BY MICHAEL PERLMAN
Throughout the pandemic, Aigner Chocolates co-owners Rachel Kellner and Mark Libertini prioritized “giving back.” Last month, the couple launched the “Rainbow Bunny Exchange.” Children aged from 18 months to 16 years old drew a picture of a rainbow giving thanks to medical professionals at Elmhurst Hospital in exchange for a chocolate bunny.
“We collected a total of 319 rainbows,” said Kellner. “It’s been incredibly touching to see the effort children put into their pictures and messages. You can truly see and feel the love that they wanted to extend to frontline workers.”
Aigner Chocolates on Metropolitan Avenue in Forest Hills was founded in 1930, making it one of the oldest chocolate shops in the city.
“Since the community embraced us when we took over the shop in 2015, we believe in paying it forward,” said Libertini. “As chocolatiers, the only way we know how is through spreading joy with chocolate.”
Some of the artwork can be seen on the Aigner Chocolates Facebook.
“We have more pictures than space to display them in our showroom, so we aren’t sure what we plan to do with photos of their artwork, but stay tuned,” said Libertini. “The pictures varied significantly and they were all beautiful.”
“I felt proud after volunteering to draw a picture of a rainbow because I wanted to help brighten a worker’s day,” said Amelia, a ten-year-old Forest Hills resident.
“We are so thankful for all the frontline heroes that work so hard every day to keep people healthy and safe,” said Penelope, 12, and Josephine, 6, of Forest Hills. “We also paint rocks. We think it’s important to make everyone smile and to know we care when a lot of people are so sad.”
Three siblings of the Moore family – eleven-year-old Liam, eight-year-old Emma, and three-year-old Rian – from Lynbrook participated.
“I want those people to know that they are doing so much for our world right now,” said Liam.
Dr. Suzanne Bentley, an attending physician in Emergency Medicine and medical director of the Simulation Center at Elmhurst Hospital, accepted the rainbow drawings on behalf of the group Helping Healers Heal, which she co-leads.
“The adorable sentiments and amazingly creative range of rainbows is inspiring and such a welcomed distraction,” said Bentley, whose six-year-old son Leo drew his own rainbow. “The fact that children around Queens all came together to support us and say thank you is really so special.”
The Elmhurst team is already at work creating a giant “rainbow of rainbows” to display across a large central wall.
“We also plan to wallpaper areas such as our Helping Healers Heal support room, conference, and break rooms,” Bentley said. “Sometimes taking two minutes to sit down and sip hot coffee while looking at the adorable rainbows and kind words is all it takes to keep going during these hard times, but really these rainbows are a palpable reminder that Queens is supporting us, and that we aren’t alone.”
Helping Healers Heal was established in 2017.
“This was before the pandemic as more and more studies were revealing the toll that healthcare takes on its healers, coined ‘second victim syndrome,’” said Bentley. “This support system has never been as important as during COVID-19, and now as numbers are declining most are emerging with significant grief at what we all just lived through.
“Living through this at the epicenter of the epicenter has been unlike anything I ever imagined,” she added. “We are grieving as a hospital, and these rainbows and their bright colors and kind words are so uplifting and inspiring.”