Bay Ridge gives back to local store owner who lost both parents to virus two days apart

April 30, 2020 Jaime DeJesus
Bay Ridge gives back to local store owner who lost both parents to virus two days apart
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Locals giving back in a time of need.

Sal Forte, a long-time Bay Ridge resident and co-owner of the popular eatery The HÔM Store, lost both of his parents to COVID-19 in the span of two days. As Sal and his family mourn, Bay Ridge residents are lending a helping hand.

Artie Forte, 80, died Thursday, April 2 and Helen Forte died Saturday, April 4.

May Wong, a friend of Artie and the Forte family, set up a gofundme campaign to help pay for funeral arrangements and help Sal get through difficult financial times. The store closed down in March due to the pandemic. As of Thursday, April 30, the page has raised nearly $15,000.

Sal told this paper what happened to his parents. Helen started feeling symptoms in late March.

“She had diarrhea and we were giving her over-the-counter medication,” he said. “Finally, on Tuesday, my father took her to a treat and release center on Staten island. At that point, they sent her to the emergency room, which was also my birthday. With that, they basically sent her home and told her to take an anti-diarrhea medication and didn’t perform tests or anything . I was wondering why they didn’t test her. It didn’t make any sense.”

After a week of taking the medication, her condition didn’t improve. After seeing another doctor, she was sent back to the emergency room. She was then tested for the coronavirus.

“I don’t understand because she came in with the same symptoms six days prior to this. Why didn’t you test her the first time?” he asked. “They said to take Tylenol and good luck. The next day, I was trying to get her out of bed and she had shortness of breath. I knew at that point that it was one of the COVID symptoms. I called 911 and the ambulance took her. The last thing I said to her was, ‘I love you.’ That was the last time I saw her.”

Around the same time, Artie started to feel ill.

“It was a nice day out and he was outside hosing things down,” Sal said. “When he went inside that night, he started to feel the chills so we gave him Tylenol, again not knowing what was going on with that. I was giving him orange juice, tea, stuff like that. He’s a bit on the stubborn side.”

Photos courtesy of Sal Forte.

After resisting initially, Artie let Sal take him to the emergency room after he woke up in the morning shivering.

“I was scared because my father had emphysema,” he said.

Sal never got to speak to Artie again as he automatically went into the hospital and was put on a ventilator the next day.

“They said he was doing well, and as I was driving back, the doctor called and said, ‘Your father took a turn for the worse and said you have two choices. One, you could put him on a ventilator or just let him die.’ Just like that,” he said. “I had to pull my car over. It was rough. I just left the hospital and he was okay. I don’t understand. I said to put him on the ventilator. It was a horrible decision. At that point, I knew he wasn’t going to pull out of it. I know what happens.”

Artie and Sal also leave behind another son, Robert Forte.

Currently, Sal is staying at his parents’ house on Staten Island.

“They have two dogs and I have two dogs,” he said. “I officially have four dogs now. I have a one bedroom apartment in Bay Ridge so I don’t know what’s going to happen. I haven’t gone to their bedroom. It’s been three weeks and I just can’t do it. I can’t go upstairs.”

Along with dealing with the death of his parents, Sal and his family started to feel the financial burden.

“I’m dealing with a lot of financial problems,” he said. “I never realized how many steps there were. They have a mortgage. I have a mortgage. They have bills. My days consist of calling credit card companies and banks.”

Photos courtesy of Sal Forte.

Wong noticed the struggles and insisted on helping. She created the gofundme page on April 10. At first, he resisted.

“I was speaking to Sal, and when this first happened, my friends and I were like, ‘What can we do for you,’” Wong said. “We wanted to send food or maybe a basket. He said, ‘I’m not receiving any food from outside. I don’t need anything.’ I felt so bad because he was grieving so terribly hearing his voice on the phone. He was worried about his business and it was closed for so long. He wasn’t getting any income, and with his parents passing, he was worried about how he was going to pay for the funeral.”

“I never asked anyone for a dollar,” Sal added. “It’s just the way I was brought up. May told me about (gofundme) and I said absolutely not. I’m not doing that. As the bills started coming in and stress got worse, May said, ‘You’ve given so many gifts to people and given to other people. This is your time.’”

Sal was so touched by the money that was donated to him.

“This will be in my heart for the rest of my life because who came through for me were neighborhood people, friends and family,” he said. ”That’s who helped me out. I am so touched by it that I can’t even look at the gofundme. Every time I look at the number, I cry. The outpouring I’ve gotten from the neighborhood has been amazing.”

The HoM store is known for holding several fundraisers, such as donations following Superstorm Sandy.

Both Wong and Sal talked about Bay Ridge.

“I’m aware of how loving our community is,” Wong said. “We always come out and help each other. I just can’t believe the numbers are so high. It’s blown my mind. I think what the community would remember most [about Artie and Helen] is that because they were such loving and supporting parents, every holiday and event, they do fundraisers and stuff like that and the parents came to everything. If you went to HoM, you were used to seeing them there.”

“What Bay Ridge does for people is amazing,” said Sal.

Neighbors and elected officials discussed the tragedy.

“The loss Sal and his family have experienced is just completely devastating,” said Councilmember Justin Brannan. “Sal is one of the most giving and open-hearted souls I know. No one should have to deal with this much loss at once – it is just beyond belief. The entire neighborhood is thinking about Sal and praying for him during this impossible time. At the end of the day, Bay Ridge is a big family, and we all need to be there for each other right now.”

“Our community has suffered yet another great loss,” added State Senator Andrew Gounardes. “My heart goes out to the family and loved ones of Arthur and Helen Forte, and especially their son Sal. It is what makes Bay Ridge so special that our neighborhood has come together to support their family in this terrible time.”

“Our generous neighbors, Sal and Damien need our help,” said Scandinavian East Coast Museum President Victoria Hofmo. “They have supported the Bay Ridge community and beyond for years, with coat drives and helping folks who were unemployed.  Personally, they worked with me on BRACA’s Embrace Winter Event, as well as made the events  we held there for the Scandinavian East Coast Museum and the Bay Ridge Conservancy special.”

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