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Malverne residents raise money for local heroes

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Seeing the humanitarian efforts taking place amid the coronavirus pandemic in neighboring communities, Malvernite Bridget Jelovcic thought it would be appropriate for her village to do the same.

Jelovcic and her sister, Lori Lang, launched the group Malverne Feeding Our Heroes on March 25, and are collecting donations to send food to groups of first responders, volunteers and essential service workers throughout the village. The group had raised more than $12,000 as of press time on Monday.

“We’re just trying to collaborate as much as we can for everyone during this time,” said Jelovcic, a staff member at Maurice W. Downing Primary School. “My goal is for people to realize that it’s not just me and my sister doing this. It’s a community that’s doing this.”

The group has donated food from local eateries to the Malverne Department of Public Works, the Police Department and local hospitals such as Mercy Medical Center, LIJ Valley Stream Northwell, Cohen Children’s Medical Center and St. Joseph’s Medical Center.

“We didn’t want to set a goal because, honestly, we don’t know how long it’ll be until we can go back to our regular lives,” said Lang, the owner of Simplify by Lori Lang, a home-improvement business. “This could be another month that these merchants have to survive like this.”

Village Juice Garden owner Yma Arroyo said that Jelovcic and Lang’s initiative has lifted her spirits. While Arroyo’s business has slowed, the food drive, she said, has reignited the store. “It brought joy to everybody and gave all of us an opportunity to say thank you to the people we can’t reach out to every single day,” she said. “The donations that each merchant is receiving through this event [are] helping owners keep the lights on. That’s paying some of the rent, and that’s helping us stay here when this is all over and helping us to survive.”

Arroyo said that Feeding Our Heroes encouraged her to donate lunch to the nurses and doctors at Mount Sinai South Nassau in Oceanside last week. Her brother, Keith Perez, is a dialysis technical coordinator at the hospital.

“It’s been hard for them, so they were so happy when I donated food to them,” Arroyo said. “But Bridget and Lori brought that out in me. It’s something you always think about, but they made me think it was possible. If they could use us to reach out to all these local heroes, then I’m going to pay it forward, too.”

Jelovcic said that all of the merchants she has visited have made their own donations to people in need. “That was the most humbling thing to me,” she said. “We’re not as large as the communities around us, but the fact that we raised so much in such a short time to give back to our community and essential workers is promising.”

Lang said that through the drive, she and Jelovcic hope to recognize all of the village’s groups for their contributions to the community over the years. Once the pandemic is over, Jelovcic said, she would like to throw a party on Hempstead Avenue, similar to the village’s annual Holiday Tree Lighting, to celebrate its merchants and give away leftover donations.

“My mother would always tell us that we’re oak trees from acorns,” she said. “Not to sound cheesy, but if all of us acorns are rooted and planted, we’re strong.”