North Fork residents launch services to run errands for elderly and beyond during pandemic

What began as a college student’s hypothetical business model has found a place for itself in the real business world.

Lucas Kosmynka, a Syracuse University freshman, put his project in an Introduction to Entrepreneurship class into real-life practice last month. The results so far have been encouraging, he said.

Mr. Kosmynka, 19, of Cutchogue, a former Mattituck High School tennis standout also known for his skills in video and photography, may have a bright future in business. After Syracuse closed classes in early March in light of the coronavirus pandemic, Mr. Kosmynka headed back home to Long Island, right before things were turned upside down by COVID-19.

“I’m that type of person that needs to be doing something,” said Mr. Kosmynka, a film major who also studies business. “I need to be occupied in any way … I thought it would be cool to bring [the hypothetical business model] to life.”

And so, Flying Fork Errands was born.

Flying Fork Errands picks up groceries and other items such as pharmacy prescriptions and delivers them to the doors of its customers. Here’s how it works:

After an order is placed on, the customer receives a phone call to confirm the order and take credit card information. Once the contactless delivery is made, the customer is notified via text message.

The cost for the service is $20 for orders under $100. The charge for orders $100 and over is 20% of that order. Customers aren’t charged for any items that are not in stock.

Flying Fork Errands delivers to homes in Laurel, Mattituck, Cutchogue, Southold and Greenport. Drivers wear gloves and a mask.

People placing orders before 9 a.m. receive it the same day. Any order made after 9 a.m. is delivered the next day, although Mr. Kosmynka noted that may change depending on volume.

Mr. Kosmynka said he shops from stores such as King Kullen in Cutchogue, Mattituck Marketplace and CVS in Mattituck.

He’s one of a handful of locals offering these types of services. Greenport’s Alexa Suess has had so much success offering a similar service, East End Grocery, which she does only for tips, she had to stop taking orders a couple of days in. Following an interview, the co-owner of Orenda on Front Street, which had to temporarily close due to the pandemic, called a reporter back to say she couldn’t handle more media attention as she struggled to meet demand for her service from Orient to Aquebogue. She has since posted that she has very limited slots available.

With help from Southold Town, volunteer groups are also assisting the elderly take on ordinary tasks beyond picking up groceries, including post office runs or getting yellow bags for household waste.

Southold Lions Club president Judi Perez, who works the evening shift as a nurse at the Westhampton Care Center, said she and five other volunteers have been shopping for a dozen people — and she hope more will reach out.

“You’re dealing with a very proud generation,” she said. “Some don’t want to reach out and ask for help.”

Southold Town government liaison officer Denis Noncarrow estimated that the crew of volunteers has helped around 150 residents receive groceries and other essential items in the past several weeks.

“All day long, we’re constantly on the phone,” he said, with elderly residents and other members of the high-risk population, including cancer patients or those who have recently had surgeries. “It’s not all seniors, but people who, for one reason or another, shouldn’t really be going out.”

Charles Gueli, who heads the Mattituck Laurel Civic Association, said they too have about a dozen grocery routes being fulfilled. He said volunteers are asked to abide by a strict set of protocols to minimize harm and contact with others while providing the service.

Each volunteer is able to discuss the list of supplies needed over the phone and coordinate payment, often relying on a level of trust. The volunteers are asked to wear gloves and a mask and leave the groceries at the front door, unless the person is unable to bring them inside. In that event, Mr. Gueli said volunteers are mindful about maintaining social distance and not touching anything inside the homes.

“They’re making friends in the process,” he said, adding that the effort has made him feel proud to live here. “It’s a great place where people come together. Everyone’s attitude is that we’re all in this together and we’re going to get through it together.”

Councilwoman Jill Doherty, who helped to spearhead the initiative, said anyone who could use help should contact Mr. Noncarrow at 631-765-5806 or visit the town website for more information.

“Don’t feel bad about calling. Even if you’re 25 and have to be quarantined and you live alone,” she said.

Anne Murray of the East Marion Community Association said she’s never felt more of a sense of community as civic groups and other organizations from each hamlet have banded together, creating a unified website and Facebook page to get information out there.

“We’re all working together, and I think that’s helped people a lot,” she said.

As for Mr. Kosmynka, he had a friend, Sean McDonald of Mattituck, help spread word of his service by distributing fliers around town. A website and Facebook posts also announce what Flying Fork Errands has to offer.

The first order came from family friends on the morning of March 25.

“It went smoothly,” said Mr. Kosmynka. From March 25 through last week, the nascent business generated 26 customers, most of them placing orders on a weekly basis, he said.

“The feedback and response has been great,” he continued. “People seem to be very happy. They are very grateful for a service like this to be provided. At the same time, I realize this is a very difficult time for some people and a very scary time for some people, and if I can help them out by just leaving groceries at their door and if it makes them happy, then I’m happy.”

Mr. Kosmynka said there is more involved in the business than he initially envisioned, a sentiment Ms. Suess echoed, “but I don’t want to make it sound like it’s crazy. I went in with a very low expectation, so any bit of a higher [demand] threw me off,” he said.

Mr. Kosmynka has found that his younger customers tend to be second home owners from New York City and the older customers tend to be full-time local residents.

Mr. Kosmynka hasn’t received a grade on his business project yet, but he can envision the new business expanding.

“This was hypothetical,” he said. “I really didn’t think it was going to turn into anything.”