Making a Difference: Wendy’s Deli, with help of customers, has donated thousands of meals on the North Fork

One afternoon in late March, Wendy’s Deli owner Wendy Zuhoski decided to make sandwiches for the COVID-19 team at Stony Brook Eastern Long Island Hospital.

It felt like the right thing to do, she said, and it was a slow enough day at her Mattituck deli that she and her staff had the time. 

Little did she know what she was starting.

In the month that has followed, the Wendy’s Deli team and their selfless customers have made about 100 food runs to area health care facilities and other workers on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic.

“People started saying, ‘Oh, let me help you,’ ” Ms. Zuhoski said of the effort that has seen her crew donate more than 3,500 sandwiches and hot meals. They’re often delivering them four times per day, with each item individually wrapped.

The help has come in all sorts of different ways. Some customers have left $100 bills to put toward the effort. Others have baked and wrapped cookies and brownies. Some have volunteered to go on the runs, which have benefited health care, sanitation workers and more.

“It’s not just me,” Ms. Zuhoski said. “Everybody has stepped up to the plate.”

That includes other businesses, like Southold Fish Market, which has donated shrimp cocktails for deliveries and Ali Katz Kitchen in Mattituck has provided baked goods. Ms. Zuhoski also marveled at all the work being done by other eateries for their own donation efforts, including Sterlington Deli in Greenport, and Star Confectionery, Jerry & the Mermaid and Sunny’s Diner and Grill in Riverhead. She recognizes that many more businesses have also provided similar meals for hospital staffs.

The deliveries out of Wendy’s Deli, however, have taken on a life of their own thanks to the power of social media.

“You are truly the best at what you are doing for everyone else,” one customer wrote on the deli’s Facebook page. “You guys are amazing,” added another.

Ms. Zuhoski said the effort really came out of a sense of guilt. She’s had some slow days, but business has been mostly steady throughout the ordeal. She’s also been able to keep her full staff in place, under the condition that they go straight from work to home. To help make that possible, they’re ordering groceries through the deli. They’re also limiting occupancy to four customers in the store at a time and are offering $10 grab-and-go lunches in place of their usual specials menu to expedite things.

But when Ms. Zuhoski looks around Mattituck and beyond, she’s saddened to see how other businesses have been forced to close.

“It’s very hard for me to watch my friends not be open and I can be,” she said. “I’ve really struggled with that. I thought, ‘I gotta help people. I don’t want people to think I’m here for me. If I’m going to be open, I’m going to do this.’ ”

And the deli’s charitable efforts don’t stop with the meal deliveries. After a customer gifted her staff “North Fork Strong” t-shirts, she reached out to the woman who designed the shirts and asked if she could purchase a bunch as a fundraiser. Selling them for $20 apiece, more than 800 were purchased in the first two days alone and they have already raised more than $5,000 from the proceeds. They’re using the money to purchase gift cards from other restaurants that have been giving back and donating them to health care workers on the North Fork.

It’s the reaction from hospital staff that ultimately fuels the efforts of Ms. Zuhoski, her staff and their customers.

“They have been really appreciative,” she said. “Just incredibly grateful.”