuss ideas to help their communities during unprecedented times.
“There was no slowdown,” Rigueur said. “Everyone stepped [up] to do their part. We’re all out here doing our best to help the community.”
It was clear that personal protective equipment would be essential for people venturing out in public, so the Rotary joined the Million Masks Project, a national effort that urged people to collect and donate masks to those in need.
At the height of the pandemic in New York last April, Rotary members raised money to purchase 600 face shields for local hospitals and clinics that were facing a shortage of PPE. Last summer, the club provided more masks and other PPE to the volunteers at the Cedarmore Corporation’s farmers market in Freeport, which offers fresh produce to local residents and jobs for teenagers and young adults.
The Rotary also donated 4,000 masks to the Freeport School District, and more recently, 2,000 masks to the village on Feb. 12. Residents can pick up free masks at Village Hall or the Freeport Recreation Center, and homebound residents can call to schedule a drop-off during the week.
Jordan Pecora, of Rockville Centre, said he was impressed by the Rotary’s work when he joined the group late last summer.
Pecora helped collect food for local pantries, which have seen high demand during the pandemic. The club’s Thanksgiving donation drive helped stock the shelves at the Salvation Army Food Pantry and the Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District Community Cupboard in Merrick.
The Rotary also donated food to the Harry Chapin Food Bank in Freeport, which serves thousands of food-insecure families in local communities.
Weeks later, when members heard about the fire that burned down Duryea’s Flower Shop, a fixture in the village, they supported the owners at their interim location on the Nautical Mile.
This winter, the Rotary connected with 21 children living in shelters in Freeport whose parents had lost their jobs in the pandemic. Club members raised funds to give each child a $100 gift card to buy needed and wanted items during the holidays.
“‘Service above self’ isn’t just words we say. It’s what we live by,” Pecora said. “It helps us out even in these darkest times.”
This year will not only be another opportunity to help others, Marc-Charles said, but also a chance for the Rotary to expand its presence in the community.
As the club plans more PPE donations in Freeport — notably to the Police Athletic League, Woodward Children’s Center and American Legion Post 342 William Clinton Story — its members hope to attract more local people to help the village recover from the pandemic and prosper.
“We’re known as the best-kept secret in Freeport, but we want the secret to get out,” Marc-Charles said. “We welcome anyone who’s interested in our mission to join us.”
The Rotary will host a virtual open house on March 11, at 7 p.m. For more information on the club and its activities, go to https://freeportmerrickrotary.org/.