Grantee Responses to COVID-19

API& is a group of self-identifying queer Asian Pacific Islanders based in Brooklyn who come together to center API identity by building community and healing since 2015. Support networks and discussion forums for trauma survivors are critical. API& is switching workshops to a virtual format amid the COVID-19 shutdown. A solid channel for online communication is more essential than ever -- racial violence is increasing against Asian and Pacific Islanders. At a recent online workshop, API& collaborated with a Vietnamese-American organization to create a safe forum, where members told stories about individual traumas and ancestral trauma caused by war, poverty, immigration hardships, and interpersonal violence. 

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Citizens Committee grantee Heather Butts from Health For Youths is organizing her neighborhood’s little free library in Staten Island to safely provide food and supplies for her community! Volunteers are sanitizing supplies, like cans of food, to ensure that recipients can safely use these products.

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We are proud to support countless groups that work toward sustainability and waste reduction, especially as many of them have now pivoted to respond to COVID19. One of them is iDig2learn, which works with youth in Roosevelt Island to provide access to nature by using their local environment to explore science, math & the origin of food through plant life. iDig2Learn jumped into action to make non-medical fabric face masks for neighbors. Identifying 17 local stitchers, the group shared fabric, elastic & thread among its members. In one week the group created more than 130 stylish face masks and gave them to neighbors, grocery workers, public safety officers and building workers. 

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Together We Can provides critical services in Jackson Heights and Elmhurst. When their neighborhood became the epicenter of the nation's COVID-19 crisis, Together We Can mobilized to make up for dwindling resources in the area. The organization has been raising money for food essentials, assisting with unemployment claims, and delivering medications. Online bereavement groups is a future goal. Together We Can co-founder Sharon Getzel is undaunted: "Together, we are better and we can overcome the coronavirus as a community. Together We Can will build a community center because we are Queens strong, NY strong. Together We Can get through this. Palante."

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Laal co-founders Sanjana Khan and Ayesha Akhtar used their Citizens Committee grant to ID the most pressing needs of Bangladeshi women in Norwood, #Bronx. During the #COVID19 crisis, Laal has been a lifeline to the undocumented, domestic violence survivors, and those lacking internet among their primarily Muslim South Asian community. Co-Founder Sanjana Khan explains: “It infuriates me that the government fails us at large, but here Laal is counting our members, keeping social interaction alive, and providing direct cash aid. When the public and private sector fail us, it is imperative that nonprofits exist for the marginalized communities." Case in point: Laal mobilized to raise $3,500 in four days. Laal is tenacious at outreach. Prior to the pandemic, Laal surveyed 200 Bangledishi women about their needs. Later, volunteers educated 2000+ on the Census. Janaath, a Laal eprogram participant conveys this belief in communal caretaking: Ami sara ar ka amrar family thekbo, are ake johnor bemar oilay tho shobor oiybo. Translation: “Who will look after my family, but me? And when one person gets sick, we all do."

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In the South Bronx, hit hard by COVID19, one charter school has turned into a haven for resources. Mott Haven Academy Charter School has not only given 400+ computers to students to overcome obstacles to remote learning, it has also given direct cash payments to struggling families. Staffers have even grocery shopped for single-parent households. “Trauma is ongoing and exacerbated by being quarantined,” noted Mary Kinslow, Director of External Affairs at Mott Haven Academy. “But our social workers and teachers are working around the clock to make sure that our kids know that we care about them, that they are missed, and that we’re available for them.”

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Food delivery workers are the most visible of essential workers on empty NYC streets. While the stay-at-home order brings NYC to a standstill, delivery cyclists bike on to keep New Yorkers fed.  Sadly, their visibility  is at odds with their invisibility in our national dialogue on work protections and safety for essential workers.  Biking Public Project is an advocacy group that uses its Neighborhood Grant to remedy this silence. BPP vows to deliver justice for delivery cyclists. “They are hard workers often exploited by their bosses, the industry and economic structure as a whole.” explains BPP Project Leader Macartney Morris . Did you know the median age of Chinese delivery workers is 46 yrs old? Biking Public Project uses NG funds to learn more about delivery workers’ lives; then, amplifies cyclists’ their hardships and needs to elected officials, and the general public. Morris adds, “Delivery workers are exposing their health to provide a greatly needed service and should be well compensated by the customer. That also means calling their city council members and state legislators and demanding that delivery workers (often considered independent contractors and not employees) be included in unemployment, hazard pay, and rent cancellation programs.” Since March, Biking Public Projects has delivered PPE to protect delivery workers citywide. Their mission extends to all mobile food delivery workers, such as food cart and street vendors. 

