Where to give, volunteer, donate food, and support local restaurants during the novel coronavirus pandemic
The Eater New York City guide on how to helpClay Williams/Eater
Even without the fallout of the pandemic, New York is a deeply stratified and wildly expensive city. Bankers make untold sums while those earning the minimum wage can barely afford to get by. Before COVID-19 hit, the average rental price of a Manhattan studio apartment was $2,842 per month, or $2,593 in Brooklyn. People seeking prime real estate on Central Park South simply need to shell out tens of millions, while those who seek affordable housing wait for years on a lottery-based queue.
And now, as the virus-battered economy continues to stagnate, hundreds of thousands of jobless workers, many of them in the hospitality industry, will have to continue to make do without their livelihoods or health care. If the five boroughs were a frighteningly inaccessible place to live before — over 27 percent of Bronx residents were in poverty before the pandemic, per U.S. census data — things are about to become worse. People need help.
Any type of quick, V-shaped recovery, where the metropolitan area rebounds like one of those bouncy balls, appears increasingly out of reach. That reality carries with it a very clear human cost. The local unemployment rate is over 20 percent. Over 60 percent of food and drink workers remain out of work.
The virus is under control locally, with positive test rates well under 1 percent, but the nationwide surge of infections precludes a quick recovery. Many restaurants are closing permanently, threatening long-term employment even further. There have been no firm plans for comprehensive rent relief. Federal pandemic unemployment compensation — which provided those vital weekly $600 checks — has run out. And scores of hospitality industry employees, who typically cannot work from home, have died from the virus.
Mayor Bill de Blasio estimates that over 2 million people — roughly a quarter of the city — could be food insecure. That puts local food banks and pantries under strain, with people in need lining up as early as 5 a.m. A June report from the Food Bank for New York City showed one third of food pantries had closed throughout the city during the pandemic in April, including 50 percent of all pantries in the Bronx.
One of the chief ignominies of the CARES Act was that it excluded households with a single undocumented worker from receiving economic stimulus checks. Democrats in Congress, along with Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, are trying to fix this, but in the meantime, the policy means that New York’s 359,000 mixed-status households have been deprived of those vital checks, which range from $1,200 to $3,400.
Undocumented workers also can’t qualify for state unemployment. And in the city, as across the country, COVID-19 has disproportionately struck lower-income regions. The largely Black and Latinx populations that live in those hard-hit neighborhoods are 59 percent more likely to get sick than white people, and twice as likely to be hospitalized or die from COVID-19.
The mortality rate for those living in homeless shelters is 61 percent higher than the city’s overall death rate from the virus, according a report by the Coalition for the Homeless. Just the same, New Yorkers suffering from the most severe form of poverty are more than twice as likely to die from COVID-19 as those suffering from a milder form of poverty. Such grim statistics carry devastating human and economic consequences for these vulnerable communities.
The lesson is clear: Offering assistance, whether to individuals or institutions, can save lives. Eater NY has, accordingly, put together this guide outlining how to help. What follows is a list of mutual aid groups, volunteer opportunities, community fridges, hunger-relief charities, shelters, local soup kitchens, other relief organizations, and more.
Editors have done their best to vet the charities included here, but it’s always important to support organizations that are transparent about their workings and have a proven track record. Time and resources are extremely valuable, but monetary donations — especially those offered over an extended period — can be even more impactful because charities tend to know where the greatest need is.
Mutual Aid Groups
As New York City enters the fourth month of the novel coronavirus pandemic, New Yorkers aren’t just turning to state and federal officials for support. They’re also looking right next door. “Mutual aid is neighbors helping neighbors,” says Sarah Mathews, organizer of local mutual aid organization Bed-Stuy Strong. In response to the novel coronavirus pandemic, volunteers across the city have organized online groups to deliver subsidized groceries and other supplies to at-risk residents in their communities. These groups, which are primarily organized in online chat rooms like Slack and Facebook, connect local volunteers with nearby residents who are unable to leave their homes to get food right now. Some of the groups are newly-founded — a result of federal and state programs being overburdened by surges in the number of need-based recipients — but many others have long histories of working in their home communities.
