Throughout the pandemic Rachel Kellner and Mark Libertini, co-owners of Aigner Chocolates at 103-02 Metropolitan Avenue in Forest Hills, have prioritized aiding the local community. In late May, the couple launched the “Rainbow Bunny Exchange,” which asked children to draw colorful pictures of rainbows for staff at Elmhurst Hospital in exchange for sweets.
“We gave away over 50 pounds of chocolate,” said Kellner.
Dr. Suzanne Bentley accepted the rainbow drawings on behalf of Helping Healers Heal, which was founded in 2017 and she co-leads. The lobby’s rainbow mural consists of 150 drawings, and other drawings are on display in staff lounges and on the ER and ICU walls.
“A second smaller ‘rainbow of rainbows’ is now underway for another large and prominent wall at our hospital,” said Bentley.
Kellner said viewing the mural was overwhelming and emotional.
“The last several months still feel surreal,” she said. “It’s been an honor to help facilitate the healing and hope among the frontline workers and families in the community. The executive staff shared that the doctors are taking pictures in front of the mural and that the rainbows have really lifted their spirits in a time they’ve needed it most.”
Part of the co-owners’ mission since acquiring Aigner Chocolates in 2015 is building community.
“There has been so much tragedy and loss due to the pandemic, but we feel it has brought Queens closer together and we are incredibly grateful to be part of such a generous community,” Kellner said.
Bentley’s six-year-old son Leo also participated with his friends.
“There is an amazing maturity from these little kids as they have come to understand a lot about the pandemic and how and why to keep themselves and others safe,” she said. “They are role models wearing their masks and washing their hands. If they can do it, everyone can and should.
“These rainbows are a palpable reminder of the way our amazing community came together to support each other and support us at Elmhurst Hospital,” Bentley added. “There is a lot of grief surrounding the pandemic and fear of the second wave, but also a lot of preparing and taking care of each other to process and move forward from this experience.”
As healthcare workers pass by the mural, Bentley says she see smiles and some tears.
“Some staffers told me knowing it was created from rainbows designed by children makes it immensely special,” she said.
Kellner and Libertini said they will continue to brainstorm creative ways to be involved in supporting the community. A celebration for the shop’s 90th anniversary celebration is slated for September.
“When we originally planned our event in January, we envisioned a much larger celebration, but since COVID-19 we adjusted our plans dramatically,” Kellner said. “We are not sure if it is going to be a virtual or in-person event. We have a feeling there will be free chocolate treats for anyone who wants to stop by and help us celebrate, but in a socially distanced way of course.”