By Denise Civiletti
Four East End Rotary clubs distributed thousands of plants to front-line workers at the three East End hospitals this past weekend.
“It’s our way of saying thanks,” said Dr. Rajesh Patel, a pulmonologist and longtime member of the Riverhead Rotary Club, which organized the plant giveaway in conjunction with the hospitals and the Southampton-based medical mission organization Operation International.
Each spring, the Rotary Club of Riverhead organizes the annual Garden Festival to raise money for Peconic Bay Medical Center and Operation International. The giant plant sale is a major fundraiser for both the hospital and the medical mission group, which sponsors medical volunteers who travel to impoverished countries to provide medical aid to people suffering from the lack of quality health care.
Dr. Patel, a resident of Quogue, is a member of Operation International’s board of directors and has participated in multiple mission trips himself.
Rotary volunteers solicit donations of plants and shrubs from local growers, then the club pitches a huge tent at Tanger Outlets and sells the plants to the public on the Thursday, Friday and Saturday before Mother’s Day. PBMC Auxiliary volunteers help staff the sale.
But under the circumstances of the COVID public health crisis, the Garden Festival couldn’t go on as usual. Since the growers were all lined up and ready to donate their nursery stock, the club decided to give the plants away to the front-line workers at the three East End hospitals and some local nursing homes.
The Rotary clubs of Southampton, Southold and Greenport partnered in the endeavor, setting up racks of plants and shrubs at Stony Brook Southampton Hospital and Stony Brook Eastern Long Island Hospital in Greenport.
Rosane Cassella, president-elect of Southampton Rotary, said a full staff of volunteers would be distributing plants to nurses and staff at Stony Brook Southampton Hospital on Friday and Saturday. On Saturday, nurses and staff can also expect WLNG radio to stop by and “our own Beau Hulse will be singing ‘New York, New York,”’ she said.
“We’re very honored to work in coordination with the Riverhead Rotary. They’re a magnificent club,” Ms. Cassella said. “It’s very gratifying to be a team with them.”
The Southold and Greenport Rotary clubs and a team from Operation International are giving away plants to staff at Stony Brook ELIH in Greenport.
Dr. Patel thanked all the clubs for partnering on this event. “In the end, we’re all in this together,” he said.
As associate director of the Intensive Care Unit at Peconic Bay Medical Center, and a pulmonologist during a viral pandemic that has claimed thousands of lives on Long Island, Dr. Patel knows all too well the full meaning of those words in the time of the coronavirus.
The nurses, doctors, technicians, respiratory therapists — indeed every member of the staffs at all three community hospitals — have been through hell together, in a mad scramble to save hundreds of lives threatened by the novel coronavirus.
With the crush of the outbreak’s peak behind them, front-line workers are beginning to allow themselves to feel some relief — and to process the emotions they put aside as they cared for the critically ill.
PBMC staff gathered for a candlelight ceremony outside the hospital last night to remember the lives lost to the disease. The ceremony helped the medical workers find closure, said one.
“It has been a rough few months for all of us,” said registered nurse Terrial Buhner of Wading River, an ICU nurse at PBMC for 26 years. She had just finished an overnight shift in the ICU and was one of dozens of workers browsing the racks of flowering plants in a parking lot outside the hospital early this morning.
Ms. Buhner picked out a bright pink fucshia plant. She said the exotic plant reminded her of her childhood in California, where she grew up. “These were everywhere,” she said, smiling, “so I’m partial to them.”
Each worker was invited to take two potted plants and an orchid. Their excitement was palpable as they weighed their options and conferred with each other about much care each plant would require.
For resident doctors like Dr. Ivana Choudhury, the choices would have to be adaptable as plants for house or terrace. “We’re residents, so we have no permanent home — nowhere to plant them,” she said.
Carrie Gallo of Aquebogue, a Sec Tech in the ICU at Peconic Bay, had her arms around a large phlox. “My favorite,” she said. “I love phlox.”
The showy white orchids, donated by Bianchi-Davis Greenhouses, an orchid wholesaler in Riverhead, were a crowd-pleasing favorite.
The rest of the plants and small shrubs were donated by several growers and nurseries that have been longtime supporters of the annual Garden Festival: Hopewell Nurseries of New Jersey, Ivy Acres, Van de Wetering Greenhouses, Kurt Weiss, Half Hollow Nurseries, Landcraft Environments, Beds & Borders, North Fork Nurseries, Northeast Nurseries, Glover Perennials, KMZ Nurseries and Juniper Hill.
Express News Group staff writer Kitty Merrill contributed to this story, which is shared with permission from RiverheadLOCAL.