New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio visited Elmhurst Hospital in Queens on Feb.19 to celebrate the Lunar New Year, the Year of the Ox, handing out food to community residents in need.
He joined around 20 volunteers from MetroPlusHealth and NYC Health + Hospitals/Elmhurst on the last of the three-day event that started on Feb.17, handing out bags filled with rice, noodles, tea, and canned goods, donated by MetroPlusHealth.
Despite the icy rain and freezing temperatures, a large number of people lined up outside Elmhurst Hospital, highlighting the ever-increasing need for food drives in a community that had been the epicenter of COVID-19. The pandemic has exacerbated the food disparities in New York City, and MetroPlusHealth decided to organize a food distribution for food insecure Queens residents in honor of the Lunar New Year, recognizing the hardship the community has endured.
Community members were delighted to see the mayor hand out food -he did not provide a statement- and despite the fast-moving pace, de Blasio did find the time to greet Queens residents with a COVID-19 ‘elbow bump’ or a brief chat. Helen Arteaga Landaverde, the new CEO of Elmhurst Hospital, appreciated that de Blasio has always been a huge supporter of Elmhurst Hospital. It was important for them to have the Mayor attend the event.
“Every time the Mayor comes, it’s always good for the staff to see him. And they feel the love, and they feel appreciated,” Arteaga Landaverde said. “Especially after everything, we went through with COVID and the pandemic. It’s always good to have that extra support and love from the Mayor.”
In its third year, the event had to be adjusted this year because of COVID-19 restrictions. In years past, two lions danced through the building, handing out oranges for good luck and dumplings for a good life.
Tayla Schwartz, President, and CEO of MetroPlusHealth, explained that as an NYC health plan, it is their mission to support the city. She said, “It’s what we believe in. And it’s important for us to have the Mayor here together with us to show our support for the city and for the various communities in the city.”
Both, Schwartz and Arteaga Landaverde shared that the event was well-received by the community. Arteaga Landaverde attended a community board meeting the day before, and community board members expressed how grateful they were that Elmhurst continued its tradition of celebrating the Lunar New Year. Schwartz spoke of a heartwarming moment when event participants asked to have their photo taken to send it to their family, showing them how lucky they are.
Roberto Perez, the newly appointed Commissioner of the Mayor’s Community Affairs Unit, felt that it was great to celebrate the Lunar New Year and not only show support for the Asian-American community celebrating the Year of the Ox but all immigrant communities. He emphasized that the Mayor recognizes the need and impact COVID-19 had on the Elmhurst community and others.
“Everyone is pleased from staff to community to everyone that participated. It was good to be out here. It was good to be in queens and more to come. We are planning on doing more of these events,” Perez announced.
Ruchel, who works for the Community Engagement and Public Affairs office at Elmhurst, stressed the importance of holding the event.
“It’s a way for the community to see that Elmhurst is a safe hospital. That we are just not about COVID, they can see that we are a resource,” she explained.