Michelle Treglio of Holbrook was frazzled after her 1999 Honda Odyssey minivan broke down in February and left her stranded by the side of the road. She was even more upset a few days later when she got the $3,000 repair estimate from her longtime mechanic, Anthony Barbaro, at Station Auto Body in Port Jefferson Station.
She panicked when she saw the bill and burst into tears. Barbaro offered to look for a cheaper, dependable car for her. Through the friend of a friend, he found Treglio an affordable 1994 GMC Jimmy sport utility vehicle. She paid $1,000 for it, but the vehicle needed hundreds of dollars of mechanical and cosmetic repairs. Barbaro fixed everything -- for free.
And he doesn't regret his decision.
"I hope someone would be there for my mother if she needed it and I couldn't help," Barbaro said. He knew Treglio was a working parent trying hard to make ends meet. "There was an angel looking out over her," he said. "Things don't usually come together that easily when someone is in a crisis situation."
Barbaro, 47, is among many Good Samaritan business owners on Long Island who often donate their time and services free of charge to help customers and complete strangers. Gratitude, not payback, is the reward.
Business consultant Doug Betensky, 36, president of Upside Business Consultants in Hauppauge, said it's important that business owners do a good deed for the right reasons.
"If it's part of your marketing package, you're already heading down the wrong path," he said. "Know why you're in it, if you're passionate about it."
'We do what we can'
Business owners turned Good Samaritans agree that your heart has to be in the right place.
"If you're looking for a [financial] return on this type of thing, you're going to be disappointed," said Sal Ferro, president and chief executive of Alure Home Improvements in East Meadow, whose company participated eight times in ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition." The weekly show featured rebuilds of homes for families in need before it was canceled in January after 200 episodes. The network will air special episodes in the future.
But even generosity has its drawbacks. The downside to helping in such a public way, Ferro added, is that you get many requests for assistance that can't be fulfilled.
"No is not an easy word for me," Ferro admitted. "Some people take it the wrong way. When you can't [help], it does hurt and you feel terrible. . . . You've got to know when to say no because you don't want to give false hope. We're not a huge company, but we do what we can."
Treglio, 45, a clerk for the Town of Islip's disabled services program, is the sole breadwinner for her family, and a new transmission was too much of a financial reach. She has three boys -- Brandon, 12, Nicholas, 14, and Gabriel, 16 -- and her husband, John, is a resident at John J. Foley Skilled Nursing Facility in Yaphank since being injured in a motorcycle accident eight years ago.
Barbaro's networking calls worked. Within a few days the Jimmy was at his shop, where he did about $300 to $400 worth of body work and other repairs. He fixed the heater's blower motor, put on new wiper blades, changed the pins and bushings in the doors, and repainted the hood to take care of some peeling paint.
Treglio is grateful for his help. She said she didn't expect a lot of car for $1,000, "but then I saw how nice it looked when I went to pick it up. It's a nice car for me. I don't know many business owners who would do that. I'm so thankful," she said. "I hope it comes back to him."
Barbaro has been in the auto body business for 32 years and has had his own shop for 13 years. His work didn't break the bank, as he put it, and said he was happy to do it. "Everything just fell into place perfectly."
Besides making a difference in people's lives, performing good deeds creates bonds among those helping on a project and spurs goodwill.
Contractor Gary Zaccaro of Ambassador Home Improvement in Massapequa still gets excited when he talks about the remodeling job he completed in February, using $35,000 in supplies and labor from a crew of 20, to create a sanitary basement apartment for Massapequa Park resident John Sopack to use while he recovers at home from cancer treatments. Sopack had been diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia and needed a recovery space that limits his exposure to germs.
"The only benefit is to feel good inside your heart," Zaccaro said. "I'm talking about something that's life changing."
Zaccaro, who remains in touch with the family, already is planning his next project, which he hopes to tackle this summer. "My goal is to donate three times by the end of the year if I can," he said.
Zaccaro said he has gotten emails asking for help since the Sopack remodel and that it's challenging dealing with all the requests. "I keep it focused and keep it local to my community," he said.
He added that he would like to assemble a team of businesses interested in providing supplies to help with such projects, as well as a team of like-minded plumbers and electricians.
The icing on the cake for Zaccaro was when he received the President's Volunteer Service Award from the White House in February recognizing his remodeling effort.
"It made me feel like it has to be a part of my life," Zaccaro said. "This is my calling."