LI Herald, November 10, 2023

North Shore pizzerias raise funds in light of Farmingdale bus tragedy

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When a Farmingdale school bus crashed on Interstate 84 in Wawayanda, New York, on Sept. 21, it wasn’t just the families of the students and teachers that were affected. People across Long Island were moved by the story, including the employees of Mama Mia’s Pizzeria in Oyster Bay, some of whom knew community members who were involved.

“Of course you want to help,” Marlo Yannez, manager of Mama Mia’s, said. “Me personally, I worked in Farmingdale, I know a lot of people there, so it was an easy choice to help, you know.”

Anthony Laurino, the owner of Phil’s Pizzeria, in Syosset, had dropped his son, Francesco, off at Farmingdale High School that day for a trip to a band camp in Pennsylvania.

While his son wasn’t on the bus that crashed — an accident that resulted in the death of 43-year-old Farmingdale High band director Gina Pellettiere and 77-year-old retired social studies teacher Beatrice Ferarri — Laurino remains deeply affected by the tragedy.

Laurino thought there had to be something he could do to help the families of those who were involved. He got together with Alyssa Guidice, founder of Dine-LI, a social media group that raises money for various charities across Long Island, and Jim Serpico, owner of Side Hustle Artisanal Bread Company in Plainview, to create a fundraiser to help the families. Three North Shore pizzerias, Vito’s Ristorante & Pizzeria, in Glen Cove, Tre Sorelle Restaurant, in Sea Cliff, and Mama Mia’s, joined in to support the effort.

Vito Marchese, owner of Vito’s, said his restaurant has done similar charity events in the past. During the coronavirus pandemic, it donated pizzas to the employees of Glen Cove Hospital, and Vito’s employees wrote inspirational messages on the boxes to lift the hospital workers’ spirits.

“The community was really affected by it,” Marchese said of the bus accident, “and we felt bad for the families that were involved. We try to help everybody — that’s why we’re here.”

The original plan was for a one-night-only fundraiser on Oct. 25, but as more communities heard about the mission, more restaurants wanted to get involved. Laurino, Guidice and Serpico set out to recruit 20 pizzerias, but by the end of October, more than 140, across both Nassau and Suffolk counties, had signed on to what turned into a three-day effort to raise money, from Oct. 25 to Oct. 27, dubbed LI Pizza Strong.

For every pie that was purchased at a participating pizzeria or restaurant, $5 was donated to the Farmingdale families. Most of the money will go to the critically injured, Guidice said, while some of it will go to those less seriously injured and the marching band, and the rest to the families of Pellettiere and Ferarri.

Some band members lost their instruments in the crash, and Guidice said that the hope is to be able to replace them. Those losses were brought to her attention by the mother of one of the students who was on the bus. He wasn’t injured in the crash, but his instrument was damaged.

Guidice, Laurino and Serpico worked with Farmingdale High to make sure they went through the right channels to get the money to the affected families.

“We wanted to make sure they were happy with how, and who, we were giving the money to,” Serpico said.

He added that the goal was to raise $100,000. The total won’t be tallied for weeks, as organizers work to collect the restaurants’ donations. The response from residents across Long Island was overwhelmingly supportive, and it went beyond those who bought pies. Slice, a pizza delivery app, and Premier Payroll Solutions, a restaurant payroll company, which generously chipped in as well.

For every pie ordered using Slice, the app matched the $5 donation, effectively doubling it. Anna Cortesiano, owner of Salvatore’s of Elmont, helped facilitate Slice’s participation after weeks of reaching out to the company. Premier Payroll Solutions donated a dollar for every pie sold, up to $5,000.

“I think it was a win-win for most of the pizzerias,” Serpico said.

Additional reporting by Will Sheeline

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