Pfizer Pearl River silent auction supports local charities

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Like many of their Pfizer colleagues, Tong Chen and Leo Letendre believe in the importance of helping others in their community. That’s why they support United Way and People to People, the two charity organizations who were financial beneficiaries of the silent auction recently held by colleagues at the Pfizer research and development site in North Middletown Road in Pearl River.

Chen donated an oil painting she created to the silent auction. A senior scientist in the Pfizer Pearl River-based Vaccine Research and Development Clinical Testing group, she painted the scene of the “Chinese Venice,” complete with distinct landscape, red lanterns, a tea house and bridge, last year, when she resumed painting after a break of over 30 years.

“The reason I donated my oil painting is to help people who are not so fortunate, such as the kids who have talent in arts and would like to learn painting, but the family cannot afford it,” Chen explained. “If United Way can help them, these children may be able to develop their artistic talent, or at least be able to enjoy art more from the knowledge they gain.”

Chen began studying art and painting with water colors in China but stopped to concentrate on her studies and attend medical school and earn a doctor’s degree. After she came to the U.S. in 1993, she did research work in Salt Lake City, Long Island, and Boston and started her family. She came to the Pearl River site in 2003 and received her master’s degree in business administration from Iona College in 2016. All the while, she maintained her interest in art, always looking for opportunities to visit museums. It wasn’t until 2018, after her children were in college, that she resumed taking art classes and painting.

In addition to her Pfizer work and painting, Chen also has made time in the past year to help sort food donated by Pearl River colleagues and others in the community at the People to People food bank in Nanuet.

Leo Letendre is a long-time financial supporter of United Way through payroll deductions, which he believes is an effective way for employees to help companies be responsible members of their community. A research fellow for the Bioprocess Research and Development group in Pearl River, he is appreciative of how United Way helps people in need, particularly because he was a beneficiary of their community services 40 years ago.

“When I was in graduate school, United Way helped me when my apartment building burned down,” Letendre recalled recently. He was a Harvard graduate student living outside of Boston at the time, and he will always remember how United Way helped him and his roommates.

“A United Way agency made temporary shelter, food and other stuff available to us for the next couple of days while we got our feet back on the ground,” Letendre said. “There are times in your life, no matter what stage you’re in, where you may need help. My experience really made it hit home.”

Letendre has encouraged colleagues at the Pearl River site and other organizations he has worked in during his career to support the United Way through payroll deductions, pointing out that just a little bit from each paycheck adds up and makes a big difference in how the agency can help needy people in the community. A member of the Pfizer Pearl River community engagement team, he has mobilized the site’s efforts to support United Way’s Back to School with Dignity campaign with donations of school supplies and helped organize the site’s annual silent auction to benefit People to People and United Way.

Letendre donated premium ice cream and served as master of ceremonies at this year’s silent auction, which included items created or purchased by colleagues and many others donated by local merchants. In addition to Chen’s oil painting, donated items included jewelry, tickets to sporting events and theater performances, food and themed gift baskets, and photography. The event raised thousands of dollars for United Way and People to People.

Based in Nyack, United Way of Rockland brings together a local network of nonprofit, corporate and government partners to implement initiatives that go beyond what single organizations could accomplish alone. People to People operates Rockland County’s largest food pantry, distributing hundreds of food packages every month to households from every town, village and hamlet in Rockland County.

Pfizer’s North Middletown Road location in Pearl River is one of the company’s primary research sites and a manufacturer of targeted cancer therapies. There are more than 750 employees and contractors currently working for Pfizer in Pearl River.