The numbers are staggering. As of Saturday, there are at least 34,124 known cases of the coronavirus in New Jersey, and 846 deaths. And, officials say, the true counts are much higher, due to a lack of testing and back-ups in reporting results.
Officials have said that though the vast majority of people who get the coronavirus will recover from it, it’s difficult to get a true count of recovered patients. A Johns Hopkins tally puts the number of those recovered nationwide as 14,786.
Jim Sanfilippo, an orthopedic surgeon from Moorsetown, is one of them.
On March 10, Sanfilippo’s wife Elizabeth noticed his eyes looked a little glassy and he was fatigued. He had been active that day, even taking his dog out to accompany him on a five-mile run, so he thought he was just tired. Wanting to be cautious, he checked his temperature, and it registered at 101 degrees. The surgeon canceled all of his appointments and stayed home. He was tested, hoping it would come back negative. But, a few days later, the test came back saying he had the coronavirus.
The symptoms came and went at first, but on St. Patrick’s Day, Sanfilippo felt much worse.
“I got out of bed, and I passed out,” Sanfilippo told NJ Advance Media. “I woke up on the bathroom floor. I had 103.5-degree fever. I had chills. I couldn’t stand up without coughing and getting severely short of breath. And I was basically on bed rest from Tuesday until Saturday.
"Wednesday and Thursday were probably the worst days, where even just rolling over in bed, I was getting short of breath.”
His doctor prescribed him Z-Pack, chloroquine and zinc. He slowly got better. By Saturday, March 21, he was able to sit up, eat, drink, and even get out of bed. The next day, he was able to walk downstairs.
The better he got, the more he wanted to help others experiencing the symptoms he had. Sanfilippo began looking for ways he could give back. While perusing on Facebook, he saw a video of his self-quarantining friend, Adam Gerber, trying to shave his son’s head, jokingly saying haircuts for $50.
“I thought that was a great idea.,” Sanfilippo said. “I coach baseball. Adam coaches baseball. We have lots of friends of ours who coach lacrosse, soccer, hockey, and football. Let’s figure out how we can make this into a fundraiser and do some good with this.”
No barbershops or salons were open due to the attempts to limit the spread of the virus, so the friends came up with the idea of asking people to donate whatever would usually be paid to those businesses.
At the same time, Jim’s daughter Lia was working on a civics project for school and was interviewing State Senator Troy Singleton (D-7th District). During the interview, Lia learned Singleton was working with food banks, including the Food Bank of South Jersey, to help lessen the impact of the coronavirus.
Since the outbreak began, the food bank has seen a 200% increase in requests for assistance, spokeswoman Marie Alonso said.
Now the group had a charitable recipient.
“I talked to my buddy Adam and told him that I was going to start a GoFundMe page,” Jim said. “I wanted to see how much we could raise for the Food Bank of South Jersey. So we put the page out there, and we had great support.”
The page went up with the expectation of raising $1,000, asking people to donate what they would normally be paying for haircuts. Within just 12 hours, $3,000 had been raised. Sanfilippo did not want to stop there.
“We were at three grand, and I thought, ‘How much for my head?'” he said. “I started saying I would match donations up to a couple of hundred bucks, and if someone were going to donate for me to shave my head, I would do it on Facebook Live.”
Jim made good on his promise. On Tuesday, March 31, with the steady hum of clippers and viewers watching on Facebook, Elizabeth and Lia provided commentary to the sheering as his son James watched. While the hair was falling off, the donations were going up, and the total had reached $5,000 and rising. As of Saturday night, it was up to $12,608.
The drive did not go unnoticed. The Food Bank of South Jersey showed its appreciation by creating its own video, thanking Sanfilippo and his family for their generosity. Food Bank employees and volunteers held signs, and one person even had their hair cut in support of the cause.
“On behalf of all the staff here, we just want to say we are happy and thrilled that you recovered successfully from COVID-19, and we thank you and your family for making sure that the Food Bank of South Jersey is the recipient of this incredible idea of giving back to the community,” Food Bank of South Jersey President and CEO Fred Wasiak said in the video.
Senator Singleton also joined in, too.
“Their family has been personally affected by this virus, and yet they continue to give back," Singleton said. "Thank you very much from the bottom of my heart for what you have done for the Food Bank of South Jersey.”
The Sanfilippo family members said they hope the fundraiser can inspire others.
“Whether it is the Food Bank of South Jersey, (or) a different charity, you know someone who is struggling," Sanfilippo said. “Just reach out and check on them. Just that simple act of charity can go a long way.”