Unlike his hair at the moment, being bald is beginning to grow on Jim Sanfilippo.
“I was always concerned that my head was not the right shape, and I thought my nose was too big” to rock a bald pate, “but neither is the case,” he said with a laugh. “I might keep it for a while.”
Actually, after fighting and surviving the COVID-19 virus, Sanfilippo doesn’t mind the good-natured barbs he’s receiving about his new look — because his hairless dome is raising money for the hungry.
How much money? Thousands of dollars a day — and growing.
It all began on March 10, which started like any other day for Sanfilippo, an orthopedic spine surgeon who lives in Moorestown with his wife, Liz, and their kids Lia, 14, and James, 9. He’d completed a normal round of office work, then coached a baseball game. Later that evening, Sanfilippo — a fitness buff who has completed triathlons — went on a five-mile run.
He got home, showered, and suddenly didn’t feel right.
“My wife told me my eyes looked glassy,” he said.
The next morning, he called out sick and, because he’s a health-care provider, was tested for the coronavirus. Three days later, the results came back positive. He did not go to a hospital but was treated over the phone by his family doctor.
At first, his symptoms didn’t seem too bad.
“I went through about six days where sometimes, I would have a low-grade fever and chills, and other days, I felt perfectly normal with no temperature,” he said. That changed on March 17, when he woke feeling like he had been “run over like a Mack truck.”
For two days, his temperature never went below 102.5. Finally, on the evening of March 19, a Thursday, “I started feeling better, and by Saturday, I was out of bed,” he said.
He was cleared to return to work on March 30, crediting his wife, his main caretaker, for being a “rockstar.”
“My biggest worry,” said Liz, “was if I got sick, who was going to take care of him?”
After his recovery, Sanfilippo felt compelled to help others but wasn’t sure how, until his Moorestown neighbor, Adam Gerber, told him a story.
Gerber and his son, Jack, both needed haircuts but the coronavirus had closed salons and barbershops. So they decided to shave each others’ heads — on Facebook Live.
“I was looking to brighten people’s lives,” laughed Gerber, whose Facebook followers loved it.
That’s when the wheels started to roll for Sanfilippo.
“I thought, ‘Kids are going to need haircuts. How can we make [at-home haircuts] fun and also donate to a great cause?’” he recalled.
On March 30, he launched a GoFundMe page with the modest goal of raising $5,000 for the Food Bank of South Jersey.
“I am a survivor of COVID-19,” he wrote. “I’m fortunate to have come out the other side healthy. While I was in the worst of it, my family was supported by our ‘village.’ I know there are a lot of people in our area that are being affected by this virus and do not have those same resources. Join me in donating to our local food bank, providing food to children and families in need.
“But let’s make this fun. No salons or barbershops are open. No one is going back to school for another month. Let’s give ourselves and/or our children haircuts and donate what you would have spent [at the salon or barberhop] to the Food Bank of South Jersey.”
He then took his plea to Facebook Live and let his son James shave his head.
Within hours, the donations were rolling in. By the second day, more than $7,500 had been raised; by the end of the week, more than $10,000. As of press time, the total was pushing $20,000.
“I am blown away,” Sanfilippo said.
Located in Pennsauken, the Food Bank of South Jersey distributes to 185 pantries in Burlington, Camden, Gloucester, and Salem Counties. According to Fred Wasiak, the organization’s president and CEO, the food bank is seeing a 200%-plus increase in need as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Wasiak is grateful to Sanfilippo not just for the funds being raised, but for the awareness he’s bringing to the food bank and the work it does.
“It’s just so selfless,” Wasiak said. “It’s incredibly heartwarming. We’re so happy he got through COVID with the support of his beautiful family, and that he chose the food bank” to support.
Today, Sanfilippo said, he feels about “95%,” although climbing stairs is a current challenge. He’s using any extra energy to raise money for the food bank.
“Never in a million years did I think we would raise so much the first few days,” he said. “The majority of people want to help, and I’m so happy this gives people a chance to do it.”
Liz Sanfilippo never doubted her husband would be this successful.
“When Jim gets an idea in his head,” she said, “he’s the kind of person to make it happen.”