By Karen Rempel
It’s their New York spirit. New Yorkers see tragedy and want to help. Whether it’s in their job description or not.
The FDNY Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Station 7 in Chelsea serves Manhattan’s west side, from Canal Street to 62nd Street. During the first months of the pandemic, Station 7’s Emergency Medical Technician Paramedics (EMPTs) worked 18-hour shifts, ferrying people stricken with COVID to hospital. Exhausted at the end of their heart-wrenching workdays, they often slept in their trucks to avoid bringing the virus home to their loved ones.
For two straight months at the height of the pandemic, a team of passionate ordinary citizens brought hot meals every day to these EMTPs who were on the frontline responding to calls for help.
On Wednesday, September 16, Station 7 honored both their EMPTs and the volunteers who helped support them with what they needed most—the comfort of a hot meal.
The EMPTs Adil Khalid, Raymond Wayl, Darren Kolk, and Captain Scott Rothschild received citation awards for their work going way above and beyond the call of duty during the worst health crisis New York has seen in a hundred years. EMPT Terri-Ann Cancetty Melas just had a baby—working while pregnant throughout the pandemic—and was not able to attend the ceremony to receive her award. The Highline’s Executive Director, Robert Hammond, was also honored on September 16, as were community leaders Erik Bottcher, Susan Numeroff, Marilyn Vasta, and Olive Numeroff. The latter five citizen heroes received FDNY bomber jackets, personalized with their names embossed on the front.
Erik Bottcher, NYC Council Speaker Corey Johnson’s Chief of Staff, recalls the fateful day in March when he spoke on the phone with two concerned Chelsea residents, psychotherapist Marilyn Vasta and former Artisanal Bistro owner Susan Numeroff. “We were asking ourselves what can we do to help the community in a direct way? We’re all home, we want to help the community.”
In the early days of the pandemic, masks were scarce in NYC. Marilyn received 150 masks from a friend in Hong Kong, and Marilyn’s daughter said, “Ma, you’re not gonna need all of those.” Marilyn brought most of the masks to Station 7, and asked if they needed them. They said yes. They didn’t have any masks, even though they were doing this emergency work, often carrying sick people in their arms. Marilyn asked what else the community could do to help, and they said, “Hot meals.”
Marilyn spoke to Susan, who said, “Great, let’s get the restaurants together and see if we can get them to provide meals for them.” And that’s how it started. “Erik was the spearhead in sharing the need with the community, doing outreach, and Olive was our IT [Information Technology] and she did all of the work to get the information up.”
Susan’s daughter, Olive Numeroff, remembers, “They were discussing how can we gather the money to pay for the meals, and I said ‘Let’s set up a GoFundMe campaign.’ We all hopped on board, sharing it, and with Erik’s incredible network, we really reached a lot of people and built up buzz around the page. We had a goal of $5000, and we got that within the first few hours!”
All told, this go-get-em crew raised $35,000 for hot meals, including a whopping $13,000 donation from the Highline Board.
Susan and Marilyn walked around the neighborhood, trying to find restaurants close by that were still open. The Meatball Shop, Westville, Mexicue, Betty’s, and the Star Diner on 18th Street all got involved. Marilyn said, “Every morning, Murray’s Bagels did a giant platter for us, so it was really incredible and generous… This was a project of love, it was heartwarming to be able to do it, and to know that these people who were putting their lives on the line, that we could support them in some way.”
They brought hot meals from the restaurants to Station 7 for the frontline workers at the end of their shifts, at least once a day and sometimes twice a day.
Susan said, “I think in those very early days it was so important to take the focus off ourselves and put it on how we can give to others. That certainly got me through. I didn’t focus on me, but I focused on the task at hand, which was to help others. And I think we all did such a terrific job. It was very heartfelt for everyone.”
That’s the New York spirit! These folks are true hometown heroes.
For video highlights of the FDNY Station 7 award ceremony, see this video by Brian Hammerstein.
This inspiring story moved WestView News to start our own GoFundMe campaign to help save the Voice of the West Village. Please help us if you can. Thank you. We greatly appreciate your support.