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Riverhead gifts restaurants with business, health workers with meals

From left, Kristy Verity, executive director of the

From left, Kristy Verity, executive director of the Riverhead Business Improvement District and Steve Shauger, the district's president, outside the Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead with hospital representatives. Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

The Riverhead Business Improvement District has launched a fundraising effort to simultaneously help local businesses struggling to stay afloat amid the COVID-19 outbreak and feed exhausted hospital workers too tired to cook.

The “Double Donation” Community Kitchen Program — which has raised more than $15,000 — works by making public donations to fund the meal program. With every $5,000 raised, the agency will purchase 100 gift cards worth $50 each from participating downtown restaurants, which Peconic Bay Medical Center will distribute through a raffle.

The gift cards allow all essential staff at the hospital to get takeout meals from restaurants to feed their families.

Kristy Verity, executive director of the Riverhead BID, said the fundraiser started as part of the agency’s efforts to help local businesses and restaurants struggling due to the outbreak. After Peconic Bay officials told them that hospital staff working overnight shifts were having a hard time getting food delivered because of their late hours, organizers decided to use the fundraiser to help the restaurants and the hospital workers.

“All of us came up with this program so that every employee that is actively on campus at the hospital right now has an opportunity to have gift cards to downtown restaurants,” Verity said. “Downtown restaurants will benefit as well because we’re getting gift cards from them and that’s immediately putting money into their pockets, which is what they need right now.”

In downtown Riverhead, the situation facing local business owners has been grim since the outbreak, Verity said.

“We’ve had some businesses that have closed their stores and reopened, some that closed and did not reopen, and a good amount that have remained open, but they’re really fighting through it,” Verity said. “The first week was an uphill battle in trying to figure out how to keep the doors open and stay in business.”

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John Molesi, co-owner of River Walk Bar & Grille on Peconic Avenue, said the fundraiser was important in helping businesses like his, which he said had lost 80% of its normal profits and had been “severely impacted” since the start of the pandemic.

“All the local restaurants are doing all we can do,” Molesi said, adding he was also happy that the fundraiser could provide meals for local hospital workers. “It’s tough times, especially with very little money coming in, so every little bit helps.” 

Donna Post, associate director of palliative care at Peconic Bay Medical Center, said Tuesday that work since the outbreak started has been “physically and emotionally” challenging for those on the front lines.

“It’s really nice to have a meal that’s not a bag of potato chips or a bottle of water,” Post said. “The days can be exhausting, and by the time someone has to go home and think of making a meal, it’s not a priority. Rest is the priority … so enjoying a meal from one of our community partners is awesome. It makes me feel good that I can have a meal that I don’t have to worry about,” Post said.

Keeping the donations coming

  • The program features 16 participating restaurants. A full list of the eateries and more information about the program can be found at the Riverhead Business Improvement District's website, www.downtownriverhead.org
  • The Richard and Mary Morrison Foundation contributed the first $5,000 to the program.
  • Checks may be mailed to Riverhead BID, 200 Howell Ave., Riverhead, NY 11901. Tax-deductible donations may be made at www.northwellcovid.com/team/downtowndouble

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