Coronavirus Relief Programs in Queens, New York - Culinary Backstreets | Culinary Backstreets
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It’s been interesting to see how Queens has adapted to life in lockdown. Personally, I have been cooking at home a lot, particularly for breakfast and lunch, which are basically the only two meals I have every day (usually I have a snack late at night, right before I go to bed). I have been staying in as much as I can. I exercise in front of the TV. I try to ride my bicycle on rollers for at least an hour every day. I lift weights and stretch as much as I can.

I go to the Jackson Heights Greenmarket – it’s fantastic to see the farmers that are still making it into the city and providing us with access to fresh fruit, vegetables cheese, eggs, etc. I talk to Nestor from Tello’s Farm, who makes the trek down from Coxsackie, New York, with his fresh eggs. In addition to the Greenmarket, which isn’t too packed, the small markets and street vendors selling fruit and vegetables are actually quite accessible and free of crowds. So we are not without fresh fruit and vegetables.

I also go to the supermarket when I can. If I see a market that is open and there’s no line, I’ll go in and pick up a couple of things that I might need. You see, the markets usually are tremendously crowded and there are lines out the door and around the block. People are quite disciplined, though, and keep enough distance between one another. But I prefer to ride around on my bike until I see a market that is empty – really curious how certain shops can be so crowded while others are not.

What is harder to get are things like face masks, alcohol, alcohol gel, disinfectants. Usually pharmacies have empty shelves where those would normally be. I know that they get replenished but seem to sell out quickly. I actually have enough on hand that I’m not making the effort to try and find them.

Most upcoming parades, festivals and events are getting completely canceled or postponed. Celebrations in honor of the colorful Hindu holiday Phagwa (Holi) were canceled. So was Songkran, the Thai New Year’s festival. The monthly Indonesian Food Bazaar, scheduled for April 4, was “postponed” but I reckon it won’t be held again until May, if not as late as July. I hope I’m wrong.

A friend of mine who is a college professor has been setting up virtual classes online, but it can be quite difficult. Some families in the neighborhood don’t necessarily have computers or Internet access or both, which can make online education difficult for students of all ages.

Unfortunately you hear a lot of ambulances going by. I don’t live far from Elmhurst Hospital, which is the epicenter right now in Queens, the borough that’s been hit the hardest. I do know people who have family members in the hospital or who have lost a family member. I also have a friend who works as a nurse at a different hospital in the city and chatting with him is hard. They are understaffed, so he works extremely long hours, and under-equipped – there aren’t enough masks. He was exhausted when I saw him.

People I know who were sick are actually getting better now. They didn’t go to the hospital because there was no point (there are no tests). They were told not to unless their symptoms got really bad. So they stayed home and are now feeling much better so that fills me up with optimism. For most people who get sick, it’s going to pass. But that being said, we need to stay indoors and we need to keep infections to a minimum to keep the most vulnerable of our communities safe.

I am working with a mutual aid group out of Centro Corona, a community center. We have been running groceries to families in need – unemployment is affecting a good number of people.  Last week we managed to do a grocery run for 12 families, 64 people in total. It was fantastic. I did at least three runs with the bicycle, and a few other people did the same with cars. There is a separate team that shops and picks up donations, puts together bags and labels them. They make sure everything is sanitized. Everybody wears masks, gloves and so on. I was asked to clean and disinfect my bicycle before the run. The families were very appreciative, and it was nice to be able to help in some way. We are thinking of being able to do the run once a week. And maybe more as supplies increase. (If you want to support Centro Corona’s mutual aid work, send a message to the group at

Some restaurants in the neighborhood that are still open (only for delivery or takeout) are offering free lunch bags to people that need them, like Farine Bakery, or free lunch for school kids, like Jackson Diner and Al Naimat Restaurant & Sweets. There are a number of groups from the community, besides Centro Corona, that are trying to work to meet the needs of families in the area. They include the South Asian Council for Social Services, Desis Rising Up & Moving (DRUM), the Arab American Family Support Center, the RIVER FUND, AAFE (Asian Americans for Equality), GABRIELA New York and more. They are all organizations that are either based in Queens or national organizations with a presence in Queens. Some have food pantries, while others have legal teams to help people fill out unemployment forms, or are fundraising to buy protective equipment for health care workers.

For example, NAFCON (National Alliance for Filipino Concerns) is running a “Bayanihan” (a Filipino term for community togetherness and mutual aid) to help people with shopping and errands, and Migrante NY will be fundraising to support undocumented Filipino workers who have lost their jobs because of the pandemic. One of DRUM’s main campaigns is for rent relief during this crisis (follow their Facebook page for updates and how you can help). AAFE, one of the larger organizations, is working on many fronts, from housing counselling to small business support – click here to see a full list of their initiatives. The RIVER FUND runs pantries and mobile kitchens that feed thousands of people (click here for more info and to donate). The South Asian Council for Social Services has been doing home delivery of groceries to families, cooking meals for the elderly, helping people seek resources available to them and providing general support for the elderly (visit their Facebook page for more info and click here to donate).

Then there is Queens Feeds Hospitals, a group that is buying food from local restaurants to feed healthcare workers who are overstretched at both Elmhurst Hospital and Mt. Sinai Queens (click here for more info and to donate).

New York, and Queens especially, is going through a difficult period but it’s encouraging to see so many community organizations adapting so quickly to the new demands brought on by the pandemic – it’s a lesson in civic solidarity.

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