Jill Zarin might not be on the Real Housewives of New York anymore — she’s not even living in New York currently — but the reality star hasn’t forgotten her roots amid the coronavirus pandemic. Zarin, who starred on the first four seasons of the Bravo show, has a new initiative aiming to help healthcare workers in her hard-hit home state of New York and around the country.
Zarin spoke to Yahoo Entertainment from Florida on Tuesday about her Noshes for Nurses fundraiser, whether a return to RHONY is in her future and where her relationship with former co-star Bethenny Frankel stands today.
"I've done charity work my whole life," Zarin explained. "I've been doing philanthropy before Housewives. I've tied my income to charity and I have a big soft spot, I'm very sensitive and I have a lot of rachmones." (Rachmones is Yiddish for compassionate.)
"I saw what was going on and how all these medical personal were putting their lives on the line for strangers in a really dangerous way," Zarin added, comparing healthcare workers going into hospitals to D-Day during World War II.
"They're literally walking into a firing squad," she said. "If I can give an analogy for what it must be like for a nurse, a caretaker or anyone working in the hospitals every day. It's like going to Normandy Beach. Are you going to get out of there alive?"
The reality star wanted to help, so she thought back to her own experience being in and out of the hospital two years ago. Zarin's husband of 18 years, Bobby, died in January 2018 after a long battle with cancer.
"When Bobby was a patient in the hospital, it was really important — the nurses really counted on the patient's family to help with certain tasks," Zarin explained. "Like taking the patient for a walk around the floor, getting water, ordering food... who's doing that now? That is what families did. Not only is there no support — you know that no one's allowed in the hospitals — they have no extra support and they're short staffed because a lot of them are going out sick."
"So, I told my daughter Ally [Shapiro] and we thought, 'Why don't we do that to Boca Raton Regional Hospital?' [That is] where Bobby spent a lot of time unfortunately when he was dying, when he was sick that last year,” she shared. “I have a really big place in my heart for them and I love them. So we did! We just called up a local pizza place and ordered 10 pies to the emergency room and they were so nice."
She and Ally then decided to raise money and start a GoFundMe page to get resources to deliver food around the country.
"We started with our home base, Boca Regional, and then we started with New York. We did it where we had friends who were nurses and doctors and then, my sister has been telling me every day where the hotspots are, so we targeted them," Zarin explained, noting that she'll also take suggestions from people who message her on social media.
"How do you thank [healthcare workers]? Feed them. Feed them! They are so hungry," she emphasized.
"I call it noshes for nurses because a nosh is doable. We can do a lot of noshes. We can do meals too, but we can do a lot of noshes," she said. "We are really good at making $1 look like $3 or $4."
Many cafeterias in hospitals have closed for sanitary reasons. Zarin said healthcare workers she's talked to say they "don't have time" to think about ordering delivery because they’re busy saving lives.
The former Bravo star has been partnering with local restaurants for their deliveries, many of which are matching donations. (Her rug line, Jill Zarin Rug Collection, is also matching donations up to $10,000.) They aim to send between three and five deliveries a day around the country.
"I really target a few things. I targeted night shifts and right now I'm on the morgue, radiology, security and housekeeping. At first we were primarily sending to the emergency room and ICU. Then I was like... Let's go somewhere they're not getting a lot of love and who are working really hard," she said.
"Security is the first person to see a sick patient. They're right in front of them and they're not protected, at least they weren't in the beginning, completely vulnerable," Zarin continued. "Then radiology, is the most important department in the hospital, they're the ones who actually tell you if you're sick or not or what you have and they're working in a hole in the basement."
Noshes for Nurses has raised over $50,000 and some of Zarin's famous friends have contributed.
"LuAnn gave me $1,000," she said of RHONY star LuAnn de Lesseps, adding that former Bravo star Patti Stanger (The Millionaire Matchmaker) donated $1,000.
But what about Bethenny Frankel, Zarin's former best friend and co-star?
Frankel, who left RHONY ahead of its current 12th season, is doing her part to give back with her charity organization BStrong. The entrepreneur's disaster relief fund is working to get PPE to people hospitals in need.
When asked if there's a possible collaboration with BStrong, Zarin replied, "You know, I would be happy to, but I don't think she wants to collaborate with me on anything."
Zarin and Frankel's infamous fall-out was documented on season 3 of RHONY in 2010; however, they appeared to reconnect after Bobby's passing. In November, Zarin shared they were "very good,” however Zarin now tells Yahoo Entertainment, "We don't talk. We don't talk. She always gets annoyed if I even mention her name, ever. She's doing her thing, I'm doing mine."
Still, Zarin said she's "open to do anything that's in the best interest of hospitals" if Frankel was interested in partnering.
As for a possible return to RHONY, Zarin — who has appeared in various seasons over the years — has no interest right now.
"I tried, you know, I did try to come back, like, mentally. I did a scene, I filmed, but after I did that scene I was so torn up inside," she shared. "Like, it tortured me for three days I knew I couldn't do it anymore. They're so mean. Ramona is so mean and I just don't have the stomach — I guess I was not so sensitive back then or maybe they weren't so mean back then."
Zarin is very happy with her life and those in it, especially her daughter and boyfriend, Gary Brody.
"I miss Bobby every single day, you have no idea. Every single day. I talk about him all the time," she explained. "I call Gary 'Bobby' half the time and he doesn't care, Gary's so great. I met the best guy I could possibly meet, if not for Bobby. There's only one Bobby. I'd be with him in a minute if he was alive, but Gary is amazing and I'm very lucky that I found him and I met him and he's in my life, and hope he'll be there rest of my life."
"We laugh and have fun," she continued. "Gary would have been great TV, Housewives really missed the boat with him. He is perfect for reality TV. He's got an unbelievable sense of humor and he's got the one-liners like Bethenny."
Zarin also gives her boyfriend credit for coming up with the name, Noshes for Nurses.
The organization has fed over 18,000 healthcare workers and people in the front lines, in over 20 hospitals in seven states.
"No donation is too big or too small, even just $1," Zarin says, emphasizing that 100% of donations are put towards serving breakfast, lunch and dinner to those on the front lines.
For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at https://news.yahoo.com/coronavirus. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides.
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