Special Report

Shutdown: The Coronavirus

Giving food to Staten island vulnerable communities during the lockdown

Volunteers ready the food for distribution in Staten Island. Photo by Alpha Kamera

In an emergency health situation, food is as important as medicine. So, says two African American women who are giving back to their communities. 

Christiana Jabbie the head of  Being Human organization has joined Wendy De Shong Neuhalfen who is the CEO of New Direction Services to feed vulnerable communities in Staten Island as COVID-19 ravages the borough.  

“This is a time when we all need to come together and support our communities,” De Shong said. “Since the virus struck, people have been sitting home jobless and starving. It’s important to work together and help one another.”

The two agencies have been providing food for hundreds of vulnerable communities in Park Hill, Clifton and other areas of Staten Island New York throughout the lockdown. The neighborhoods are home to largely migrants, African Americans and less privileged communities. 

 The borough now has the second highest rate of documented infections, just behind the Bronx, with 21 cases per 1,000 people, according to data from the city health department.

Almost 380,000 New Yorkers have tested positive for the virus as of June 4  and 11,000 of them live on Staten Island. 

“At this stage, with so many cases coming in across the five boroughs every day, it’s hard to pinpoint what’s going on in Staten Island,” said Patrick Gallahue, a spokesman for the New York city’s Department of Health and Hygiene.    “We need to pay close attention to that borough.”

Neuhalfen, the CEO of New Direction Services said she founded the agency 20 years ago to address food insecurity among the elderly and the less privileged on Staten Island. The pandemic led her to scale up the agency’s response to help the community. They have been supporting over 1,000 families weekly.

“This is a time when we all need to come together and support our communities,” she said.

 Jabbie said they give out hundreds of bags of food, cartoons of eggs, vegetables, fruits and other consumables weekly as a way of giving hope. 

“The Park-Hill community needs this food because it’s a middle-class community,” she said. “It deserves more support because it does not have access to support given to other boroughs in New York city as a result of its location.”

The volunteers of the two organizations worked tirelessly to interact with dozens of beneficiaries during the distribution. But they never ignored safety  regulations.

“All our beneficiaries and our volunteers must wear their masks and follow the six feet distancing,” Jabbie said.  “We don’t allow overcrowding and any risky health practice during the process.”

The food distribution also includes awareness messages on Covid-19 to avoid practices that will spread the virus. 

Janet Freeman, a Liberian American living in Staten Island, appreciates the food support. She said it has saved her a lot of stress in trying to buy food since she lost her job in a local pub recently due to the virus.  Freeman believes the neighborhood is neglected by the city authorities. 

“We have to take the long journey to Manhattan or Brooklyn for jobs, leisure and other key city facilities,” she said. “Sometimes, we feel like we are not in New York. Covid-19 has even made our situation worse.”

The organizers said food donations will continue even when the pandemic ends.



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