Bed-Stuy Strong: Billed as “a group of neighbors helping neighbors,” this mutual aid group was one of the earliest to organize on a large scale after the start of the novel coronavirus pandemic in March. The organization, which is based on work productivity tool Slack, connects local volunteers with nearby residents who are elderly, immunocompromised, disabled, or otherwise unable to leave their homes to buy groceries or other supplies. Those who are in need of deliveries, as well as those who have money and time to donate, can learn more about its services online.
Centro Corona Mutual Aid Network: This network of volunteers is based in Corona, Queens and services some of the hardest-hit neighborhoods from the novel coronavirus pandemic. As part of its services, Centro Corona Mutual Aid delivers groceries and prescriptions to residents on Fridays and Saturdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. in Corona, Jackson Heights, Elmhurst, East Elmhurst, and Woodside. The organization is currently seeking volunteers who have access to a car, while donations can be made here.
Corona Couriers: This network of more than 400 volunteers provides free delivery of groceries and supplies to at-risk individuals across the city, though its reach in the Bronx is limited. Its deliveries include pantry boxes, medical supplies, medication, and other pick-up and drop-off services. Corona Couriers, which started as a group of cyclists, is in need of additional volunteers, including those with cars and motorcycles. Note: While delivery is free, households must cover the cost of groceries and supplies.
Invisible Hands: Invisible Hands is a community-based non-profit organization that focuses on delivering groceries to individuals who are elderly, disabled, and immunocompromised, though its services are available to anyone in need. The organization operates in Westchester, Long Island, all five boroughs of New York City, parts of New Jersey, and even Philadelphia. Additional delivery volunteers are needed, as are artists, accountants, journalists, and other individuals who can donate their talents.
Mutual Aid NYC: This umbrella organization is one of the best ways to identify local mutual aid resources, as well as nearby volunteer opportunities. Its robust resource library includes food and grocery delivery across New York City, along with other resources, like child care, petcare, eldercare, and support with finding housing and employment. A hotline (646-437-8080) provides assistance in 13 languages, including Urdu, Yiddish, and Korean (see website for translation service hours).
Indigenous Kinship Mutual Aid: The Indigenous Kinship Collective is a community of Indigenous women and non-conforming individuals who organize demonstrations, teach-ins, and deliver resources to Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) in New York City. The mutual aid arm of the group delivers essential products to Indigenous communities and other people of color based in New York City, which they note is occupied Lenni Lenape — the indigenous Americans who lived on the land before the arrival of European colonists — land.
Whether you drive your own car, are strong enough to lift boxes and bags of groceries, are good at keeping databases and building websites, teaching children, or simply willing to make phone calls, there are opportunities for everyone to participate.
Fuel the People: This relatively new community organization supplies protests in New York City and Washington, D.C. with food donated by local Black- and POC-owned restaurants. In its first month, Fuel the People has provided more than 10,000 meals and 600 first aid kits for protesters across both cities, according to its website. As the organization continues to grow, it’s now seeking volunteers to distribute and transport food.
God’s Love We Deliver: Despite the name, this is not a religious organization, but one originally set up to feed clients with AIDS. Now, it has the broadest range of in-need clients, delivering meals cooked on the organization’s premises in Soho. For those wholike to cook, there are volunteer opportunities on all shifts, and assistance also needed on trucks to deliver meals. Pandemic protocols are observed.
The Saint Supper Collective: This Brooklyn-based group got its start distributing hot meals to protesters, low-income, and unhoused individuals at the Occupy City Hall protests in June. Founder Lucy Saintcyr has since scaled back the group’s involvement at City Hall Park and will instead be distributing food and personal protective equipment at demonstrations across the city. The Saint Supper Collective is seeking volunteers to help distribute food at protests, as well as individuals with cars who are able to transport volunteers and supplies.
Sylvia Rivera Food Pantry: The group makes grocery deliveries to LGBTQ, seniors, immigrant communities, students, and other marginalized groups who are unable to leave their home due to COVID-19. A car or other means of transportation is needed.
Red Rabbit: Though the city is checkerboarded with services that provide free meals to the poor and the homebound, Red Rabbit is an organization set up to assist those with needy potential clients and a space available to become a meal distribution point.
Hunger Relief: Food Banks, Food Rescue, and Food Pantries
Food Banks, Food Rescues, and Distribution Organizations
This group includes food banks and pantries, often operating on limited schedules, food rescue organizations that collect surplus foodstuffs, and those that simply provide a distribution frameworks. All can use volunteers — sometimes volunteering can be as simple as sitting at home and making phone calls, or helping make deliveries — and, perhaps more important, donations of money, food, or other goods.
