Riverhead gift card program feeds hospital workers, keeps restaurants in business

A program in Riverhead is helping restaurants stay afloat while at the same time feeding exhausted health care workers on the COVID-19 front line.
The Riverhead Business Improvement District is collecting donations. Every time the total reaches $5,000, it purchases 100 $50 gift cards from area restaurants. The gift cards are then donated to Peconic Bay Medical Center for its employees.
"They're doing a raffle," says Steven Shauger, of the Riverhead Business Improvement District. "Then once you get a certificate then your name's out of the raffle until the next round and then you're back in. So they're trying to distribute evenly among all the staff."
Riverhead area restaurants have been donating meals to the hospital staff for weeks, usually around dinner time. The gift cards allow employees working other shifts the chance to get donated food.
"What we're seeing is work that is physically and emotionally exhausting," says Amy Loeb, of Peconic Bay Medical Center. With nurses pulling 13-hour shifts, she says the gift cards are a nice break. "They're able to go to a local restaurant, get a meal and sit down at home with their family and enjoy it without any work or preparation."
And it's a lifeline for restaurants navigating the hardships of the coronavirus crisis.
"The double-down idea of it of helping the restaurants and helping the hospital employees is amazing," says Jerry DiCecco, of Jerry and the Mermaid. "It's cash flow into our businesses as well as giving them something to look forward to when they leave work.
So far, $18,000 has been raised.
PHOTOS: Your Breath of Fresh Air