wo pickup trucks backed into the long driveway leading into the employee entrance of Long Island Jewish Medical Center in Manhasset on a Tuesday evening in May. Before long, an American flag was hoisted up, a keyboard was plugged in, and Sal “The Voice” Valentinetti was standing in the back, belting out renditions of “New York, New York” and “Fly Me to the Moon.”
As a sea of scrubs moved in and out of the doors of the hospital, some stopped, phones up, to capture the surprise performance on film.
Christney Bazile and Betianne Polycarpe stood farther back from the makeshift stage, just across from the “Health Care Heroes Work Here Banner,” appreciating the music.
“First time enjoying something in the parking lot,” Bazile said.
Bazile and Polycarpe normally work in the pre-surgical unit, but they had been told not to report to work until the first day of May, when they were instructed to begin administering antibody tests to hospital staff. The pair, both from Queens, was used to the 6:30 a.m. shift. At the time of Valentinetti’s concert at 6:45 p.m., they were on their lunch break. They were going to get out at 11 p.m.
“Definitely uplifts a gruesome 12-hour shift,” Bazile said of Valentinetti’s performance.
The concert was coordinated as an addition to Feed the Nurses, an effort founded by John Murray, BC ’06.
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Murray is the owner of Hero Joint, a restaurant on eastern Long Island. When restaurants first had to shut down in March, the Patchogue Restaurant Alliance raised money for the town’s eateries to cook food and provide it to two local hospitals. For a while, Murray participated. Then, he was talking to his brother, whose wife Colleen works as an overnight nurse. Colleen said that one day she had to eat an ice cream sandwich for breakfast because there was nothing else available. Murray gave her a call and asked what he could do to help. Would the overnight nurses want heros?
She said the best thing would be breakfast food, as many of them were eating in the middle of the night. Murray asked if parfait cups would be good—he knew he wanted to provide substantive food that would keep the nurses full for the entirety of their shift—and Colleen said yes.
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Murray reached out to his food supplier to see what he could purchase. He was able to buy granola bars and yogurt and assemble parfait cups at about $2 per person. Eventually, the supplier ran out of yogurt, so Murray switched to protein shakes, which had initially been purchased for the students at West Point. Murray saw a connection—the food that was once for people training to be warriors was now going to health care warriors, he said.
“I walked into Southside Hospital with yogurt one of our first nights, and the nurse who thanked us started crying,” Murray said. “She’s like, ‘Yea, everyone forgets about us.’ People don’t realize that it just seems like there’s a pattern, not just during this pandemic, but night shifts are often overlooked in general.”
Feed the Nurses has provided over 20,000 meals, at hospitals all over the island. A GoFundMe has raised over $22,000 of a $30,000 goal to raise money to continue operations—Murray isn’t sure how much longer they can go for. He’s started getting requests from nursing homes, something the group is thinking of switching to if they’re able to raise enough money to keep operating. Still, Murray isn’t discouraged that the group might be nearing the end of its run.
“The main thing I take away from this is when it was really really bad, we were there. So that’s the key thing,” Murray said. “I tell all our volunteers, even if we can’t do this forever—and in an ideal world we shouldn’t have to do this forever—when it really, really mattered, when things were bad, they had our support. Now everywhere I talk to it’s getting better.”
Murray is a graduate of Chaminade, a Catholic high school, and Boston College, where he was the distribution manager of The Heights. He said the ideal of helping others was stressed to him throughout his education.
“I just couldn’t take it any more being on the sidelines, sitting on my couch watching these people do combat with this horrible, horrible disease,” he said.
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Feed the Nurses gained traction on social media, and pretty soon Murray’s brother got an offer from Valentinetti to perform for different hospitals—both are graduates of Holy Trinity High School on Long Island and found each other through the alumni network. The performances are intended to lift spirits for the people who really deserve the praise, Murray said.
“It’s not about me. It’s not about what we’ve done,” he said. “It’s about these people, and I really want to keep the focus on them.”
At the concert outside of Long Island Jewish Manhasset, some medical professionals stopped at a tent just outside the entrance to the hospital after listening to Valentinetti, where Joan Phillips is working to provide mental health resources to workers.
“You get a sense of where the staff is at—doctors and nurses—just by their eyes or the way they’re walking,” Phillips said.
She encourages them to do something for themselves—watch their favorite movie, take a bath, try to relax. She said concerts like this one help.
As Murray and Valentinetti started to pack up and head to their next hospital—they put on more than one performance that night—medical professionals clapped and continued on their way out to their cars or on their way in to their shifts.
“John will see you later with bananas and protein shakes,” Valentinetti said over the microphone. “He’s a good man, John.”