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Scarsdale Hometown Heroes

A new Facebook group, Scarsdale Hometown Heroes, has been created to help elevate and celebrate essential workers who are going above and beyond to support the Scarsdale community during the COVID-19 pandemic. Scarsdale resident and group founder Renee Levine explains, “The group was created to help bring the community closer together by getting to know the essential workers, as well as to provide some much needed hope and a venue for giving thanks to our local heroes.” The group continues to profile all types of essential workers, from volunteer paramedics and firefighters, to grocery workers, local business owners, doctors, nurses, delivery workers, and more.

To join the group and view the profiles, go to https://www.facebook.com/groups/254861538996820/

Jay MuseJAY MUSE
If you’ve ever passed by Lulu Cake Boutique on Garth Road, you’ve no doubt been tempted by their stunning confectionary creations. Owned by Jay Muse and partner Victor Gonzalez, Lulu has been an institution in Scarsdale since the year 2000.

Over the years, they’ve been through it all with the community—from 9/11, blackouts and the last recession, to hurricanes. But they’ve also lived the full circle of life with their customers, baking cakes for weddings, baby namings, showers, bar and bat mitzvahs, and are now even baking for the weddings of those baby shower babies from 20 years ago.

When the virus started to spread and the community locked down, they delivered a birthday cake to Victor’s elderly mom who was alone in the Bronx. It made her day, and it was then they decided they needed to deliver a free cake to every older person celebrating a birthday by themselves in Westchester and the surrounding area.

“We see how overwhelmed they are with joy to have a beautiful birthday cake to celebrate, and it makes our day”, says Jay. “It’s been very empowering and humbling.” Using the ingredients left over at the end of each week, they have also delivered close to 3,000 cupcakes to the fire and police departments and healthcare workers. Their goal is to deliver 25,000 by the end of the year. They will also match any cake their customers purchase for a “local hero” or a senior center with a second cake.

It takes a small army to deliver these amazing cakes and cupcakes. If you are interested in helping with deliveries, you can email them at shannon@everythinglulu.com.

Originally from Hawaii, Jay’s upbringing taught him you should “give until it hurts”. In helping people, he finds that it keeps his mind busy and he dwells less on what is going on. Jay and Victor moved to Scarsdale from the Upper West Side five years ago to raise their family. He can’t wait until this is all over so that he can “hug everybody that I know and that I don’t know”.

Jay, thank you for selflessly sharing your sweet creations with those who need it most during this time! #hometownhero #scarsdale #covid19 #sweets #letthemeatcake

Diana PernicanoDIANA PERNICANO
Meet Diana Pernicano, a Nurse at White Plains Hospital. Suddenly thrust into the COVID-19 outbreak her second year into nursing, Diana is keenly aware of what it’s like to not be able to see family and friends in the hospital. She is a six-year cancer survivor, and approaches nursing from a very personal perspective, oftentimes befriending her patients and supporting them in their most critical times of need.

Initially, the hospital wasn’t sure how many COVID patients they would receive. This became evident quickly, as more and more patients arrived, and became sicker and sicker. Her non-acute medical surgical floor—and every other part of the hospital—was turned into a COVID ward. She decided to stick with it, sharing the viewpoint of everyone on the team: “We’re going to do this together.”

So much of the days were spent dealing with and adapting to the unknown. Patients were asking them difficult questions (“Am I going to die?”) that they didn’t have answers to. “I would reassure them that we’re trying our best to take care of you. We’ll be here for you.”

The hospital eventually opened up a unit for non-COVID patients and given her medical history and added risk, she was transferred to that unit. But it was too late; she tested positive for the virus the next day.

Diana feels this experience has taught hospital staff to be more flexible with their jobs, more willing to be part of different teams and more compassionate. “It has been difficult, but it has made everyone a better employee.”

She has taken comfort in the support that has been received from the community, from the donated food to the letters, videos, lawn signs, social media comments, and cards from children with words of thanks. “We can do this because we have the support of our community.”

Diana lives in Danbury with her fiancé Cody. She is busy preparing for her wedding next May, and enjoys crafting, cooking and being outdoors. They can’t wait to hug their families when it is safe to do so.

Diana, thank you for selfless, unending dedication to every one of your patients. #hometownhero #essential #nurse #covid19 #treatment

Julian VannJULIAN VANN
Meet Julian Vann, a UPS driver for 15 years for the Metro NY area. To make some extra money to put towards his house, he started delivering for Instacart when the pandemic hit. On this particular day, Julian hadn’t slept; he went directly from his UPS job overnight to his Instacart job in the morning. Even still, he was friendly and gregarious.

