The 12-year-old Little Leaguer died in July after a three-week battle with the disease, but the spirit the community showed his family remained with his father, John, and stepmother, Angie, who, along with other family members, helped set up a foundation in his name.
"I made a vow to my son that I would be a better person in his honor," said John Nicastro.
So when he and his wife heard about the fire that burned the Lorraine Apartments and Temple Ahavat Achim to the ground last month, they wanted to give back with the same spirit they had been shown by the city last summer.
"When we went through what we went through, so much of the community came out to support us," Angie Nicastro said. "We own a business, and we realized we can reach many people."
Yesterday, John and Angie Nicastro opened the doors to their business, West End Salon on Main Street, and invited customers in for a benefit for the former Lorraine Apartment residents. Every dollar spent on haircuts, facials, massages, manicures and pedicures went to the victims - and was matched with money from the J.J. Nicastro Foundation.
All seven of the salon's employees volunteered their time for the day, from 9 a.m. until 7 p.m.
The money raised yesterday, which Angie Nicastro hoped would be a couple of thousand dollars, plus the foundation's match, will go to help more than 20 victims burned out of their homes by the Dec. 14 blaze on Middle Street. The fire, which investigators said began accidentally, destroyed the Lorraine Apartments and the neighboring temple and killed Robert Taylor, 70, a handyman who lived on the third floor.
Firefighter Marc Nicastro, one of J.J.'s uncles who sits on the board of the J.J. Nicastro Foundation, was the rescuer credited with a valiant attempt to save Taylor's life. Marc Nicastro tried to pull Taylor through his small third-floor window before being driven back by the smoke.
"Everyone has been really open," Angie Nicastro said of her employees. "I just feel this community really likes to help out."
Employee Baraka Berger, a member of Temple Ahavat Achim, said she was touched by the way the community came out for not only the Lorraine Apartment residents, but also the temple.
"It made me more aware of how connected this community is," Berger said.
Pennsylvania resident Nichole Miller was getting a full day of treatments at the salon; it was her birthday yesterday and her boyfriend, a Gloucester resident, had given her a gift of a manicure, pedicure, facial and massage. While Miller is not a resident, she said she's heard about the fire from her boyfriend, who chose the gift when he saw the salon was running the fundraiser.
Laurie Schaffer had foils decorated with red and silver hearts in her hair yesterday as she sat for highlights, a trim and a blow-dry. The donation she's making for the services marks the first time she has been able to help the fire victims.
"I picked today especially to help because it's a nice thing to do," Schaffer said. "You do a little bit when you can."
For John Nicastro, the drive to help the Lorraine Apartment residents is personal. When he realized some of them had lost their most precious items, such as photos and other memories, he wanted to do anything he could to make the transition easier for them, and that included financial help.
"If I ever lost my pictures, I don't know what the heck I'd do," John Nicastro said, speaking of his memories of his son. "Those are memories they'll never get back. Contributing to make their life easier could be the best thing we could do for them."