photos courtesy of JoAnn Gregoli Instagram:
The Best of | New York

How One New York Event Planner is Making a Difference During the Coronavirus Pandemic — & How You Can Too

How Gregoli Has Leveraged Her Skills & Contacts for Good

Top New York event planner JoAnn Gregoli of Elegant Occasions by JoAnn Gregoli has spent years honing her organization and crisis management skills by producing flawless, beautiful, and elaborate weddings and celebrations. But during this national crisis, she’s leveraging her talents in a new way — to help frontline health care workers in New York as hospitals get overrun with coronavirus patients.

“My focus has shifted — first, I helped my brides and grooms find new dates and grieve their postponements, then I turned my attention toward figuring out what I personally can do to make a difference. I realized the need was great and put a call out to others to help. After all,” says Gregoli, “our event community is full of project managers — we know how to stay calm in a crisis.” 

The response to her request has been heartening. She began by calling New York City hospitals to ask about their needs. Then she called every wedding dress designer she knows in New York to ask them to make masks. But she didn’t stop there in her quest to ensure that our health care professionals have the tools they need to help others while staying safe. “I also contacted designers, knitting clubs, sewing clubs, and the Girl Scouts of America to ask them to sew masks,” says Gregoli. 

When she heard from hospitals that they needed meals for their workers, as well as candy to keep up their energy in a pinch, Gregoli reached out to Mars Incorporated to ask them to send cases of their Skittles, M&Ms, Twix, Snickers, and more to New York hospitals. “I’m relentless and won’t take no for an answer,” she says. Gregoli also contacted her catering friends to arrange for meal preparation and leveraged her limo service contacts for pickup and delivery. She also created a drop spot at a local police station for neighbors who want to drop off packaged snacks, masks, and more to be taken to hospitals.

Grateful doctors and nurses have snapped pics of themselves wearing the colorfully-printed masks that Gregoli has sent their way. She says, “I feel for the first time in 30 years that I’m making a real difference. I never felt like this in my whole life.”

For Gregoli, the fight against coronavirus is personal. She has already lost four family members to the infection and has several more under hospital treatment. Further, she says, “I have kids on the front lines.” Her daughter is a physician assistant and her son is a police officer. She says she’s been so motivated that she hasn’t had time to wallow in the sorrow of not making any money right now; she’s shifted her focus away from herself.

Gregoli is drawing inspiration from the iconic “Rosie the Riveter” — a call to action now, just as it was during World War II when the Norman Rockwell graphic became the symbol of women joining the fight by working in factories and shipyards. Even this national inspiration is personal for Gregoli: “The drawing was actually based on my son-in-law’s grandmother,” she says. “Norman Rockwell was her next door neighbor.” Gregoli has tweaked the message to: “Save a life. Make a mask!”

3 Ways You Can Help Others Right Now

“To be complacent is a bad thing; doing nothing is a bad idea,” Gregoli reminds us. We all have more free time now and can be using it for good. “If you can sew, sew. If you can, donate money to GoFundMe pages (check out Gregoli’s page here, which is raising funds to employ out-of-work caterers to feed healthcare workers). Provide packaged snacks to hospitals — host dropoff points and deliver them,” she says. Below are just a few of Gregoli’s ideas for getting started now in the fight against coronavirus:

1) Contact your local hospital, ask for their community director, and inquire about their needs. “But don’t stop at hospitals; reach out to dialysis centers, cancer outpatient centers, and any other local health care facility that has the potential to be overwhelmed,” says Gregoli.

2) Reach out to volunteers in your community to fulfill requests. “I’ve got 80-year-olds sewing masks,” she says.

3) Create a distribution point. For Gregoli, this took the form of a local police station. When she goes to sort and prep items for delivery, she says she dons gloves and a mask and wields a can of Lysol to keep herself safe.

Gregoli describes New York as a “war zone” and warns that even if our cities feel safe right now, it’s headed our way. “It’s going to ramp up quickly, when it does, so start doing everything you can now,” she says. She adds, “It will make you feel better about yourself in this tough time.” We love how her ideas give us a sense of control — that there’s something we can do in a crisis that has left us all feeling kind of helpless.