best of long island
Sal Motta poses with healthcare workers, his team, and his Best of LI plaque. (Photo by Sal Motta)

This year, as part of its commitment to the Bethpage Best of Long Island Program and to small businesses across Long Island during this difficult time, Bethpage Federal Credit Union organized the Best Small Business Role Model Giveaway offering Bethpage Best of LI 2020 winners an opportunity to share how they have given back during the pandemic to support first responders, their community and those in need.

Our editors have chosen three businesses to feature and each will be given a $2,500 marketing grant for any Schneps Media digital or print properties, including the Long Island Press and Noticia. We spoke with the owners of Lucky Lou’s Gourmet Rice Pudding,, Middle Country Automotive and Certified Cesspool and Drain Inc., about their charity work.

LUCKY LOU’S OFFERS SWEETNESS DURING TRYING TIMES

Maria Camassa is the owner of Lucky Lou’s Gourmet Rice Pudding, a wholesale pudding company with products in 7-Elevens, gourmet shops and supermarkets from Montauk to Manhattan.

Although she lost a few large accounts when the pandemic hit, Camassa managed to compensate for losses by creating a successful no-contact delivery service, which brought Lucky Lou’s sweet treats to pudding lovers’ homes and businesses. News 12 Long Island had also recently filmed a story on the company and happened to air it right after the shutdown occurred, which significantly increased the brand’s visibility. The proud owner felt grateful that she was able to continue operating the business, and wanted to offer a hand to those facing bigger challenges.

Healthcare workers at Stony Brook University Hospital enjoy Lucky Lou’s Gourmet Rice Pudding. Photo credit: Stony Brook University Hospital

Camassa is on the advisory board of the Stony Brook Ronald McDonald House, which serves the needs of families who have hospitalized children at Stony Brook University Hospital. She knew several nurses at the hospital who were treating COVID patients, and realized what they were up against.

“My heart just went out to them,” she said. “I felt their pain and I admired them so much for doing what they were doing. And so we just started donating cases of rice pudding on a weekly basis.”

When Stony Brook first responders raved about Lucky Lou’s delightful desserts, Camassa and her colleagues knew they could do even more. As they continued pudding deliveries, the team decided to run fundraisers every couple of weeks to obtain essential items requested by the healthcare workers. After she sent out an email blast and shared a Facebook post promoting the charity effort, her home quickly became a drop off point for donations from around the community. Lucky Lou’s coordinated pick ups and drop offs with Stony Brook Healthcare Staff volunteers.

“The response was astounding.” Camassa shared. “Local residents, organizations and businesses got together to donate items for the healthcare professionals. Some people from out of state were donating money and asked me if I could go shopping for them.

“We got pounds of chocolates, cases of hand lotions, toothpaste, bags of T-shirts, socks, flip flops, and beautiful shawls,” she continued. “A lot of people donated weekly. So many were like, ‘What can I do? What can I donate?’”

“Seeing so many people come together for the cause was an extremely rewarding experience,” she added. “For me personally, it’s just always overwhelming when people donate. It just makes you feel good. We are all in gratitude to the service the healthcare professionals provided to all during this critical time in our lives.”

Brianna Camassa, daughter of Maria Camassa from Lucky Lou’s, brings donations of gourmet pudding to first responders at Stony Brook University Hospital. Photo credit: Maria Camassa

MIDDLE COUNTRY AUTOMOTIVE GIVES BACK

When the shutdown went into effect in March and automotive shops across the Island were feeling financial strain, Joe Strazzeri decided that he and his company Middle Country Automotive would adapt rather than downsize.

“I was very fortunate because we’re considered essential,” Strazzeri said. “A lot of people in my business did furloughs. I was dead against that, because I was concerned if I was to do that I would lose somebody. Most of my people have families that they’re responsible for.”

Instead, he chose to prioritize the wellbeing of his vulnerable employees along with his customers. Strazzeri implemented a series of strict safety measures at his two shops in Selden and Centereach, providing PPE to his entire staff, installing sneeze guards on counters, using plastic coverings on steering wheels and seats, and sanitizing touch points during repairs.

