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Rep. Lee Zeldin invites former deli owner to State of the Union

Donato Panico, seen here on Jan. 13, 2018.

Donato Panico, seen here on Jan. 13, 2018. Credit: Barry Sloan

A former Smithtown deli owner who formed a nonprofit to serve sandwiches to police and firefighters will be attending President Donald Trump’s State of the Union speech Tuesday as a guest of Rep. Lee Zeldin.

Zeldin surprised Donato Panico with the invitation Tuesday during his mobile office hours in Smithtown.

“Are you kidding me?” Panico said when Zeldin (R-Shirley) invited him, according to video posted by News 12 Long Island.

Panico earlier this month shut Panico’s Community Market after more than 30 years in business to focus on his nonprofit, Heros 4 Our Heroes, which provides food for first responders.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Smithtown resident spent 10 days straight at Ground Zero in Manhattan, serving first responders breakfast, lunch and dinner, and sleeping in his catering truck. Store staff made food for Long Island and New York City police and firefighters on subsequent 9/11 anniversaries.

“Donato embodies the values so many across Long Island look up to, and it is my honor to attend the State of the Union address alongside someone who has sacrificed so much to better the lives of others,” Zeldin said in a statement.

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