Ties to law enforcement are strong on the South Shore. On Jan. 3, from 8 p.m. to midnight, the Ridgewood Tavern, on Sunrise Highway in Wantagh, hosted a fundraiser for the families of fallen police officers.
There are more than 600 law enforcement personnel living in Wantagh and Seaford — an unusually high 2 percent of the total population, according to data USA, a database tied to the U.S. census. The two communities also share a number of charities dedicated to first responders of all kinds, as well as victims of 9/11-related illnesses.
The idea for the fundraiser, called Back the Blue, grew out of a conversation among Ridgewood Tavern owner Mike Paccione; Laura Dupkin Memisha, associate broker at Realty Advisors in Wantagh; Maureen Conklin, of the Wantagh Booster Club; and Liz Greco, co-owner of Pies On Wheels in Wantagh. Paccione invited the three local residents to be guest bartenders for a night, but the four of them decided that there could be an opportunity to do something bigger — and help others.
Dupkin Memisha, Conklin and Greco eventually decided to raise money for the widows and families of fallen police officers. Paccione, a retired New York City police detective with 20 years of experience in the department, said he was elated at the idea.
“They said, ‘Why don’t we do it for widows and children of the officers?’ and I said, ‘Go put your names out there, and let’s make this big,” recalled Paccione, who purchased the bar in 2018, renovated it and reopened it under his management a year ago.
The event attracted a crowd of more than 300 people, according to Dupkin Memisha, whose son Jeff, 22, and his friend Nick Barberio, 22, helped spread the word through social media.
“They were responsible for more than half the ticket sales,” Dupkin Memisha said. “We couldn’t do this ourselves. They helped so much, and posted the event daily. Every day or so [Jeff] would tell me, ‘Mom, another 15 people responded that they’re coming.’”
The event offered an open bar, the special guest bartenders, a country music playlist, prizes and a performance by the Nassau County Police Department Bagpipe Band OK’d by NCPD Commissioner Patrick Ryder. Paccione, Dupkin Memisha, Conklin and Greco created a banner sporting the logos of the Ridgewood Tavern and the NCPD, as well as the phrase, “Today I backed the blue by donating.”
“Everyone in that room [had] some connection with the police, so it was important to all of us,” Greco said. “It shouldn’t shock me anymore, but everyone really steps up to help one another in this community.”
Local businesses donated supplies and raffle prizes. They included Wantagh Wine and Spirits (wine and a gift card), Iavarone’s of Wantagh (a food basket and a gift card) and a Wantagh 7-Eleven that donated beer. Numa’s Florist provided an arrangement and a gift card; Chris Kauffman, of Realty Advisors, gave a Fitbit watch and Apple Air Pods; and the Cop Shop, in Massapequa, donated 12 “Back the Blue” T-shirts that the organizers originally planned to purchase for the event.
UFC lightweight contender “Raging” Al Iaquinta, of Wantagh, also attended, and hopped behind the bar to greet patrons.
“My husband is a retired police officer,” Dupkin Memisha said. “Maureen’s husband is a current police officer, Liz’s husband is a retired police officer, and Mike Paccione is a retired officer as well. The police force is something that’s close to all of us. We wanted to do something where we can raise money and donate it quickly to the people in need, and we decided to help these families.”
As the night went on, more patrons made their way to the bar and to the raffle table to donate. At the end of the night, several thousand dollars had been raised, according to Dupkin Memisha.
“Although that’s something no one really wants to talk about, we wanted to put it out there for the widows and the families that there is support,” Paccione said. “People came out. It was crowded, and it was really a special night.”
Dupkin Memisha, Conklin and Greco stayed until 2 a.m. to help Paccione and his staff clean up.
“This community has an unbelievable level of character,” Dupkin Memisha said. “When this community knows it’s for a good cause, they come out in numbers.”