How a Long Island High School Student is Helping Small Businesses

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Online fundraisers have been a saving grace for many struggling local small businesses impacted by coronavirus. (Getty Images)

Gerard Donnelly, a junior at Chaminade High School in Mineola, has long been a regular customer at Angelina’s Pizzeria and Restaurant in Lynbrook. Even when the pandemic hit, he continued to order from the restaurant.

But he soon heard Angelina’s had closed its second location in Williston Park. The pandemic was hitting Angelina’s hard, as well as many other businesses. Rather than simply watch, Donnelly went to work — by fundraising.

Deciding to let adversity be the mother of invention Donnelly launched a GoFundMe campaign to help the restaurant. A thousand dollars later, Donnelly had provided a helping hand for Angelina’s, raising money and awareness. He then launched a GoFundMe campaign for Garden City Skin Care Center in Garden City.

While residents can support a business by being customers, Donnelly is doing more — raising funds. Donnelly created GoFundMe campaigns to essentially adopt a business, or help small businesses under pressure from the pandemic. In the process he’s also been reminding people that the local businesses they love often face their own challenges.

“Many small business and restaurant owners spent their entire life creating their business, and I’d like to help them as much as I could,” Donnelly said on the GoFundMe page he set up titled “Help Long Island Small Businesses” at Gofundme.com/f/saveLibusiness.

Formal programs like the Paycheck Protection Program were put in place nationwide to assist companies amid Covid-19, providing a lifeline to businesses. Asset Enhancement Solutions, based in Uniondale, has helped more than 1,000 companies, including many on Long Island, obtain well over $100 million in PPP funding.

“Most of the Long Island small business community is still reeling from the economic impact of the pandemic,” AES President Neil Seiden said.

AES has been helping companies obtain funds through PPP’s round two, offering free webinars, explaining the program and documentation required to complete applications, in addition to helping companies seeking financing. 

“AES has been part of the Long Island small business community for almost 18 years,” Seiden said, “and we want this community to survive and even thrive at the other end of this economic struggle.”

While PPP is the government’s principal program to help, Donnelly has been doing what he can locally, adopting small businesses or at least launching GoFundMe campaigns that could inspire others to do the same. 

“Throughout my 16 years on Earth, these small businesses have been there for me,” Donnelly said.

He sees himself as also helping business people, often entrepreneurs, who devoted much of their life to building a business that may have survived and even thrived for decades.

“I also donate Covid supplies and materials,” he said, “so they don’t need to spend unnecessary money for supplies.”

Then there’s the promotion of the company, reminding people that local businesses they love are there — and need and deserve their business.

“Angelina’s is a staple in the community here in Lynbrook,” Donnelly said of his first GoFundMe campaign for the restaurant owned by Vincent Sorrentino. “Vinny is extremely family friendly and outgoing. I felt if I was to help someplace, it would be them.”

Garden City Skin Care Center, the second source of a campaign, is owned by Kelly Martinez, who said her business closed for four months due to the coronavirus and reopened with Covid-19 precautions.

Martinez has been a technician at Garden City Skin Care Center for more than 20 years, but seven years ago bought the company, when her boss wanted to retire.  She poured her soul into the company, which began to struggle because of the pandemic. 

“She told me her story,” Donnelly said. “I figured that they could use any help and if I could muster up some money, it would help.”

Buying the business let Martinez and her co-workers continue to have a place to work and to serve clients.

“I applied for many things,” Kelly says on the GoFundMe page of one source of support. “I cleaned out my bank account.”

She has invested in supplies and Covid-19-related materials and has been tested for the virus every two weeks for her clients’ safety since June.

Companies such as AES have been providing help in getting a PPP lifeline and funding in general. Meanwhile, individuals like Donnelly are doing what they can, as well.

Rather than setting up a new GoFundMe campaign for each business, Donnelly has been raising $1,000 for one business – and then the next. 

“It’s all the same campaign, really,” he said of the push to raise funds through a single bigger campaign for small businesses on Long Island.

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