As the owner and his team got used to the new reality, they wanted to support others on the frontlines. Strazzeri’s wife is a healthcare worker, and he saw firsthand the commitment she and other first responders had to make as COVID cases exploded.

“They were working an exorbitant amount of hours, going above and beyond, putting their health at risk going into the facilities that they worked in,” he said. “We [started] doing free oil changes for them, and we were getting a lot of positive feedback.”

The shop also partnered with a local Italian eatery, Cafe Amici, to supply free pizza pies to healthcare workers at Stony Brook University Hospital.

Middle Country Automotive then broadened its charity efforts to help disadvantaged families in the Selden and Centereach areas.

“COVID-19 had a great financial impact on many families in and around our community, causing a high demand on local food banks,” Strazzeri shared. “We started a food drive for [the charities] Island Harvest and Lighthouse Missions, offering our customers a discount for food donations.”

Maria Chandler of Middle Country Automotive gathering donations for the company’s food drive. Photo credit: Middle Country Automotive

As they promoted the initiative through email newsletters, the group saw an immense influx of donations from clients—boxes upon boxes of canned goods weekly— which has not let up since. The drive has continued into the fall with no signs of stopping soon.

“It’s phenomenal, the amount of food that people are bringing in, the response that we’ve gotten. It’s great to see people wanting to help [others] in the community that are in need.”

What’s truly phenomenal is how the actions of one thoughtful and empathetic person can trigger a chain reaction of good deeds that has benefited so many people.

CERTIFIED CESSPOOL ENERGIZES HEALTHCARE HEROES ON THE NIGHTSHIFT

Like many small business owners, Sal Motta didn’t think quarantine would last very long. But as weeks went by, the owner of the Centereach-based cesspool maintenance firm Certified Cesspool and Drain Inc. understood that his business needed to adjust to the situation quickly.

There was financial worry, as Certified Cesspool’s commercial clients included many restaurants and stores, which were forced to either cut hours or shut their doors completely. Simultaneously, with more residents staying home all day, there was an influx of people having issues with their cesspools and sewer lines clogging.

“We had to adjust our lives to fit the demand,” Motta said. “But in the middle of it, we also realized that so many other people were doing the same thing, so we just wanted to help them.”

One evening when visiting his friend’s restaurant, Motta spoke to an exhausted nurse who was picking up food before heading to the hospital to face another grueling 20 hour stretch.

“She worked the night shift, and said that she was working non-stop,” he said. “When I started to wrap my head around what I could do for these people, one of the things that stood out to me was, a lot of restaurants were taking the initiative to bring the food to the day shift at hospitals. However, we heard that when these healthcare heroes arrived to their shift at night, there was little to no food left.” 

Additionally, restaurants had limited hours they were open for takeout and delivery.

Certified Cesspool and Legends Bar and Grill surprise nurses at Mather Hospital with a food delivery. (Photo by Sal Motta)

Certified Cesspool and Drain teamed up with Legends Bar and Grill in Kings Park to deliver meals to the night shift at seven different hospitals on seven different days, beginning on Monday, April 20 and ending on Sunday, April 26. The two businesses supplied food to Southside Hospital, Stony Brook University Hospital, Good Samaritan Hospital, Huntington Hospital, Mather Hospital, St. Catherine’s and St. Charles Hospital. Every night, the group was greeted by delighted nurses who were extremely grateful for the altruistic deed.

“We wanted to see the look on their faces when we surprised them, because they didn’t know it was coming,” Motta shared.

The crew donated a total of 112 trays of food over the course of the week, spreading joy to healthcare workers who were working under more stressful conditions than ever before.

“During such a strange and difficult time, seeing those smiles made everything worth it,” Motta said. “Just making that gesture, bringing that food to them, it really made a difference. It made so many people happy and appreciative at a time where there really wasn’t much to be happy about.”

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