If there ever was a silver lining to being ill with COVID-19, Colleen Pearce, owner of Jay’s Deli in Highland Mills, would say it would be that the kindness and humanity of a community shine like a beacon in the night.
This this case, that beacon is a Go Fund Me drive to raise money to help Pearce support herself and help cover overhead costs while the deli is closed due to COVID-19.
The fund-raising effort, spearheaded by the Woodbury Lions Club, set $25,000 as a goal. As of Oct. 6 - only six days’ time the fund-raising page was activated - $27,645 has been raised - and growing.
‘In the best interest of the community’
The deli, a community fixture for 38 years, closed last week after one of Pearce’s employees told her about a positive COVID-19 diagnosis on Sept. 27.
“I sent everyone for testing,” she said. “We assumed we were all okay, but four of us came down positive.”
Pearce immediately brought in cleaning crews for deep cleaning but ultimately decided the best thing to do was to shut down for two weeks.
The Orange County Health Department is advising residents that if they worked at or visited Jay’s Deli between Sept. 21 and 28 they may have been exposed to COVID-19.
“The health department said we didn’t have to close, but we decided it was in the best interests of the community to close and protect them,” Pearce said. “We do a tremendous amount of business, so for us to close for two weeks could put me under.”
The deli never closed when COVID-19 closed down just about everything in the area last March.
‘We stayed open throughout the whole thing,” she said. “I’m amazed we didn’t get COVID then. The only reason we think we got it was that one of my employees was going to work in a car with someone who got it. They were enclosed in a car. I don’t know where that person got it. We just don’t know.”
There’s still operational expenses to cover during this two-week closure. For example, Pearce said, electric bills can average between $7,000 and $8,000 monthly.
What Pearce means to the community
On the Go Fund Me page, Lions Club officials wrote: “The Woodbury Lions club needs your help. As most of you have heard Jay’s is closed until Colleen feels it’s safe and appropriate to open. I don’t need to tell you how much Colleen means to this community. Please consider a donation to help Colleen get through this period and get back to doing what she does best!
“We love you Colleen and we are all here for you! The Woodbury Lions will be covering the administrative cost and distributing the full amount of the funds to Colleen to use to support herself and her business until she is able to reopen.”
Pillars and cornerstones
It was hard for Pearce to find words to explain how she felt about the fund-raising effort.
“I’m overwhelmed with the support that people show me,” she said. “People that I don’t even remember doing things for are saying they remember what I did for them years ago. Over the years we’ve made a lot of friends. I’m told this is ‘pay back.’ People say they’re so grateful for us and now they’re saying it’s time to do something for us.”
The Woodbury Highway Department noted in its donation: “For all you do for the community, we would like to give back.”
Chris Scibelli of Keller Williams Realty wrote: “Colleen and her staff have always gone beyond to support our community. We wish all of them well and want to see you soon.”
Lisa Phelan wrote: “Jay’s Deli has been a place for the community to go, not just to eat, but to see a friendly face, get or give a smile as needed, and be a part of a family. We have been going for more than 16 years and I’d be broken-hearted if it went away. Thank you Colleen and everyone who works for or volunteers for Jay’s Deli.”
Christian Javier also wrote: “Jay’s is a cornerstone of this town and Colleen is a pillar of this community. She is always giving food and coffee to the fire department or raising money for those in need. I wish her and the people at Jay’s a swift recovery.”
Remain vigilant about COVID-19
“This isn’t over and won’t be over any time soon,” said Pearce. “People should be diligent about not having large gatherings and going out without masks. We’ve extremely lucky to have not gotten it before. Some people are against mask wearing. It’s their right and they don’t have to. But, it’s our duty to protect other people. If people are too selfish to do that, it’s just a shame. People are all about their rights and they think the whole thing is a joke and it’s just flu, and it’s not. We can’t live in a bubble, but we do have to go about our lives. We just have to do it carefully.”
Pearce said this experience has been emotionally and physically exhausting, but the community’s support has been inspiring.
“It gives me reason to continue staying open,” she said. “These times make it very difficult to be open. All the support I’ve given, it’s given me a mental boost to try to things going. It’s very difficult. I’m not sure if I can, but I’m trying. Sometimes, you’ve just had too much, you know? I want to thank everyone for their support I’m totally overwhelmed by it.”