This spring, when Kareem and Karen Massoud saw Covid-19 patients begin to flood into the Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead, they knew they needed to help.
Kareem, the winemaker at Paumanok and Palmer Vineyards, and Karen, his wife and head of the wineries’ Long Island wholesale sales and special events, have a longstanding commitment to the hospital. A few years ago, Kareem moved into a hospital board seat that was held by his father, Paumanok founder Charles Massoud. Karen has helped pull off numerous events for the Peconic Bay Medical Center Foundation, culminating last year with the couple co-chairing its spring fundraising gala.
But the 2020 need was new and urgent.
“It has been such an honor working with them,” said Karen, who joined her husband for a recent interview on Paumanok’s back deck, overlooking the pre-harvest vines. “And especially with this year and what COVID did to the region, it really showed us how important good quality healthcare is close to home.”
Even in a stressed year for wine sales, Paumanok and Palmer began donating a portion of sales to the PBMC COVID-10 Response Fund, gifts which total more than $6,000. Palmer launched two labels specifically to benefit the hospital: Fortitude, a chardonnay, and Gratitude, a cabernet franc. As president of the industry group Long Island Wine Country, Kareem also helped organize donations from wine producers to area hospitals, including Stonybrook Southampton Hospital and Eastern Long Island Hospital in Greenport.
This month, the couple are again co-chairing the medical center’s annual gala—but this year it has a very different look. “It’s all online,” said Karen. “We wanted to make it all about heroes.” On Friday, September 25 at 6:30 p.m., the hospital will present an hour-long presentation called Unmask Our PBMC Heroes, featuring stories from the frontline in this challenging year. Proceeds will benefit PBMC’s emergency services and women’s health program.
“I knew the foundation would be talking to patients and the doctors, but I wanted to know: What about the IT department? What about the janitors and the food servers?” Karen said. “I know that they’re interviewing everybody under the sun.” The presentation is free to watch, though obviously donations are welcome.
Also on tap: an online auction going live on September 11 and streaming two weeks after the gala. And, perhaps the biggest draw of all, a raffle with a grand prize of $20,000, with tickets available now ($100 each or $200 for three) and the drawing happening the night of the virtual gala.
For the Massouds, the cause is deeply personal. “PBMC basically saved my life and my mother’s life from two separate health emergencies,” said Kareem. His mother, Ursula Massoud, got immediate help for a stroke at the medical center, he explained.
As for Kareem’s emergency several years back, his wife remembers it best: “He hadn’t been feeling well for days, and just felt nauseous. He was pale. He was working that day, and I happened to be at the Aquebogue post office. And he called me and said, ‘I really don’t feel well.’ I have a package in my hand, and then suddenly he just became unresponsive. I handed my package to someone, told them I’d be back, and ran screaming out of the post office.”
The Massouds rushed to PBMC, where Kareem was so weak all he could do was lay down on the floor of the emergency room. Doctors diagnosed internal bleeding caused by Mallory-Weiss Syndrome, a tear in the lining where the esophagus meets the stomach.
The pair says their experiences this year have only increased their gratefulness for the local health care workers who put their lives on the line for neighbors. “There’s been death and suffering. But not unlike after 9/11, there’s the sense that you have this terrible tragedy, but then you also have this phoenix of rebirth and hope,” said Kareem. “With the customer support in our winery and throughout the industry, and at the hospital, we’ve seen incredible generosity. And the health care heroes are still doing what they do. If you’re an optimist, you believe that things are getting better, that they will get better. And that there is a coming together, both in our immediate community and more globally.”
“We know we’re resilient as human beings,” said Karen. “But we can say from firsthand experience, seeing what we see on the North Fork, we are extremely resilient as a community, too.”