Locals stepping up to help during COVID-19

Trinity’s Services and Food for the Homeless near Tompkins Square Park has been providing meals for anyone who needs them. (Photos courtesy of Trinity’s Services and Food for the Homeless)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

While many businesses and organizations have been forced to shut down over the last few weeks to slow the spread of COVID-19, others in the community have persevered in order to help New Yorkers most in need, by volunteering at local soup kitchens, donating medical supplies and providing various healthcare services.

Trinity’s Services and Food for the Homeless, which has been operating out of Trinity Lower East Side Lutheran Parish at 602 East 9th Street for the last 33 years, has continued providing hot meals and packaged food for people who need it, although Executive Director Alex Lawrence said that they’ve made adjustments to their soup kitchen and food pantry operations to keep everyone safe.

“The soup kitchen usually has a dining room, but obviously that is not good anymore so we switched to grab-and-go lunches,” he said. “One person comes in at a time and then we send them off.”

Lawrence said that anyone who needs a hot meal can come to get one, but the packages from the food pantry are reserved for individuals and families who have some kind of stable housing.

“Because the food is a lot of raw ingredients, we only give those to people who have some kind of housing because we want to make sure that the food we give can go to a home that can use it,” he said.

Lawrence said that although they’re keeping the number of volunteers to a minimum, the organization is still looking for people who are willing to help out because a number of the regular volunteers who used to come into the soup kitchen and food pantry have to stay home now due to their age or conditions that make them vulnerable to the virus. He said that they’re hoping to find more people in the community who would be willing to volunteer so they wouldn’t have to take public transit. The easiest way for potential volunteers to get in touch is through their website.

The soup kitchen at Trinity is still looking for volunteers.

Another local soup kitchen that is offering grab-and-go meals is St. Joe’s Soup Kitchen at the First Presbyterian Church on West 12th Street near Fifth Avenue. The church posted a notice last Thursday that their sanctuary remains closed but the soup kitchen remains operational on a modified feeding program. The soup kitchen will be distributing bags of food, allowing a restricted number of guests inside to receive the take-out bags and keeping other guests spaced appropriately in the line outside.
State Senator Brad Hoylman has also put out a call for volunteers who are willing and able to do grocery shopping for seniors and immunocompromised individuals who can’t leave their homes. Volunteers can submit their information through the form online.

In order to provide assistance for these food banks and soup kitchens, City Council Speaker and other members of City Council called on the de Blasio administration last week to release $25 million in emergency funding to help these programs during the pandemic. According to the speaker’s office, 32% of emergency food programs, which include soup kitchens and food pantries, have stopped operations because of lack of supplies and resources, although the programs that are still serving are struggling to meet the growing demands.

In addition to a call for volunteers to help provide food for New Yorkers, Hoylman echoed Governor Andrew Cuomo’s call for healthcare professionals to volunteer. Mental healthcare and medical professionals are asked to fill out a survey at health.ny.gov/assistance in order to offer their assistance. 
One Stuyvesant Town resident who answered the call was psychologist Dr. Bel-Michele DeMille, and while the governor’s office is still looking for volunteers, DeMille said that she was encouraged to reach out in her community and offer her services there, so she is offering free 20-minute telehealth sessions for individuals who need them.

“I did a lot of PTSD work after 9/11, and this isn’t as traumatic as 9/11 but it’s still traumatic, especially where people feel out of control,” DeMille said, noting that she has also provided mental health services in the community after Hurricane Sandy and other crises.

“The important thing is to get the word out,” she said of the sessions. “People should never underestimate the effect of anxiety on the immune system. We all get so anxious and sometimes even having one session could relive some of that. People are so scared about money now that they forget the emotional side, but it’s so important not only for the physical well being but also the emotional balance.”

More information about DeMille’s practice can be found at drdemille.com and she can be reached at (212) 826-7038.

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