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Ham dinners donated to region's health care professionals

Waterford — Area health care professionals battling the COVID-19 pandemic were offered tokens of gratitude, Sunday morning in the form of Easter ham dinners.

About 250 people employed at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital, Backus Hospital and the Pequot Health Center received meals that included a three-and-a-half pound ham, pineapple, Girl Scout cookies and a bottle of wine in the parking lot of Filomena's restaurant. The first 250 residents from East Lyme, Waterford and New London to sign up were given the food.

Volunteers placed the meals in the trunks of cars. A steady stream of people drove up for the food and were greeted by East Lyme and Waterford police and fire department personnel and vehicles, around 20 volunteers and a massive American flag. Filomena's owner Mike Buscetto engineered the Easter meal giveaway and worked with a variety of partners to bring it to fruition, including the Waterford-based Cactus Jack Foundation, which helps local people in need.

"I came up with the idea to show some appreciation for the people who really do not have an option to stay home," Buscetto said Sunday. "They're the real heroes of our community, dealing with this right at the front line. It's good to have them look forward to something. I think in this world, we all need something to look forward to, and I wanted them to have this."

Buscetto said 250 people signed up for food within 24 hours. Word of the event was spread through radio, The Day, social media and word of mouth within the hospitals. He said he was helped by reminding "dear friends I've been doing business with for years" in collecting the food and wine as well as Cactus Jack, which has advertised the event and provided some financial backing.

Mystic resident Nancy Kosman, a currently out-of-work dental hygienist, praised Buscetto for organizing the giveaway and noted the motivation for her involvement.

"What he does for the community is absolutely unbelievable," Kosman said. "There's no better time than now to get involved in something I care about. As a full-time worker, I can't sit home. We saw hope in this parking lot today; it shouldn't take a pandemic for this to happen."

Volunteers at the event included health care professionals as well as an organization called Sisters in Suits, a group of female lawyers in the region who are also helping Buscetto raise money for Waterford Youth and Family Services and Safe Futures.

Kim Roche, a clinical coordinator for nuclear medicine at L+M, was involved in the initiative as the "clinical person," in her words.

"It's my job to make sure everybody is following the rules," Roche said. "We need to keep our distance and maintain hygiene. I'm at the front line handing meals out, too."

With health care workers currently at war with the coronavirus pandemic,  the term "front line" was used frequently by those at Filomena's on Sunday. Roche is still going into work and not staying home. She wanted to show the people who are dealing with the virus directly that they're cared for.

"In my position at the hospital, I'm not on the front line right now, so I feel I can offer to people who are on the front line pulling up here this added layer of security," Roche said. "When we were going around asking for names for the event, there were a lot of tears in the hospital. Just being exhausted and not having to worry about Easter, honestly, is huge for us now. Now, we can focus on the time we have with our families after work."

Roche added that the community supports Filomena's when there isn't a crisis, and Filomena's is now supporting the community during a crisis — "I think that shows you just how community works," she said.

Buscetto, who told The Day earlier this month that his business has been driven down 80 percent due to the pandemic, spoke passionately about the region and its people. 

"Southeastern Connecticut may not be this, may not be that, but I can tell you from events throughout the many years, the community has been so supportive of everything I've done," Buscetto said. "This was the least I could do for them in this particular time. And I will never leave southeastern Connecticut. The people are unbelievable."

s.spinella@theday.com

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