By Cindy Mizaku
The sounds of ruffling bags packed with cans of Furman’s tomato sauce and cartons of milk pierced the silence in Bed-Stuy’s empty streets. Dressed in orange aprons and hoodies that read “The Campaign Against Hunger,” volunteers gave away food to growing numbers of Brooklyn residents impacted by the pandemic.
Since the shutdown of all non-essential businesses, The Campaign Against Hunger is providing food for over 1,000 a day. It is one among 25 nonprofit organizations that the Brooklyn Community Foundation (BCF) has partnered with since March 23 as part of its COVID-19 Response Fund. Starting in 2009, the foundation has mobilized a community of hundreds of donors and residents who face the challenges of their neighborhoods to advocate and resource causes like immigrant rights and welfare for Brooklyn’s elders.
Before launching the Response Fund in late March, BCF was gathering information along with their community partners about the impacts of COVID-19 in neighborhoods of color — one being the rise of xenophobia against Asian communities across the boroughs. With over $1 million raised so far, BCF plans to issue grants every week.
“We know in response to any disaster is that communities and populations that have
been vulnerable fall through the cracks and don’t really have a safety net to make sure that their social needs, their economic needs, their basic living needs are tended to,” Marcella J. Tillet, Vice President of Programs and Partnerships at BCF, said.
With 20 percent of residents living below the poverty line and over 30 percent of renters spending more than half of their income on rent, Brooklyn’s low-income populations are experiencing food shortages and financial insecurity in the face of COVID-19, according to the BCF.
“The lines have been pretty long, [The Campaign Against Hunger] gives a lot of food and I advised a couple of people to go,” Christina Armstrong, who lives in Bed-Stuy, said. ”Everything’s been empty and people have been scared. All businesses in the neighborhood have been suffering.”
The Bed-Stuy nonprofit organization, which received $10,000 from BCF on March 23, has adapted safety precautions to avoid spreading the virus while offering curbside pickups, and now allows customers to order free groceries online.
COVID-19 has disrupted the services of local organizations in Brooklyn that are experiencing staff shortages and financial uncertainty, Katharine Darrow, Secretary of the board and Brooklyn Heights resident, said.
“We have instituted a streamlined, minimal application process in order to respond quickly with grants that will address the economic impact of lost wages, and ensure the delivery of food, access to healthcare, and social support services,” she said.
Brooklyn Community Foundation raised a total of over $50 million since it was founded 10 years ago, Liane Stegmaier, Vice President of Communications and Strategy, said. They have provided funding to over 300 organizations from the Donor Advised Fund, which allows donors to choose the issues they want to support for grant-making initiatives.
“We really try and function in a way that when people don’t know where to turn, they can turn to us,” Stegmaier said. “We want to be a go-to, a partner, a connector for people who care about Brooklyn and want to give back to Brooklyn.”