Food Bank for New York City: One of the oldest and largest food banks in the city, this organization works with hundreds of soup kitchens, food pantries, and senior centers to provide food to those in need. The organization has come up with a handy map that helps users locate places to get food across all five boroughs.
City Harvest: The organization reportedly feeds 1.2 million New Yorkers and rescues more than 70 million pounds of food each year, which is then diverted to hundreds of food pantries and soup kitchens across the city. City Harvest has its own interactive map to identify food distribution sites across the city.
Citymeals on Wheels: Since 1981, this organization founded by Gael Greene and James Beard has delivered hot meals to the homebound elderly, whose numbers have increased exponentially since the pandemic. Donations and volunteers needed.
GrowNYC: The parent organization of the city’s Greenmarkets has set up an Emergency Food Box program via a GoFundMe campaign, providing nutritious produce and supporting farmers at the same time. Donated funds will be matched by a Bank of America contribution.
Soup Kitchens, Pantries, and Shelters
Part of the Solution (POTS): This Bronx-based organization provides a daily soup kitchen, as well as emergency food services to low income families, including hot meals and grocery delivery. They’re looking for irtual volunteers, especially those who speak Spanish, as well as donations.
Hunger Free America: This organization provides a series of food access and assistance guides to all five boroughs in several languages, including sections listing food banks and soup kitchens. The guides are free online, and donations are needed to sustain the effort.
Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen: Located within the Church of the Holy Apostles, this Chelsea establishment has been feeding lunch to those in need for the last 38 years. While the organization is largely reliant on volunteer help, it’s had to cut back during the pandemic and has relied on its staffers instead. It’s also moved its food services outdoors for the duration of the pandemic to prevent the spread of the virus.
Cienfuegos Foundation: This organization operates a soup kitchen and three day per week food pantry in Astoria and the Bronx for impoverished families, and conducts programs to help them get out of the cycle of poverty. Volunteers and donations are needed.
Mutual Aid NYC: This organization provides a borough by borough list of food pantries, soup kitchens, and other food distribution resources.
Community Organizations Providing Food Access
Campaign Against Hunger: This Brooklyn-based organization operates urban farms and urban produce markets and trucks, and distributes pre-packed bags of nutritious food to families in need across the city.
Food Resource Guide for Washington Heights/Inwood: The Hunter College Food Policy Center has coordinated with four other community organizations to produce this coronavirus resource guide, including meals for seniors, grocery stores providing delivery, emergency food distribution sites, food pantries, and soup kitchens.
Food Resource Guide for Jamaica/Hollis: Also from the Hunter College Food Policy Center, this guide presents a broad range of resources including services for the homeless, nonprofit food delivery, mobile markets, meal distribution sites, and nutritional resources for women, infants, and children.
United Federation of Teachers/Staten Island: The teachers’ union has provided a website with all sorts of food resources in the five boroughs, but this page specializes in food pantries and other resources available in Staten Island.
There are currently 17 community refrigerators in New York City, and one in Jersey City, where the public can pick up free food, as available and often 24 hours a day. These are small-scale volunteer efforts, requiring little capital or real estate. A few are listed below. Need a community based volunteer project? Think of acquiring a fridge, finding a spot for it, and starting your own. Or find one and help with maintaining it, or simply contribute groceries.
The Friendly Fridge: Situated at 190 Knickerbocker Avenue, between Jefferson and Melrose streets, the Friendly Fridge posts regular updates on its Instagram account.
Bed-Stuy Community Fridge: With 24-hour access, this community fridge is located at 133 Van Buren Street, between Throop Avenue and Marcus Garvey Boulevard.
Harlem Fridges: Harlem and East Harlem currently have two, one at 352 West 116th Street, between Manhattan and Morningside avenues, and the other is Barrio Fridge, at 339 East 108th Street, between First and Second avenues.
Rockaway Fridge: Located in Far Rockaway, at 69-62 Almeda Avenue, at Beach 72nd Street.
Van Cortlandt Park Fridge: This Bronx fridge is right across from the park over the last stop on the 1 train, at 5977 Broadway at West 242nd Street.
L.E.S. Fridge: The Lower East Side example is found at 466 Grand Street, between Pitt and Willett streets.