He describes working for UPS like working for the military—“It builds character. And if you stay, it affords so many possibilities.” When the virus started to spread, Julian, who also sews clothes, parlayed his skills into making masks. Knowing how much he doesn’t like to sit still, his family suggested he start working for Instacart.

Julian has gotten so much enjoyment out of delivering food for people in the community, especially for those who are not able to leave their homes. “They are so grateful when you leave the food at their door.” He used to be the President of his tenant association and so he is no stranger to working for and within the community. “It’s what I do all the time; it’s nothing new.”

Originally from Canada, Julian lives in the Bronx with his wife, who is a teacher.

Julian, your energy is inspiring. Thank you for your continued service during this difficult time! #hometownhero #essential #delivery

Al PorporaAL PORPORA
Meet Al Porpora, Owner/Manager of the Heathcote Gulf Station on Weaver Street. Al started working at his father’s gas station in 1973 at the age of 16. The station is now run by Al, his brother Frank and his son Alex.

Al grew up in Eastchester, moved to Scarsdale in the 80’s, and raised five kids in the Scarsdale community. In the beginning of the pandemic, Al made the very difficult decision to close for two weeks for the safety of his customers. Unlike during 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy—when Al felt empowered help—this situation has been more frustrating. He knew his customers needed gas and so he opened as soon as he could. Al also realized that a lot of his customers needed to travel long distances by car to pick up their kids from college since they could not fly home, and so it was important to be able to offer oil changes and inspections.

They are now open seven days a week with a modified schedule. His wife Jane, who works at the Heathcote Elementary School, jokes, “My husband is really married to his business and I am his girlfriend”.

When not working, Al enjoys spending time with Jane, their kids and their five grandkids (two of which live in Quaker Ridge). Al loves the community and he loves his customers. "My business is what it is because of my customers.” Thank you for always being there for your customers, Al! #hometownhero#scarsdale #essential #heathcotegulf

Morris MayerMORRIS MAYER
Meet Morris Mayer, Owner of Plaza Park Interiors and Plaza Park Cleaning Services since 2013. When the NY State Pause went into effect on March 23rd, Morris quickly transformed his drapery and upholstery part of the business into “mask making central”. The cleaning and sanitizing part of the business, deemed essential, was able to remain open.

With the talent of seamstresses and upholsterers and the infrastructure to organize mask requests from multiple sources, Morris and his team jumped into action. They closed that following Monday, sanitized their workspace on Tuesday, and by the end of the day had made a prototype for their masks. To date, they have helped make and deliver over 10,000 masks to healthcare and essential workers in our surrounding area.

The effort has taken a village. Mask requests from various groups and individuals from around the area are consolidated into a spreadsheet, fabrics and elastic are sourced and shared, and masks are produced and delivered by a number of volunteers including his family, friends, local moms, retired doctors, other local mask-making groups and college students, all coordinated through Morris and Plaza Park Interiors. “My house became the main distribution point.” Even Morris’s special needs daughter noticed masks coming in and out of their home, saw the need, and rose to the occasion, figuring out a pattern and then cutting, pinning and preparing over 100 masks on her own.

What he loves most about his business is the creativity behind it. “It’s very exciting to start with an empty house and raw fabric and to see the vision come to fruition”, he says. Morris grew up in Brooklyn, moved to Westchester in 1994, and then to the Edgewood section of Scarsdale 11 years ago. He enjoys spending time with family, especially game night where he plays cards with his wife and daughters Diana and Stefanie.

They are now selling masks to non-essential workers, corporations and individuals to help offset the cost of making the free ones and are always in need of volunteers to deliver masks. To order masks or volunteer to deliver them, you can call or text Morris at 917-414-9244. Thank you, Morris, for transforming your business in order to provide much needed masks to our healthcare workers! #hometownhero #scarsdale #masks #PPE #covid19

Steve KaidenSTEVE KAIDEN
Meet Steve Kaiden, Scarsdale native and Scarsdale Volunteer Firefighter for Company 2. Wanting to give back to his community in some capacity, Steve trained for six months to earn his interior certification and became a volunteer in 2015.

