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Mets help donate meals to front-line workers, hospitals

There is no baseball being played at Citi

There is no baseball being played at Citi Field, but the Mets are helping out in the coronavirus battle. Credit: Getty Images/Al Bello

Jack Vitale said he was a few hours from closing his East Elmhurst deli for good when the Mets called him.

Miles away, in Manhasset, Stanley John and his troupe of respiratory therapists at Northwell Health-North Shore University Hospital were carrying a huge burden amid the growing coronavirus pandemic, with some quietly feeling dispirited and even overlooked, when the deliveries came.

The two situations illustrate wildly disparate ways in which the coronavirus has affected daily life. They are tied together by acts of kindness that Vitale said has allowed him to keep Nick’s Gourmet Deli open, and his workers employed, and John said has helped reinvigorate a dedicated staff.

It began with the Mets and some of their corporate partners, who have helped donate 4,500 meals to front-line workers and cases of produce to local food banks along with partnering with Coca-Cola and Dunkin’ to contribute to more than a dozen hospitals and organizations.

They’ve also used smaller businesses — such as Vitale’s deli — to provide sandwiches and wraps, allowing the store, situated in an area considered to be an epicenter of the virus, to stay open and retain five of its employees.

Vitale, who has owned the deli for 14 years and “survived Sandy and two power outages,” found his business on the brink before the Mets contacted him and asked him to provide 1,000 meals. The deli, he said, is slated to provide even more food in the coming days.

“We were closing that day” in mid-March, he said. “We sent the employees home. We told them we have to close . . . we just have no business. We can’t have employees with no business. Then we had to call people back and tell them to come to work because of the New York Mets.”

Vitale has always been a Mets fan, he said, though this time the fandom hits even closer to home.

“One of my workers was so happy — he could pay his mortgage now,” Vitale said. And the deli also worked with dozens of vendors to put the orders together.

“It affects so many people,” he said. “We buy the bread from a different guy than we buy the restaurant supplies from. We buy the paper goods from a different guy, and that helps their families and keeps them going.”

John said of his staff, which works directly with COVID-19 patients, along with the ventilators helping to keep those with severe cases alive: “They were very, very surprised . . . they talked about it for one or two weeks. As a profession, they haven’t gotten as much exposure during this crisis . . . So when a franchise like the Mets reached out, it was big for them. They were excited. They felt rejuvenated.”

Katie Perciavalle, program director at Northwell Health, said the Mets partnered with Dunkin’ to provide 150 meals for the staff, along with written signage expressing the team’s thanks. “It brings a smile to their day, even if it’s just for a few minutes while they enjoy a snack or a meal,” Perciavalle said. “It takes away from what they’re dealing with during the rest of the day, even if it’s just for a minute, that maybe their favorite team has acknowledged the work that they’re doing. It’s a nice distraction, even for a moment.”

Harold Kaufman, spokesman for the Mets, said owners Fred and Jeff Wilpon were eager to help when the chance arose.

“Their first impulse in any crisis is, ‘How can we help?’ ” he said. “We take our platform in this community very seriously.”

Vitale, for one, won’t soon forget the response he got when the food was delivered.

“They were thrilled,” he said. “They can’t even get food. Most small businesses are down 70, 80%. They can’t even stay open, so there’s no place for them to get food. They’re tired, they’re hungry, they’re working long hours and they try to help everyone.”

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