A grassroots volunteer network is helping Bushwick through the pandemic
A group of Bushwick residents are banding together to create a volunteer network for the elderly and quarantined as the city advises residents to maintain space from each other and shuts down businesses to fight the spread of the new coronavirus.
Alicia Fox started Bushwick Mutual Aid on Friday, March 13, as a Facebook group for neighbors to share tips, such as where to go to stock toiletries as grocery stores empty out, and for people to offer free assistance running errands and delivering food.
The next day, she and another resident taped fliers across Bushwick advertising the group in English and Spanish, including an email address for prospective volunteers to sign up. She also dropped off a stack with the receptionist at Wyckoff Heights Medical Center.
“We found out in the news later that the first victim in New York City had just passed away at that hospital,” said Fox, a five-year-resident of Bushwick who works in online publishing. “It really struck home with me that definitely this was the right thing to do.”
By Tuesday, Bushwick Mutual Aid’s email inbox was filled with over 70 people offering to volunteer, while the Facebook group grew to about 500 members.
“What we’re really seeing is this outpouring of help,” said Fox, who describes the group as a grassroots initiative, operating without top-down management in response to what she sees as a lack of leadership from the city.
One of the group’s main goals, according to Fox, is to provide a way for Spanish-speaking volunteers to match with undocumented Bushwick residents who may be wary of calling 311 when they need information after experiencing symptoms consistent with COVID-19.
Among the earliest volunteers is Samy Nemir Olivares, who’s running for District Leader in the 53rd Assembly District. For the group, he created a WhatsApp chat for Spanish-speaking community leaders and residents, and he currently translates their online resources into Spanish.
Olivares joined Bushwick Mutual Aid because it was the first mutual aid initiative he saw springing up in the neigbhorhood, and he wants to support the older and undocumented population who may be isolated and more vulnerable to serious effects from the virus.
In an email to the Eagle, Olivares said he’s worried that Bushwick’s Puerto Rican and Dominican population may be pushed into financial hardship and bankruptcy because the state and federal governments “failed in preparing the population in advance.”
He also expressed concern with how low-income families may be hit hard by the closure of public schools, which began on March 15.
“Over 80 percent of children in Bushwick live under the poverty line, every day that passed [sic] has a very difficult impact on these families who already were struggling to make meets end,” wrote Olivares.
To abide by social distancing, Fox urges volunteers to follow some guidelines: If you are delivering groceries to someone’s apartment, drop the bags off at their door, send a text notifying the resident, and don’t go inside. If you have Lysol, spray the shopping bags down.
“Just assume you have it. Assume everyone around you has it and operate according to that belief,” Fox said, about the coronavirus.
She expects the mutual aid initiative will be a full-fledged support network by the time coronavirus infections peak, which Governor Andrew Cuomo said may happen in 45 days.
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