Life Upended. The coronavirus outbreak has had a devastating impact on our nation, and it has touched Staten Islanders in countless ways. In this series, reporter Tracey Porpora will share the stories of those who have been thrust into situations that were unimaginable just a few months ago — those who have seen their life completely upended. This is the twentieth story of “Life Upended.”
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Danielle E. Caminiti, 45, a lawyer and single mother, has not spent a day inside a New York City courtroom in seven months since the coronavirus (COVID-19) shuttered courts.
Before the global pandemic, Caminiti — owner of a litigation per diem law practice called Have U Covered LLC — said she worked hard and earned a decent salary to support herself and her son. As an attorney who covered an array of civil court appearances and depositions for lawyers across New York City, her work depended on volume of appearances and courts being open.
“Frankly, I was very busy and doing pretty well. …I have a business where I appear for other attorneys in court, all over the New York City and the state. Because attorneys can’t be in five counties on the same day, they use per diem or independent contractors who appear for them,” she said, noting she formerly worked for other law firms and was a prosecutor in the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office, but chose to launch her per diem business so she could be around more for her son.
With many court proceedings now virtual, the law firms that would use Caminiti on a daily basis are barely requesting her services. And Caminiti is paying monthly rent for an office in Queens across the street from the Supreme Court that she can’t even use.
“A lot of cases are just getting adjourned. Nothing is getting done. A lot of cases are in limbo where clients aren’t getting anything settled. With virtual proceedings you can only get through so many a day. They don’t really need the per diem lawyers any more because they [law firms] are handling everything in-house,” she said, noting she used to have up to 30 cases in a day. “I can count on my hand how many virtual conferences I have done [during the pandemic].”
To help pay her bills, Caminiti received a loan through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), but that ran out. She said she gets some money from unemployment on days when she doesn’t work, but that hasn’t been enough to pay her expenses.
“Financially, it was a blow. You can get by with unemployment and the PPP loan for only so long, especially because I need to cover my medical, rent and other expenses. The expenses stayed the same, but the income changed,” Caminiti said.
With the need to make money to support herself and her son, she tapped into “what else she could do.”
‘COVERED IN THE KITCHEN’
“Italian-American on both sides of my family, I have always had a passion for cooking, and lately since COVID-19, I have had the time to actually actively pursue my dream a great deal more,” said Caminiti. “My grandparents grew up in Little Italy in Manhattan. And even though we were American, we retained many Italian traditions, like Sunday dinner, cooking and Christmas recipes. I grew up in a family with a lot of cooking.”
So she decided to put her passion for cooking into action.
Caminiti recently became a “culinary artist,” and launched Have U Covered in the Kitchen, which offers family recipes and cooking lessons for everything from appetizers to desserts. She also sells some of her specialities online.
A self-described “Type A” personality, she already has a website, a channel on You Tube, Instagram, and a Facebook page to draw clients. She has just launched Zoom cooking classes and is working on a cookbook.
“Unless you accredit graduation from the University of Nana and College of Grandma, I have no formal culinary training, and all of my cooking has been done at home. People who know me love my cooking almost as much as I love to cook. I joke with friends that most of my net worth is in kitchen appliances, pots and pans,” said Caminiti.
“I’m formally trained in law and motherhood. Cooking was just an outlet for me. Now it’s become my daily sustenance, my life support, so to speak,” she added.
Her specialities include an array of pastas, including a crab sauce, and also many non-Italian-inspired delights, like homemade hot sauce and jam, toffee and Asian-inspired dishes.
And in some ways, Caminiti said she is grateful the pandemic gave her this opportunity to find a way to monetize her favorite pastime.
“I believe life gives you these pauses as gifts sometimes to be more introspective and try and cultivate other passions and interests,” she said.
The hobby-turned-business has also helped Caminiti get through the feelings of isolation and confinement the pandemic has caused for many people.
“Cooking keeps me sane in these uncertain times, feeds my family and allows me to be creative and free. I don’t know whether and to what extent my [law] business will come back. But for now, I have told my clients, until I can Have U Covered in the courtroom again, I’ll Have U Covered in the Kitchen,” she said.
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