For years, Jessy Nahmias carried a plastic tip jar with her as she sold her empanadas and pastries at fairs and food markets across Long Island.
Over the past couple of years Nahmias has collected about $6,000 in that jar, which has a photo of her deceased son Brandon affixed to its side below a small placard requesting tips for children with Down syndrome.
She has donated all the money she has collected to nonprofits providing services for children with the genetic disorder.
Brandon was born with Down syndrome and a heart condition in 2005. Shortly after his second birthday, he caught a virus and died.
“I never thought I would leave that hospital without my son,” Nahmias, 51, of East Rockaway said. “When he died I was totally lost. I never thought I’d get over it.”
It took about three years before she felt like she was “functioning normally” again. She began baking for fun and later started selling her treats at school fairs and other events, where she would collect tips.
“I decided that I wanted to do something with the money, and it occurred to me that I could use my tips to help other children with Down syndrome.”
Nahmias has donated her tips to a couple of nonprofits, including GiGi’s Playhouse, a Manhattan-based program that provides services for children with Down syndrome, playhouse director Benny Kaufman said.
GiGi’s Playhouse recently started a “virtual tip jar” on their website so people can donate online, according to Kaufman. The group also honored Nahmias and her husband, Michael, in March.
“Jessy’s help and support means so much to us,” Kaufman said. “We’re really inspired by her story.”
In April, Nahmias’ tip jar found a new home. It now sits on the counter of Jessy’s Pastries in Oceanside, Nahmias’ newly opened empanadas and baked goods store, where she is planning to hire people with Down syndrome.
“I’m so grateful to have this business and this storefront, and so happy that I can remember Brandon in this way,” she said.