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South Shore hamlets find bonds with food

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When the coronavirus pandemic hit Nassau County in March, many worried about their families’ health. They worried about keeping their jobs. They were told to stay inside and avoid contact with their neighbors.

But many Seaford and Wantagh community members refused to be held back from helping their neighbors. On March 30, community leader and Seaford Chamber of Commerce board member Donna Jebaily called on her community to donate to a cause.

“It started as a way to give back to medical workers by delivering food to them,” Jebaily said. “The first one was to Nassau University Medical Center. From there, we started taking collections.”

Jebaily asked her neighbors for $200 to feed a unit at NUMC. They raised around $1,000. She took that money to Cara Mia, in Seaford, one of many restaurants hit hard by the pandemic. “I brought it to Sergio at Cara Mia, and I said, ‘This is what we have, feed as many people as you can for this,’” Jebaily recounted. “It initially started as one meal, and then it hasn’t stopped since March.”

Nearly three months later, donations collected solely through community activism and neighborly generosity have amounted to a total of $11,500 worth of food and gift cards. The donations went to medical facilities, churches, group homes, supermarket workers and needy families. Jebaily said that the donors have mostly been Seaford and Wantagh residents.

At the same time, she raised $1,450 for the John Theissen Children’s Foundation and $400 for Karen’s Hope, a nonprofit that provides housing, as well as educational and social programs, for those with disabilities.

Jebaily’s next goal was to drive business back to local restaurants. She and her team have used the collections to buy food from Seaford Bagels, Bayview Tavern, Dang! BBQ, Guac Shop, Cara Mia, Rosario’s, Mario’s, Gusto Divino, Il Bacetto, Salpino, Little Kitchen, Tarallo’s, Gino’s, Brooklyn Square Pizza and Philadelphia Pretzel Factory. They have even ordered self-care and beauty supply product goodie bags from CVS.

“As a Chamber of Commerce member, when we decided to do this, we wanted to try to take care of businesses in need,” Jebaily said. “The only ones really open were restaurants. These local restaurants have always helped and supported schools, PTAs and the community, so I felt it was the community’s turn to try and give back.”

She added that “every single place” she ordered from was accommodating and appreciative. “They would add more food, more water to every order,” Jebaily said. “Every single place sent at least 25 percent more than what I asked for.”

“Donna really is a great asset to the community and to the board,” said chamber President Nick Bilotta. She really is making a difference.”

Donations from Jebaily’s team have directly helped NUMC, New York University Winthrop Hospital, St. Joseph’s Hospital, Mercy Medical Center, North Shore Long Island Jewish, St. Francis Hospital, Cohen Children’s Hospital, Northwell Manhasset, Mount Sinai South Nassau, Stony Brook University Medical Center, Schmitt’s Funeral Home, St. William the Abbot Church, John Theissen Children’s Foundation, Karen’s Hope, local supermarkets and their employees, Starbuck’s employees, nearby group homes and local essential workers.

“I reached out to [Jebaily] and St. William and said, ‘Whatever you need, I got you covered,’” said John Scannello of Seaford Bagels. Scannello and his partners, Ralph and Claudio Facchini, have been donating bagels, cold cuts and deli goods since the onset of the pandemic.

Now, donations have begun to finally slow. Jebaily still checks her Venmo daily. She still hopes to feed sanitation workers and local fire departments before her latest foray into fundraising is done.

“If I was living in a community of people that didn’t care, this fundraiser, these donations, they would never happen,” Jebaily said. “I’m not a millionaire. I can’t feed everybody by myself. You’re only as impactful as the people who surround you.

“This is a very tight-knit and caring community,” she added. “I’m so grateful to raise my kids here.”