Joe and Jen Ocello are proof that the saying “every little bit helps” is possibly more prevalent than ever, as people try to cope with the effects of COVID-19.

The couple and owners of Avalon Auto Works on Ocean Drive in Avalon decided — with the help of an equally generous oil distributor — to offer first responders free oil changes until May 30 to not just show appreciation but to ease some financial strain.

So far, more than 75 first responders — active police, firemen, military and healthcare workers — have taken the couple up on their offer.

Although it is the 12th summer the Ocellos have operated the auto repair shop and gas station, it is their first summer as owners since purchasing it from Joe’s father (Joe Sr., who retired). Like other business owners, they were concerned how they would get through their first year as business owners after the coronavirus spread across the state, country and world.

“We are both third generation gas station owners,” Jen Ocello said. “Our fathers and grandfathers owned gas stations before us. Joe and I met when we were both 19, and we just knew this was what we were going to do together.”

Now 36 years old, the Ocellos will celebrate their first anniversary as business owners May 30, the last day they will provide free oil changes.

“When our oil company, Eastern Auto Parts, called and said they wanted to help first responders and provide synthetic oil free of charge and were looking for a partner to donate the labor, we knew we were in immediately,” Jen said. “Other places were approached, but they had second thoughts about having all of those first responders at their business. We didn’t have to think about it. We knew it was something we had to do. Both of our families have always operated their gas stations with generosity and kindness, so we were brought up to do the right thing.”

The Ocellos, of course, are taking precautions such as disinfecting the vehicles before and after service and wiping down common areas with disinfectant throughout the day.

But they have gone even further than offering free oil changes, treating one family that had financial troubles to a free set of tires and helping some others along the way with other free services.

“When the family told us they had to choose between an oil change or food for the week, we not only gave them the oil change but bought them a set of tires, too, because they were really in bad shape,” said Jen, who has been allowing customers to take their golf carts, which they rent, for a free ride while waiting for their cars to be serviced. “We knew we wanted to do something to help people, so this has been a great way to do that. People are telling us they would like to give us a hug, but they can’t. Others are writing us letters and emails of thanks. The affection they have shown us back is incredible.”

The Ocellos remain confident that businesses will get through the summer of 2020 successfully.

“It’s going to be a different summer than we are used to, but it will be OK,” Jen said. “We have to keep in mind that some people haven’t gotten paid in months. Others might be losing their minds stuck in the house. But I think what we are doing and what others are doing to help others shows there is a silver lining to all of this. We are going to have a summer at the shore this year. It will be a different summer, but in the end, everything will be all right.”

If you are a first responder and would like a free oil change, appointments are required. Call 609-967-1400 or email avalonautoworks@gmail.com.

Passing the time with fun

How do you stay sane while being quarantined with five children in the house?

You get creative and silly.

That’s exactly what Estell Manor’s Chuck and Melissa Mashura have done. Chuck, 42, is a builder, but Melissa, 43, says being a stay-at-home mom has taken on new meaning.

The couple staged dress-up sessions for 22 straight days with different themes to keep their five children – Ella, 14, Layne, 13, Clara, 9, Alice, 7, and Saylor, 4 — occupied.

Their fun became contagious for others as they shared their escapades on Facebook, which has drawn quite a following. According to a poll they did with their Facebook followers, the Top 3 most-liked dress-up nights were Amish, ’80s and ’50s doo-wop.

“By the third night, people were hooked and looking for our posts,” Melissa said. “Many have shared the joy it has brought their families to see our posts in such trying times. We believe laughter is medicine. It is so important to keep humor alive in times like these. Our family has had so much fun dressing up for our themed nights. We have not spent a penny on any of our props or costumes, as we are using items we already own.”

But when Melissa broke her foot on Easter, they decided to call it quits.

“It was an appropriate day to stop because 22 is our favorite family number,” she said. “I hope that when we are rid of the constraints of this virus, our children will not look back and remember the stress and fear that has filled our lives at this time, but rather the memories of our family playing dress-up for days on end and putting smiles on tons of faces”

This and That

Hafetz and Associates, a Linwood-based insurance agency that specializes in employee benefits, Medicare and individual coverage, recently donated $10,000 to the Jewish Family Services COVID-19 Relief Fund that will be used for services including Kosher Meals on Wheels, essential transportation to doctors’ appointments, virtual socialization and grocery delivery to the 200 seniors who rely on JFS. … Since the pandemic, experts believe child abuse and neglect are likely on the rise due to school and workplace closures, stress and other factors, and CASA – Court Appointed Special Advocates in New Jersey are working hard to ensure that child abuse and neglect are being addressed. So now more than ever, CASA needs more volunteers to work with children in the child welfare system who have already been removed from their homes due to abuse and neglect. If you are interested in getting more information or volunteering, go to CASAForChildrenNJ.org. … The key word during this pandemic is adaptation, and that is exactly what Steve Swankoski learned when he was sworn in virtually as the commandant of the Cape-Atlantic Marine Corps League, a group consisting of honorably discharged Marines or honorably discharged chaplains or corpsmen for the U.S. Navy that served with the Marines. The Egg Harbor Township resident will now lead the group in their involvement in area parades and organizing the South Jersey portion of the Toys for Tots program. Swankoski is one of the first in the nation to be sworn in via video conference call. “I wish that we could have all been together to welcome all of the new officers of the detachment,” he said. “As Marines, though, we adapt and overcome to accomplish the mission. These are trying times and uncharted waters that we are experiencing right now. As a society and as Marines and corpsmen, we will persevere and continue to march on.”

Follow Scott Cronick on Twitter @ACPressCronick

Follow Scott Cronick on Twitter @ACPressCronick

Director of Entertainment Operations

With more than 20 years at The Press, I've served in positions including sports copy editor, reporter, At the Shore Editor, features writer and news desk editor. Now, I oversee both At The Shore and ACWeekly’s editorial and business operations.

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