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"NO NEW YORKERS WILL BE TURNED AWAY” a reassuring sign says, near  an entrance to P.S. 24  in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. The “Grab and Go Breakfast and Lunch” program runs out of the cafeteria. At these Meal Hubs, any child or adult may get three free meals a day. Cold sandwiches and milk alone, however, cannot sustain families for weeks on end. The P.T.A. is the unsung volunteer network that works to make sure the basic food needs are met for all P.S. 24 school families. The P.T.A. is a parent group that formed in 1997 to organize annual activities which strengthened intergenerational bonds in P.S. 24 families. Since the pandemic lockdown, the P.T.A. goes on food shopping trips, rather than their typical tasks of organizing museum trips and mural celebrations. The parents will even buy groceries on behalf of families unable to shop for themselves. "We are sharing school information and updates with each other and taking turns organizing shopping trips to reduce the number of people that need to go outside,” reports group member Alicia Torres. Ending food insecurity is a priority in the PTA’s foreseeable future. Mutual concern for every P.S. 24 school family has united and mobilized PTA volunteers for the past 23 years. In these uncertain times, the reassuring signs of community action remain the same.

 
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Parent Child Relationship Association has been promoting volunteerism and social justice among the immigrant communities in Dyker Heights and Sunset Park since 2016. The group is organizing the Asian immigrant families in South Brooklyn to improve its community and address social issues through cleaning days, educational workshops and advocacy initiatives. Through its various family-orientated activities, parents help their children to cultivate a sense of responsibility. These community leaders are not ceasing to set themselves as role models for the younger generation by stepping up at this trying time. Residents are raising funds and pulling supplies from individual households to protect front-line workers. Teams of volunteers are delivering masks, gloves, disinfecting products and other protective gears to hospitals and police departments in all five boroughs once they’ve identified the need. Prioritizing first responders and health care workers, Parent Child Relationship Association is also answering calls from nursing homes, food pantries, senior centers and other essential services that remain open to meet the needs of community. As group leader Xueqin Huang stated, “we go wherever that needs us.”

 
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Since the late 1990s, Citizens Committee grantee Harlem Neighborhood Block Association has been improving the quality of life and addressing the needs of Central Harlem residents. The block association serves as a liaison between citizens and the local elected officials, police departments and other community service organizations. As block association members are unable to meet in-person due to the COVID19 outbreak, the lively correspondence within the Google Group shows people’s determination to support each member of the community, especially the neighborhood businesses, through this crisis. Carey King, director of Uptown Grand Central, is spearheading a crowdsourced list of local businesses, including operating restaurants, food markets, online shopping and web workouts, essential businesses, businesses that are giving back and those that are closed. King updated, "We have nearly 300 businesses on the guide, and know it is getting used, since the hits to our website are now up 730% more this month over last. Plus, residents keep commenting that the guide has really helped them, and both businesses and residents keep writing to either add themselves or their favorite spots!" In the Harlem Neighborhood Block Association Google Group, residents are not only circulating helpful resources, but also sending out positive energy and love.

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P.T.A. of P.S. 16 Wakefield was formed in 2019 to help students achieve their learning objectives, and support their overall mental, emotional, and social development. The group brings awareness to and empowers families to advocate for their children. P.T.A. of P.S. 16 Wakefield applied for a 2020 Neighborhood Grant to teach students how to cultivate their own garden using mini planter boxes. Students had planned to start seeds, care for plants, and install planter boxes along the block. The project intended to instill neighborhood pride, strengthen relationships amongst parents and teachers, and boost children’s self-esteem and pride in themselves and their school. After the school closed due to COVID-19, P.T.A. of P.S. 16 Wakefield and school staff jumped into action to help students register for devices and set-up for virtual learning so that students can continue their education at home. “95% of everyone is accounted for and is ok” with students receiving face time with teachers and classmates each school day. P.S. 16 Wakefield staff also organized a “spread cheer parade,” with safe social distancing protocols, where staff members drove down their students’ blocks with signs, balloons, and streamers on their cars, expressing how much they miss their students. Despite the challenges of COVID-19, remote learning, having an interim principal, and being a relatively new member of the group, Theresa praises everyone at the school for stepping up in such a short critical time to ensure that students’ needs are being met; she expressed that “we’ve made a diamond out of coal.” Theresa is also actively elevating the voices of the community and advocating for resources in her district and community education council with other groups which has led to more testing sites for patients and childcare centers for essential workers in the area.

 
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Ramona Ferreyra, a Citizens Committee grantee through Bronx POWER, is a tireless advocate for Mitchel Houses residents in the South Bronx. She has been continuing to organize fellow NYCHA residents after the passing of her neighbor due to COVID-19 related causes. While Ferreyra first received a Neighborhood Grant to keep her development clean, now she and her neighbors are determined to hold NYCHA accountable to ensure the health and well-being of their community.

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Our grantees are shifting gears to meet the most urgent needs of thier community. Here are some of their stories.