Worker and Restaurant Relief
While some restaurants have now begun to rehire staffers, a large portion of hospitality industry workers are still unemployed due to the COVID-19 crisis. In response to the pandemic, and the thousands of workers who lost their jobs, many nonprofits across the city have mobilized to accept donations, create fundraisers, and hand out grants to affected staffers. Here are some of the biggest ones in the city.
Hot Bread Kitchen: A nonprofit that’s known for creating job opportunities for women, and small business owners, the group is currently accepting donations for workers who are reeling from the ongoing coronavirus crisis.
Street Vendor Emergency Relief: With little to no access to federal relief funds related to the ongoing crisis, street vendors are among the most vulnerable workers in the food industry right now. This emergency relief fund effort started by nonprofit the Street Vendor Project helps provide $300 relief payments to the more than 2,000 street vendors who are members of the nonprofit.
Service Workers Coalition: Created in response to the hundreds of restaurant industry workers who were laid off due to the pandemic, this resource helps fund $50 weekly grocery stipends for out-of-work restaurant industry staffers. The group is accepting donations to continue supporting workers right now.
ROC United NY: The nonprofit that works to improve wages for restaurant industry workers has created a disaster relief fund for workers who have lost their jobs due to the crisis or are in danger of losing their primary source of income.
The Coco Fund: Upscale Greenwich Village restaurant Ardyn partnered with the March On Foundation to create a support fund for restaurant workers who aren’t able to collect a paycheck due to the pandemic. The foundation disperses $500 grants to staffers who need help paying for essential needs including healthcare, shelter, and food while out of work.
Individual GoFundMes: Hundreds of restaurants — and in many cases restaurant staffers themselves — have set up GoFundMe accounts to raise funds for workers who were laid off due to the pandemic. While some workers have returned with the easing of restrictions in NYC, many others are still unemployed and depend on financial support coming through these fundraisers.
Restaurants Offering Care Packages
In addition to a long list of NYC restaurants that have pivoted to selling groceries and gift packages to stay afloat, some are sharing part of their proceeds with non-profit groups. The contributions to these non-profits are made possible by customer purchases, so sales help keep the restaurant afloat and provide food or donations to those in need.
Dame: This new West Village restaurant may not have a permanent location yet, but the owners have stayed busy cooking food out of a pop-up space at 85 MacDougal Street, between Bleecker and West Houston Streets. All proceeds from the pop-up go to a different non-profit every month; past recipients have included the NAACP and Harlem Grown, a youth development and urban farming organization. Additionally, every Sunday through October, the owners are running a guest chef series and all proceeds from each night go to a charity of the guest chef’s choosing.
Olmsted: Critically acclaimed Prospect Heights spot Olmsted converted its dining room into a grocery store during the pandemic to sell some of the restaurant’s top pantry items to the public, including an array of hot sauces, jams, breads, and baking mixes. Revenue from the grocery sales help underwrite the restaurant’s food pantry where they serve free food weekly to out-of-work NYC restaurant employees.
FieldTrip: Harlem rice bowl shop FieldTrip has been collecting funds throughout the pandemic to help feed people in need within the restaurant’s local community. Customers can donate money on top of the price of their meal to send additional meals to children and boxes of produce to families in need.
La Morada: Traditional Oaxacan restaurant La Morada in Mott Haven has been serving thousands of meals weekly to people in need throughout the city, on top of offering takeout and delivery five days a week for diners. The restaurant, run by an undocumented family, is accepting financial donations to upgrade its soup kitchen operation, as well as supply donations for food and pantry staples. The restaurant is also looking for volunteers to help distribute food and supplies to community members.
For organizations and services that don’t necessarily fall into the categories outlined above, take a look at the places below.
Workers Need Childcare: This organization is a clearinghouse for childcare services offered for free to essential workers during the pandemic, sponsored by a nonprofit called Wiggle Room.
Food Education Fund: Know a restaurant that’s closing and wants to donate its food, or farmers market vendor with a surplus? This website coordinates donations of food and other supplies, like gloves and cleaning supplies, during the pandemic.
Center for Independence of the Disabled: This group helps the disabled, including those bedridden or permanently injured by the coronavirus, to apply for a whole host of benefits including getting access to social security and medicare and medicaid benefits.
Eater is tracking the impact of the novel coronavirus on the local food industry. Have a story to share? Reach out at email@example.com.