Despite these trying times, three millennial Westchester-ites have stepped up to help others. In turn, these millennials have abolished the “me me me generation” label that has plagued our generation, and instead transformed it into a “we we we” battle cry to help others of all ages and walks of life get through this pandemic, together.
Thanks to these three selfless millennials, each hour in quarantine is a little less daunting, and each dark day is a little brighter. Here are their stories.
Westchester native Gina Pezzolanti has worked in the fashion industry for over six years, designing and creating everything from jackets to dresses and lingerie. The 29-year-old recently added a new clothing item to her repertoire: face masks.
In late March, Pezzolanti noticed that masks were mentioned with regularity on the news and in social media.
“I just started seeing on social media that people were looking for masks,” Pezzolanti said.
Then, on March 20, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo put a call out to N.Y. state businesses to produce face masks. Pezzolanti immediately jumped at the chance to help. After reaching out to the Governor’s office, she was told the directive was intended for businesses, not individuals. But that did not deter her.
“I decided, okay, let me go in my fabric bin and see what fabric I have and start with that,” Pezzolanti said.
Pezzolanti used a pattern she found online to create a cloth mask prototype. By March 29, Pezzolanti had already created over a dozen masks from fabric she had at home and began offering them to friends, family and healthcare workers at no cost.
“I hadn’t sewn really that much in years, so it kind of brought me back to something I really enjoyed doing,” said Pezzolanti.
Pezzolanti’s masks are cotton or cotton-based, with an interface on the inside, making it two-ply, with an elastic loop to go around the ears. The masks come in plenty of fun prints and colors, including pineapples, popsicles and beloved New York sports teams, like the Yankees and Jets.
“Everyone outside is wearing the N95 masks, and it feels very surreal and scary. I feel like when people see my masks, they are much brighter, they’re lighter, they’re happier and it just kind of changes everyone’s mood and makes things a little more positive,” Pezzolanti added.
Pezzolanti’s masks were a hit with friends, who shared her creations on social media. Her inbox quickly became flooded with requests for her colorful creations. Now, Pezzolanti is spending upwards of five and a half hours a day creating these masks, of which she makes between 50 to 80 a week, organizing her orders with colorful excel spreadsheets.
Pezzolanti is now selling her masks to non-healthcare workers so that she has the funds to donate masks to those in need on the front line. Just this week, she began to work on a donation for a child welfare agency. In the first ten days of of April alone, Pezzolanti made 124 masks, 51 of which she donated to healthcare workers. Pezzolanti’s masks are being shipped far and wide, with orders coming from states as far away as California, Virginia and North Carolina.
“For me, working in the fashion industry, I’ve sometimes wondered what my purpose is at the end of the day. I’m just making another product, it’s not helping others. Now, I’m actually doing something that I love, and I’m having so much fun with it, and I know that someone genuinely needs these masks at the end of the day.”
For more information on Pezzolanti’s masks, or to make a donation, visit her Instagram page, @ginabina025.
Tiffany Stacy knows good food. In fact, the 32-year-old Yonkers resident manages an Instagram account, @breakfastatetiffany, that documents her delicious adventures at restaurants across Westchester and New York City.
“I always worked in restaurants myself growing up, and I grew up taking a lot of photos of things, and always made photo albums, physical photo albums. Everything in my life came together, and I started taking photos of food, and my friends encouraged me to start the blog,” Stacy said.
In the five years since she started the Instagram account, Stacy has amassed over 21,000 followers, who drool over her perfectly-curated pictures of decadent local delights. A feast for not only her stomach but her followers’ eyes as well.
Then in March, amidst state-wide protocols, restaurants were shut down and limited to takeout only, which not only jeopardized many local businesses but also the thousands of employees who work in the hospitality industry throughout the tri-state area.
Stacy immediately picked up her phone and started to give back to the industry that has given her so much.
“I could just see the restaurants emptying out, and I think we all knew what was coming. Just because I care so much about all these people, I wanted to help,” Stacy noted.
Stacy’s Instagram stories and posts since the restaurants have been shut down feature local restaurants still offering takeout. On St. Patrick’s Day, Stacy promoted over 10 different restaurants, delis and supermarkets in her local neighborhood that were still serving and offering business.
Photos of food aren’t the only contribution Stacy, who is also a first-grade teacher for the City of New York, has made to others. Since the pandemic hit, Stacy has balanced her lesson plans with calls to action on her social media. She has urged her followers to contact their senators and representatives to demand that small hospitality businesses be included in the federal stimulus package. She has also promoted quite a few campaigns to help those in need to stay nourished.
Stacy also has done her part to help keep those fighting on the front lines well-fed. She organized a food delivery from Westchester-based Wood Fire Food catering to Montefiore Medical Center, Wakefield Campus, in the Bronx, where two of her friends work. Her followers were happy to donate, and she raised over $1700, with plans for another food delivery to Danbury Hospital.
“Some people are just giving ten dollars, and it adds up because there are a lot of people donating. It’s great that so many people want to help.”
To view Stacy’s latest posts and keep up with the Westchester and New York City restaurant scene, visit her Instagram, @breakfastatetiffany.
In 2020, Hartsdale resident Kristen Clonan had big dreams for her fledgling business, Airfluence Consulting. 34-year-old Clonan had recently left an executive-level position in 2019, intent on setting out to start her own consulting agency. By February 2020, she had begun to grow her business and gain clients. Then, the pandemic hit.
Instead of focusing on the economic downturn, Clonan immediately took action to help others.
One of Clonan’s clients is the Urban Resource Institute (URI), which is the nation’s largest provider of domestic violence shelter and services, and also serves homeless families and other vulnerable populations in New York City.
Upon hearing the news about COVID-19, Clonan and her colleagues at URI began the process of trying to acquire masks for those in the URI shelter network.
“Three weeks ago, if you didn’t work in safety, you didn’t know what an N95 mask was, and at that point, getting our hands on even a surgical mask was an impossible feat,” Clonan said.
Clonan decided to see what else URI could provide as masks weren’t readily available. To brainstorm, Kristen contacted fellow members of the Chief group, a female executive empowerment network of which she is a member.
“We said, if we can’t get these masks, we’re going to have to make these masks. Maybe cloth masks would work,” Clonan said.
It was then that Clonan and the URI team reached out to the Theatrical Wardrobe Union, Local 764 ITASE. The Local 764 works in all aspects of costume and wardrobe in New York City. Many sewers from the Local 764 stopped working when Broadway was forced to shutter its doors because of the coronavirus. Patricia White, President of New York City Theatrical Wardrobe Union, was immediately onboard and was able to put an ask out to the Local 764 members to volunteer.
As they started to gain traction and attract volunteers, Clonan and a few of her family members made a trip to a local fabric store. $1200 worth of fabric later, Clonan and her family returned home and started creating drop off bags for volunteers complete with elastic and five square yards of fabric to create masks.
“Many of our volunteers are mailing the completed masks right to our centers, where they’ll be sanitized and given to families living in the shelters,” Clonan said.
As of Mid-April, over 950 masks have been produced by 55 volunteers throughout New York City and Westchester County with no ends in sight. Clonan and URI have plans to continue to keep producing masks for those in the URI network and beyond.
“Developing the masks was out of duty, and now I look back and realize how special connections are, and how important it is to network, and do much more than we’re asked sometimes for the greater good.”
For more information on how to volunteer to make masks or donate to URI, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit its Instagram page, @uri_nyc.