By James D’Elia
Three residents from Valley Stream, the second-highest COVID-19 infection node in Nassau County, have raised over $9,000 for food, and donated around 500 homemade masks for victims and first responders of the COVID-19 pandemic through social media and GoFundMe since March 26.
A GoFundMe campaign set up on March 26 by Kevin Aburto, a New York real estate agent and Valley Stream sanitation worker, raised over $9,300 in less than a month. Larry Nolan, who works for the village’s Highway Department, and Jennifer Maroshick, a resident who has been hand-crafting masks, have been working with Aburto and his efforts to help the community. Aburto announced the fundraiser on his Facebook page and has expanded to the surrounding New York areas.
“If people need help… they shouldn’t know how far I went to help,” Aburto said. “I just want them to know that we’re actually out there, that there are people out there willing to help… Even if it’s not me, there’s other people in my community and other communities that are helping out and it’s nice to see that.”
Aburto got the idea after working with Nolan, whose mother-in-law lives in Charles Monica Senior Village, a low income housing apartment for seniors in Valley Stream. After Nolan reached out to Aburto in late March, both men have been delivering groceries to Monica Village residents to ensure they don’t have to go out and risk catching the virus. Reaching out through Facebook, they started off delivering donated items specifically to Monica Village but have since expanded to other areas of Nassau County and even to some parts of Suffolk County and New York City.
“You have senior citizens who can’t get around,” Nolan said. “I drive down these streets all the time and I’ve never seen these people once. Then you go and meet them and you just think, ‘Wow, there are so many good people all around,’ and so many people want to help… and you never even knew they existed.”
Maroshick has been hand-crafting homemade masks and giving them to other Valley Stream residents out at no charge. She began handing them out to the tenants of Monica Village, letting them know the masks are not fully protective, but will give them a little security if they have to leave their homes. Other people heard about what Maroshick was doing for these residents through Facebook and have contacted her requesting masks of their own. She’s made around 500 masks in total and is happy to help.
“It’s been giving me something to do. We’re all home, so why not?” Maroschick said. “Why not help somebody if I can? This is what I could do. We’ve donated some food and things like that also, but I have all the supplies here, so why not use it?”
Monica Village houses residents from 62 to 100 years old. Some of them said they were grateful for the support they are receiving from people they may have never even met.
“We were very surprised, it’s not something that you expect,” Barbara Fontanelli, a 72-year-old resident from Monica Village, said. “Some of us didn’t even know what was going on, it happened so fast. Several people have reached out to us and they’ve been extremely helpful.”
With 1,606 cases of COVID-19 reported, Valley Stream is the second-highest infection center in Nassau County. Only the town of Hempstead has more cases, with 1,764 out of the 35,085 confirmed in the county. The number of patients with the virus going to hospitals in New York state has steadied at about 1,300 people per day.
“People are being deployed to work in areas that may have a greater need, so everyone is adjusting to this new normal,” Sarah Celis, a Valley Stream resident who works as a nurse practitioner at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, said. “Many [nurses] are being moved to units they are not familiar with. They aren’t getting orientation — it’s a sink or swim type of situation.”
The use of social media has enabled a bigger outreach initiative for individual donations in Valley Stream.
Greg Murdison, a filing representative and a 2005 graduate of Valley Stream Central High School, has been donating food and items to hospital workers in New York City. Similar to what Aburto and Nolan are doing on Facebook, Murdison, a lifelong resident of the village, has used Instagram to promote his efforts and encourage donations. He has donated to Jamaica Hospital in Queens three times and Franklin General Hospital in Valley Stream twice, and plans to go there as often as he can.
“Nothing really prompted me to do it, but when you see [that] fellow New Yorkers, especially Valley Stream, are struggling… any way you can help out to relieve the stress, it takes a village,” Murdison said. “We grew up in one of the biggest towns in Long Island, so I guess helping people out is in our nature.”
Nurses, doctors and medical workers are being praised by friends and strangers alike on social media for their sacrifices during the pandemic. Valley Stream medical staff who work around the New York area are expressing their gratitude about the positive feedback they are receiving.
“I’m countlessly getting messages [and] phone calls from family members, friends and patients’ family members personally reaching out, thanking me for the help during the crisis,” Gerino Layos, an emergency department nurse at Mount Sinai Brooklyn Hospital, said. “But getting a warm heartfelt feeling from my patients who recover, saying ‘thank you for saving my life during the crisis’ is enough for me to go to work the next day and battle and save another life.”
Layos’ wife Jasmin works as a nursing assistant at North Shore-Long Island Jewish Orzac Center for Rehabilitations. She says the situation there has been scary and uncomfortable for the past few weeks and like nothing she’d ever seen in over 14 years of working there.
The Layos’ have been Valley Stream residents since 1999, and live with their two sons and Gerino’s parents, who are both in their 80s. They take extreme precautions to protect their family, and have a set plan when they come home from work before and after entering their house.
“As a nurse, my husband and I know we have a responsibility to go out there and take care of people, but felt equally irresponsible for coming home to our family knowing we were out there all day taking care of [COVID-19] patients and possibly bringing it home,” Jasmin said. “Thankfully, our kids are old enough and well informed about this invisible enemy that we’ve been battling.”
New York State has over 288,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19. New York City, just 22 miles west of Valley Stream, has become the worldwide epicenter of the outbreak, with over 158,000 cases declared as of April 26.
With schools closed, teachers across the village are trying to boost student morale while they remain quarantined at home. Kristin Martine, a dance & physical education teacher at Valley Stream Central High School, rounded up some of her colleagues and created a “quarantine dance party” music video.
“It is so important right now for our students to see our faces,” Martine said. “It helps us still feel connected. It helped me feel like I was doing something helpful, not so powerless if we can make each other smile and connect… I have been told it was really helpful for our students too. It’s really all I can do right now.”
Food pantries at churches and other places of worship have taken a considerable hit during the pandemic, as people are less likely to leave their homes to donate items for the pantry, even when the demand is at its highest. Holy Name of Mary in Valley Stream is one of the many churches in the village that has noticed their pantry supply diminishing, but they were thrilled to see Aburto show up at their doors more than once with a truck full of food to donate.
“He came just the other day. It’s the second time that he came with a truckload of food,” Sister Marigie Kelly, Holy Name of Mary’s parish outreach coordinator, said. “The good thing about that was that sometimes we get food that people are taking out of their closets and the food’s been there a long time. Sometimes we can’t use it if the dates are expired. But the beauty of the food that he’s been bringing us is that most of it is directly from the stores.”
The deliveries will continue for as long as the pandemic is still affecting the residents, Aburto said. Maroshick also said she will continue to craft masks as long as she has the resources.