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Jeanine Amato says that although technically the government considers her business nonessential, “my community thinks otherwise.”
Amato, 45, owns Country Village Florist and Gifts in East Islip. Since the coronavirus outbreak, she’s been running operations on her own. Amato said she is trying to support Long Islanders during this pandemic the best way she knows how: providing blooming bouquets and colorful floral arrangements to those most in need of a smile.
Every day during her drive to work — from Smithtown to East Islip — Amato passes Momentum at South Bay Rehabilitation and Nursing. The nursing home has restricted visitation until further notice.
In recent weeks on her way to the shop, which for now does curbside pickups and deliveries only, she felt helpless passing Momentum every day.
“It just made me cry every time I drove past it, just thinking about these poor people,” Amato said. “It just made me think, what can I do? I know there isn’t too much I can do."
“But I’m a florist,” she said, “and I have flowers.”
Amato is a board member of the East Islip Chamber of Commerce, and through that she knows one of the directors at Momentum. They discussed a plan, and with the go-ahead, Amato got to work: 160 red roses, each in its own vase with a handwritten note, penned by Amato herself. She delivered the flowers to the nursing home for residents to keep in their rooms.
The card on each rose said, simply, “You are loved.”
“My wheels are always turning with what I can do to help somebody else feel better, and that’s what I came up with,” Amato said. She noted that she received a phone call from a resident in the home, asking her why she’d sent him a flower. Amato explained to him that she did it so he would know he is loved and missed by those who cannot visit him.
“He said, ‘Thank you, I’ll give it to my favorite nurse,’ “ she said with a laugh.
Amato also wanted to find a way to provide some life and color for local health care workers. She consulted her chamber of commerce contacts again and got to work on creating some floral arrangements for the staff at Southside Hospital.
“All the departments: medical billing, admitting, nursing stations,” she said. “They’re all in there and there’s nothing they can do but do their jobs.”
She’s familiar with the scene: Amato worked as a volunteer EMT with the North Babylon Fire Department for two years, and that allowed her to work as a nursing assistant in the emergency room of Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center in West Islip.
“I know firsthand what people go through working in hospitals, but not in this type of situation,” she said.
Amato created 45 Mason jars of flowers, one for each department at Southside. Roses, daisies and a touch of eucalyptus “to invigorate the senses,” Amato said. Each jar had a thank-you card attached — Amato wrote on each one, “You are all loved and appreciated.”
The day Amato headed over to Southside, it wouldn’t stop raining. “This gloomy, disgusting Monday weather was awful, and what everyone was going through was awful.”
But she received great feedback on the flowers she dropped off. Amato was later told that staff and patients alike often stopped to look at the colorful displays throughout the hospital.
Amato hopes people see the flowers, smile and get lost in a happy moment. For just a moment.
And Amato still feels the support from her community, despite business being slower than usual. People are still placing orders with her, purchasing flowers for the doctors and nurses they appreciate, and the friends and family they miss.
“One hand washes the other in this community,” she said. “That's for sure.”