When the pandemic hit, Steve floated the idea of birthday drive-bys to the Chief, and soon after, the Scarsdale Fire Department Birthday Drive-By Program was launched. The program has been a hit and ran for the last five weeks, bringing smiles to over 200 kids ages 4-12 and their families.

“What little kid doesn’t like a fire truck, especially one that is coming to celebrate them? It’s not a party, but it will be a different kind of memory for them.” The firefighters seem to enjoy seeing the kids—dressed up in their own firemen and policemen costumes—as much as the kids enjoy seeing them. “It’s nice to see the community come together—of course from a distance—and create some camaraderie”, says Steve.

With fond memories of his childhood, Steve moved back to his hometown with his wife Julie in order to pass the experience he had in Scarsdale on to his kids Oliver (12) and Avery (9). Steve owns several wine and liquor stores in NYC—considered an essential business—and has seen a shift online during this time.

Steve skied on the Scarsdale High School and Boston University ski teams and hasn’t stopped since then. He passed his love for skiing onto his kids, who ski for the Mount Peter ski team. What’s the first thing Steve going to do when this is all over? “Give some people some hugs.”

Thank you, Steve, for giving our kids something to smile about during this difficult time! #hometownhero #scarsdale #essential #volunteerfirefighter

Meng ZhangMENG ZHANG
Meet Dr. Meng Zhang, an Internal Medicine Physician with a specialty in Palliative and Hospice Medicine for a prominent hospital in NYC.

Dr. Zhang has been working as an attending physician since 2008. “I have a pretty cool job”, she says, of her work for a unique visiting doctors program. Along with an interdisciplinary team, she makes home visits for elderly homebound patients where the average patient is in their 80’s. Seeing patients in their own environment provides a completely different perspective and allows for more patient-centered care. Many are underserved and most have complicated medical conditions or are too frail to leave the home.

When the pandemic hit and hospitals began to quickly overcrowd, many of the sickest patients opted to return home to die, and Dr. Zhang was deployed to lead a new program to provide services over the phone and by video so that they could safely support COVID-19 patients and their families and caregivers.

Initially concerned about what sort of impact they could make through such non-traditional channels, they were able to successfully manage symptoms, and provide guidance, reassurance, comfort and support to the caregivers. “The front-line workers are so stressed, it’s hard for them to get to know the family. My team got to bear witness to the human story behind the crisis; to see the anxiety and fears, but also the goodness, love and humanity behind each patient and caregiver.”

The team supported about 50 patients during the last two months, many of whom passed away shortly thereafter. A sign the spread is slowing, the referrals have substantially dropped in the last few weeks.

Dr. Zhang grew up in Shanghai, China, and came to the states when she was 16. She lives in the Edgewood section of Scarsdale with her husband
Jonathan, their two kids, Ellen (7) and Elliot (9), and their 13-year-old miniature pinscher Frodo. Being able to be with her kids really helped sustain her between difficult patient calls. When time allows, she enjoys the simple pleasures, such as cooking, going on hikes and hanging out in the backyard.

This situation has made her realize how isolated her patients and family members feel. She encourages others to figure out ways stay connected with family and friends. Indeed, she misses the physical connection and is looking forward to the day she can hug her parents and the nurses.
Thank you, Dr. Zhang, for your compassion and care for the most vulnerable patients during this time! #hometownhero #scarsdale #covid19 #essential

David RaizenDAVID RAIZEN
Meet David Raizen, owner of Scarsdale Security Systems, Inc. and President of the Scarsdale Volunteer Ambulance Corps (SVAC) for 26 years. David grew up in Scarsdale, attended Quaker Ridge Elementary School and graduated from Scarsdale High School. He still lives in town with his daughter and foster son.

David has been riding in the ambulance since high school as an EMT and now as a paramedic, and firmly believes in neighbor helping neighbor. He enjoys the medicine part of it, and being a positive influence when people are at their lowest point.

Asked about the pandemic, David says, “It has been scary. It is a hidden enemy that was aerosolized, and you never knew where and when you were breathing it in. SVAC was well prepared because we planned ahead after the EBOLA scare years ago. We had the proper equipment and training which allowed us to concentrate on medical care.”

When not working, David enjoys spending time with his children, sailing, kayaking and walking his dog. People always ask David why he is a paramedic, to which he replies, “Where else in the world can you go 90 miles an hour down the wrong side of the street chasing the cops?”

