As the coronavirus spreads rapidly through the city, the people on the lowest rungs of economic social society face difficulty in getting services and even a good healthy meal – no less get hand-outs from generous New Yorker’s who would give them loose change on the street.
Some of those organizations, including the Bowery Mission, City Harvest and Met Council for Jewish Poverty continue to do their jobs, though many report volunteers are running thin as many are staying home rather than risking getting coronavirus, or even unwittingly passing it on.
But as the financial situation in the city and the nation heads further into the red, these organizations will be lining up behind many others for a government bail-out.
Most concerning to leaders in these groups is that many people who require their services to survive may have to go without help, further endangering lives that are already on the brink of disaster and even some people who have the coronavirus and need assistance.
In addition, many food pantries are closing down, either unable to get food to resupply, unable to get volunteers or believe the risks are not worth it. And food organizations are faced with competing with larger food chains who are willing to pay much higher prices for resupply and are cutting off the pantries and charities.
In Brooklyn, David Greenfield, executive director of the Met Council on Jewish Poverty called the crisis “unprecedented” and said 20 percent of food pantries have already closed as a result. he said the food crisis is becoming more acute as many people are now unemployed, and they have had a large increase in the number of people requesting food.
He added that the situation is becoming critical as food prices are rising, supplies are low and volunteers at food pantries are not showing up, forcing closing of 20 percent of those pantries around the city.
In addition, many of the volunteers at Met Council are ages 60’s and 70’s, and many are afraid of getting coronavirus and so it has left a huge gap in their ability to distribute to the poor.
“We are receiving thousands of calls from people to help and our food pantries are running out of food – this is an emergency food crisis in New York City,” Greenfield said.”We are the largest kosher food distributor – millions of pounds a week to the poor, and we get a call from a distributor that 400,000 pounds will not be arriving because of logistical challenges and its the same thing with everything – tuna, chicken – a sugar delivery was canceled. Distributors are now selling for whatever they can get – and people like Walmart and Wholefoods are able to offer three times what we were paying.”
Meanwhile, their costs are rising as they need to hire more staff to replace volunteers, order more hand sanitizer, gloves, masks – “the costs are rising by 50 to 100 percent and it is simply not sustainable,” Greenfield said.
Met Council intends to continue distributing food to poor Jewish families, especially for the upcoming Passover celebrations – expected to be more insular as even orthodox Jews are intending smaller scale more intimate celebration of this holiday season. Greenfield said that already, demand for Passover meals has gone from 187,000 to more than 200,000 and is rising daily.
“We know there will be massive need and from my perspective, health care, then economic relates to food, what about being fed,” Greenfield sighed. “Seniors and the unemployed not getting food – the government must prop up the not for profit food networks. We are living month to month and I’m afraid the food system will collapse.”
James Winan, executive director of the Bowery Mission in Manhattan said it is a very dangerous time for people who are homeless. He said many places that the homeless would use to congregate, use bathroom facilities and have places to clean up during the day are now closed. He said some people are forced to defecate on the streets because libraries, restaurants, and other bathroom facilities are now closed, making a new health risk for the public.
Despite it all, Winans said the Bowery Mission is continuing to feed the homeless, mostly now outdoors as of last week to control the spread of the virus to both volunteers and the homeless. Food distribution was erected this afternoon where members of the homeless community were given meals to take with them to where ever they sleep or live. The Mission is distributing so-called “meal to go,” where they had 200-300 people lined up outside the Lower East Side facility to pick up their meals.
Additionally, Winan said they are still accommodating 325 homeless people in five facilities around the city.
“One of the things that is forgotten in this situation is there are people without homes – a forgotten group,” Winans said.
The Bowery Missions suspended some programs including providing clothing, showers and shut down their medical clinic because of “constrained spaces.”
“Last week they closed restaurants, recreation centers, libraries and now, these people simply don’t even have a bathroom so public hygiene is degraded and this is the wrong time for that to happen,” said Winans who explained that they have erected a mobile hand cleaning station in addition to the meals program.
While the Mission has thousands of volunteers normally, “we are down to the faithful few – courageous volunteers, but far fewer than we’ve seen before.”
“The kitchen staff and everyone are pitching in to help maintain this essential service of sustaining life – they continue to show up,” he said. “And we continue to serve as many people on the overnights as we did before – of course we are taking all kinds of precautions including isolating anyone with symptoms – the but alternative of having people living on the streets is unacceptable.”
City Harvest is another program that has been adversely affected, with most of its operations now switching to outdoor services. City Harvest distributed tons of food at their Bed-Stuy Mobile Market in Brooklyn on March 18th and will continue to distribute in the Bronx at two locations including St. Mary’s Mobile Market – Tuesday, March 24th from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m., 286 E 156th Street, Bronx, and Melrose Mobile Market – Wednesday, March 25th in the parking lot adjacent to 595 Trinity Ave., Bronx.
They have a total of nine mobile markets that officials say will remain open and continue to distribute free, fresh produce to communities across the city that may be affected by the economic impact of COVID-19.
With reports of soup kitchens and food pantries in the city closing due to health concerns, and supermarkets struggling to keep their shelves stocked during this challenging time, City Harvest officials say New Yorker’s need help putting food on their tables. City Harvest is prepared to step up to meet the need.
Currently, City Harvest provides more than 3 million pounds of fresh produce to nearly 10,000 households each year through these markets, bridging the gap for New Yorker’s experiencing food insecurity. City Harvest will help distribute 16,000 pounds of food, including cabbage, sweet potatoes, pears, and carrots, to more than 300 households at each of their upcoming Mobile Markets.
Despite the threats of the virus, City Harvest has managed to maintain a food transportation team and a fleet of 22 trucks. With over 45,000 square feet of storage and an enormous cooler and freezer, the Facility gives City Harvest space to receive bulk donations of food and temporarily store large amounts, and a great variety of, perishable and non-perishable food. It also houses a training room for classes in food safety and handling, and a volunteer room for groups to repackage bulk donations of food into smaller family-sized portions for City Harvest to deliver.
There, City Harvest will prepare produce bags for its Mobile Markets and continue its efforts to feed 1 in 5 children in New York City who are facing food insecurity by helping pack grab-and-go bags of food for students who will not have access to school breakfasts and lunches amid school closings caused by the coronavirus outbreak.
To help, the following websites tell donors where to assist: Bowery Mission, https://www.bowery.org/donate/ City Harvest cityharvest.org Met Council for Jewish Poverty https://www.metcouncil.org/ Most organizations are asking for both financial and volunteer assistance.