The volunteers on the socially-distanced frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic
As bars and restaurants closed, people crowded into grocery stores and daily news about New York City’s coronavirus outbreak became increasingly dire, Karen Tadross began making a plan. She and other board members of Bay Ridge Cares began meeting to discuss how the nonprofit could help southern Brooklyn through the crisis.
“This is what Bay Ridge Cares was built for and people expect us to lead at this point,” Tadross, the group’s president, told the members in a remote meeting. A few days later, a Google Doc went out on social media calling for young and healthy volunteers who could carry out tasks like grocery shopping, walking dogs and giving friendly calls to people throughout southern Brooklyn who cannot leave their homes.
Volunteers have since been paired one-on-one with households from Bay Ridge out to Marine Park to provide contact-free aid to neighbors at higher risk of having serious complications from COVID-19.
“We have been working diligently to try and put together some sort of program that first and foremost meets peoples’ needs but also keeps people safe,” Tadross said.
On a recent morning, Nicole Mirra drove down to a Third Avenue supermarket in Bay Ridge with a detailed grocery list on her phone for an older couple living in the neighborhood. Gloves donned, she meticulously searched the aisles for the correct brands of each product on the list.
For Mirra, volunteering has not only been a way to help vulnerable people in her area, but has served as a way to cope through the crisis herself.
“This whole situation makes everyone feel really helpless,” Mirra said. “I mean, the idea of an invisible virus that’s something I can’t control, I can’t always know how to protect myself or others, and that kind of anxiety can be really crippling to me and so I think the way I feel better is when I can help.”
Days before, Tina Szpicek, currently working from home as a paralegal for a criminal appeals firm, picked up an envelope of cash and a shopping list outside the door of a couple in Mill Basin.
After Szpicek dropped off the groceries, the recipient said she felt bad having someone go food shopping for her.
“I’m just reassuring her, we’re here to help each other out and as younger healthier people, we recognize that a lot of things we take for granted, older folks can’t do and we’re just happy to help out any way that we can during this,” Szpicek said.
Bay Ridge Cares has been around since Hurricane Sandy debilitated the city in 2012, but new networks of volunteers have also sprung to action to help people through the coronavirus pandemic.
On the ground floor of a private home on 68th Street in Bay Ridge, Theresa Monforte-Caraballo and Lisa Lynch of Grandma’s Love, a nonprofit that normally donates food to school children and their families, has enlisted in the battle against COVID-19 by supplying food packages for Bay Ridge Cares volunteers to pick up and deliver to people.
Monforte-Caraballo, the organization’s founder, received a text that a volunteer was coming to make a delivery to a family of three in Gravesend, prompting the two to spring up and start preparing a bag of basic foods.
“Our mission is to be here to help those families that are in need,” Monforte-Caraballo said. “Things happen in people’s lives unexpectedly. And when there’s nobody there to help you, that’s a scary, scary thing.”
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