Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, executive director of archdiocesan Catholic Charities, said emergency food distribution in recent weeks was made possible thanks to the dedication of agency staffers and the generosity of agency partners. Additional food distribution projects are being planned, he said, as more New Yorkers face dire circumstances stemming from the coronavirus pandemic.
“We’re grateful for the donations from Fresh Direct that enabled us to provide fresh vegetables for the people, and the people were very appreciative,” Msgr. Sullivan said in a phone interview with Catholic New York on Holy Thursday, April 9.
“Our staff did a great job preparing things in a way that was absolutely proper according to the requirements of social distancing, and people had protective gear on,” added Msgr. Sullivan as he described a Bronx distribution gathering earlier that day.
“It was sad because of everything that is going on, but it was very inspiring to see everybody working together. In the midst of this pandemic, the residents there got very nutritious food.
“This was critically important for two reasons. We made sure that we fulfilled our Catholic Christian mission of service today, Holy Thursday. Secondly, that community where we provided the meals today is one of the hardest hit by the coronavirus. The reality is our Latino and our Afro-American communities are disproportionately impacted by this virus.”
As the economic impact of job loss worsens, food distribution projects will be in greater demand, explained Msgr. Sullivan, who added that he doesn’t think the level of food insecurity is as bad as it probably will become in months to come. “It’s going to be a very hard situation for so many people...And we’re relying more and more on staff, because many of our volunteers are senior citizens and they’re the ones who need to stay home—to be safe in this pandemic. So we’re transferring staff from other programs to make sure that our pantries can stay open...People are being good neighbors.”
On Holy Thursday, Catholic Charities distributed 400 boxes of food and bags of produce outside the Betances Community Center in the Bronx. Each box contained meals for four people, for an estimated total of 1,600 meals. Personal care supplies, household items and pet supplies were also available.
To keep everyone safe, the distribution was hosted outdoors with a staggered pickup schedule to avoid crowding. Some of the food was delivered to senior citizens who were unable to leave their homes due to the coronavirus.
The Catholic Charities food distribution was done in conjunction with RDC Development, a joint venture between Wavecrest Management in Queens and MDC Design and Construction of Long Island. It came in a week when New Yorkers saw record unemployment and increased food insecurity because of the coronavirus crisis.
Msgr. Sullivan was present to cite the food insecurity in the wake of massive layoffs, the ways the archdiocese is aiding needy New Yorkers and the extra significance of charity during Holy Week.
Each box included information about accessing food assistance, social services and employment opportunities, as well as information on how to participate in the 2020 Census, and the importance of doing so to help secure funding for their community. Organizers said the distribution event was made possible largely thanks to generous donations from Fresh Direct in the Bronx.
“And Goya has been very generous also,” Msgr. Sullivan said. “We’re working with a lot of people.”
Catholic Charities has expanded its food assistance program by increasing the frequency of “pop-up pantries” and special distributions. Catholic Charities’ Alianza division spent Holy Week distributing 400 bags of food to people it serves in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan. Organizers said Catholic Charities is planning food distributions for immigrants receiving CC legal assistance, homebound seniors and day laborers.
Father Eric Cruz, Bronx regional director of Catholic Charities, noted that although church buildings are temporarily closed, the mercy and service of the Church never ceases. “It is so easy for the elderly, the sick at home, the hungry and the recently unemployed to feel so alone, confused and desperate,” Father Cruz told CNY last week. “Many begin asking, ‘How can this have happened; how can I feed my children?’ Well, you are not alone.”
“We love you, pray for you and are here with you.”