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LI business owners share trove of masks in coronavirus fight

The Centauros, contractors who own home remodeling business Truly Unique Designs and founders of home repair nonprofit Rescuing Families Inc., use the protective gear often while on the job.  Credit: Newsday

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While politicians race against the clock to source masks to protect New York health care workers from contracting the coronavirus, Long Islanders have not spared a minute in doing their part to procure them. 

Some rushed to social media, quickly mobilizing their networks to collect donations of the coveted N95 respirator masks to gift to hospital workers.

Others have gone as far as digging into their own pockets to buy masks from suppliers in other states to bring them home to first responders, nursing home and rehabilitation center staff, and other health care workers on the Island. 

While cleaning the garage of their Franklin Square home, spouses Gina Cantone-Centauro and Vincent Centauro discovered a fresh supply of 275 N95 masks. 

The Centauros, contractors who own home-remodeling business Truly Unique Designs and founded home repair nonprofit Rescuing Families Inc., use the protective gear often while on the job. 

"My first thought when I came across the boxes was, 'Hey, let's get these masks to the people who need them the most right now'," Vincent Centauro said. 

Gina quickly snapped a picture of the masks and posted a message on Facebook sharing with friends and followers the couple's plan to donate their masks and urging fellow contractors on the Island to help with the mission of collecting 1,000 masks to donate to local hospital and health care workers. 

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In just a few hours, the Centauros reached their goal and beat it by 65 masks. 

Gina's post was shared more than 1,000 times, obtaining more than 400 reactions and nearly 70 comments. And she brought in a slew of N95 mask donations from companies in a range of fields.

Jackie Merendino, a clerk who works at a Long Island hospital she declined to name, drove to the Centauros' home to pick up five masks she'll distribute to the nurses in her unit. 

"What Gina and Vinny are doing right now is priceless," she said. 

"Regardless of titles, all of us hospital workers need them and they're so limited right now, that to be able to have one … I know I'll feel safer going to work and for that, I'm beyond thankful." 

When Ryan Dempsey, managing partner at The East End Group, a Yaphank general contracting firm, learned health care workers there were expressing alarm at the dwindling supply of masks to help protect them from contracting COVID-19, he knew he couldn't watch from the sidelines with his arms crossed. 

So, when a supplier called him saying he had N95 masks sitting in a New Jersey warehouse, Dempsey — who at first questioned whether the call was from a legitimate source or a scammer — jumped at the opportunity to buy the masks to donate them to health care workers. 

After verifying the supplier was "for real," Dempsey bought more than 26,000 masks. Then he enlisted the help of his employees to distribute them to area nurses, doctors, and first responders as quickly as possible.

"We're down to a couple hundred left but I'm trying to secure more," he said, adding that he's still getting calls "left and right" from health care workers in need of them.   

Connie Sue Alexander, director of patient services at an East Northport home health care service and hospice facility, said for weeks she unsuccessfully searched for N95 masks for the company's home aides, nurses, therapists, hospice care givers and social workers. 

"Everyone knows how hard these masks are to find right now," Alexander said.

"So when I saw Ryan's post in a Facebook group for health care workers, I immediately messaged him asking him for masks. He quickly replied and gave me 100." 

The patients her staff members care for are regulars at hospitals where they may be exposed to and contract the virus, unknowingly spreading it, Alexander said.

"That's why we're just so appreciative for this donation, the best word I can think of to describe it is 'godsend'." 

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