Thank you for all you do, David! #hometownhero #scarsdale #volunteer

Jennifer LopezYessenia CoronaJENNIFER LOPEZ & YESSENIA CORONA
Meet Jennifer Lopez and Yessenia Corona, Cashiers/Shoppers at Seasons in the Golden Horseshoe.

A first-generation American with roots in Mexico, Jennifer grew up the youngest of four in New Rochelle, where she still lives with her family.

Little did she know when she started working at Seasons this past October the hazards that everyday grocery shopping would pose. At the start of the outbreak, people were afraid to come in. But the regulars quickly heard about the pick-up and delivery service, word spread, and orders took off.

Jennifer works hard—six days a week, up to 14 hours a day on the busiest days. Her coworkers and the camaraderie they share make it all worth it. Her customers also express appreciation, which is satisfying. “They thank us for working during this time and taking all of our safety precautions. It makes us feel good.” Her biggest challenge is trying to keep everyone, including herself, safe. “I want to make sure we’re wearing masks and gloves and being cautious. I have to go home to my family after work.”

Jennifer can’t wait for this all to be over so that she can sit in Bayberry Park near her house without a mask and enjoy the fresh air.

Yessenia graduated from Hunter College and began working at Seasons in September. She is the oldest of three and also resides in New Rochelle. She admits it was a little scary when COVID-19 first hit, but “we are taking a lot of precautions, so I feel a lot more calm.” Precautions they take seriously, such as no more than 15-20 people in the store at once, keeping distance between shoppers and ensuring everyone is following the rules.

As a shopper, her focus is getting a customer’s order right the first time, so that they don’t need to worry or come back into the store. It was a challenge to learn about all of the different kosher foods, which she wasn’t familiar with, but it’s gotten easier and easier.

She wants her customers to know the team is working hard to cater to them. “We’re a little nervous too, but we try to do everything we can to make our customers feel comfortable.” She loves seeing all of the notes of thanks their customers have left for them in the store.

Yessenia is saving up to go back to school; her dream is to become a childhood educator. She’s also looking forward to once again enjoying the movies and parks and being with her family who she hasn’t seen in a while…but for now, she’s thankful to be with Sparky (her Maltese/Yorkie mix).

Thank you, Jennifer and Yessenia, for your commitment, hard work and care for your customers on a daily basis! #hometownheros #scarsdale #covid19 #wegottaeat

Muhammad Irfan QadirMUHAMMAD IRFAN QADIR
Meet Dr. Muhammad Irfan Qadir, a Consultant Nephrologist for two hospitals in Bronxville and Mount Vernon for the last 25 years. When COVID-19 began to spread, “it was like a tornado hit us.” Kidney failure has been an unexpected consequence of those most hard hit by the virus, primarily in older patients with no prior kidney issues.

New protocols and an unknown enemy caused the physicians to struggle to find the right approach for treatment. While there are still big challenges, there is some reason to be optimistic. “We entered a machine gun fight with little ammunition. Now at least we have a sword to fight with”, he says. While most people had a milder disease, Dr. Qadir’s patients were the sickest of the sick. “The virus overwhelmed their bodies and shut down their kidneys. There were too many people, too many complications.”

At its peak, his 20-bed ICU expanded to 60 beds, an increase the likes of which they had never experienced before. Even with all of the pressure inherent in their jobs, “this situation really brought out the best of the healthcare community. After tiring 12-hour shifts, staff still had smiles on their faces, and everybody was so pleasant and helpful. We were all in it together.”

In a distant part of his mind, he was worried about contracting the virus, but “when you see patients in front of you gasping for air, the thought of getting it takes a back seat”. Throughout it all, Dr. Qadir’s Muslim faith kept him going.

Dr. Qadir grew up in Pakistan and came from a family of doctors. He moved to the States when he was 22, and to the Heathcote section of Scarsdale in 2007, where he resides with his wife Munazza and his three kids Uzair (21), Nabiha (20) and Rehma (13). He enjoys hiking, biking, squash, golf and practices calligraphy as a hobby. But what he’s really looking forward to is spending time in the mountains, away from it all.

Thank you Dr. Qadir for your dedication and selflessness during this difficult time! #hometownhero #scarsdale #frontlines #COVID19 #essential

Commenting on the heroes, reader Janet Levy said, "“These heroes are so inspiring, and speak to the wonderful fabric of a multicultural society that enriches our lives. Thank you for sharing these portraits, we need to hear such positive narratives now more than ever!”

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