Joe Gannascoli is taking a whack at charity work.
The East Rockaway actor — whose mobster character Vito Spatafore was killed in the sixth season of "The Sopranos" — has turned to helping deliver meals to hospital workers while the television and movie industries are shut down during the coronavirus pandemic.
The cause comes naturally to Gannascoli: A part-time chef who says he has cooked meals “all over the Island,” he said his sister-in-law and a niece are nurses. His niece, a nurse at Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx, has returned to work after testing positive for the virus and recovering, he said.
“Whatever I can [do]," Gannascoli said in a telephone interview. "Seeing my sister-in-law go through it, what my niece goes through … I just hope it gets over and we catch a break.”
Gannascoli, 61, last week set up an online GoFundMe page to raise money so he could purchase meals and bring them to two Nassau County hospitals, Mercy Medical Center in Rockville Centre and Mount Sinai South Nassau hospital in Oceanside. By Wednesday he had raised $2,625, more than half of his goal of $5,000.
Gannascoli made his first delivery Wednesday, picking up a load of meals from Vincent's Clam Bar in Carle Place and bringing the food to Mercy Medical Center. On Thursday, he picked up meals from Villa Maria in East Rockaway and took them to Mount Sinai South Nassau.
The effort supports hospital staff fighting to save patients — and restaurants facing hard times amid lost business.
“Whatever little name that I have, if it attracts donations" it helps, Gannascoli said. "If I can attract the press to again help the restaurants … Even the restaurants are not all open. Some of them are not going to recover from this.”
Eateries across Long Island — reduced to takeout and pickup operations — have leapt into local campaigns to help first responders, even as they cut staff and face uncertain futures.
Vincent's Clam Bar has lost some business due to COVID-19, but has not laid off staff, said director of marketing Anthony Gentile. Owners Bobby and Tony Marisi didn't hesitate when Gannascoli asked them to help, Gentile said.
“One of the joys of being involved with Vincent's in good times is a lot of our audience is an extended member of the family," Gentile said. "It’s natural for us to do this. It’s part of our M.O.”
Villa Maria has laid off more than half its staff of 40 as the restaurant switched to a takeout operation, said Pina Silva, daughter of owner Maria Zaino.
“We took a major hit, obviously," said Silva, 50. “We try to keep going as long as possible.”
The eatery is providing $500 worth of food funded by Gannascoli, “and obviously, we're going to add some other stuff as well," Silva said.
That includes a menu of grab-and-go pasta dishes and rolls prepared for harried doctors and nurses rushing to care for patients — “stuff that they could easily eat without having to [stop working],” she said.
And beside helping heroes on the front lines, it also helps Villa Maria stay in business.
“Oh, my God, yes, it helps a lot,” Silva said. “Every time we close the doors at night, we’re not sure if we’re going to open the next day.”
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