Southern Brooklyn

The volunteers on the socially-distanced frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic

March 27, 2020 Paul Frangipane
Nicole Mirra, a volunteer with Bay Ridge Cares, grocery shops for a couple in Bay Ridge who can’t leave their home. At the supermarket where she’s shopping, employees put up plexiglass windows to separate the cashiers from the customers. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle

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.

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Nicole Mirra searches for the correct brands of foods for her recipients. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle
Volunteer Nicole Mirra searches for the foods her recipients requested. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle

“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.

Nicole Mirra looks through a grocery list on her phone as part of her volunteer duties with Bay Ridge Cares. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle
Nicole Mirra looks through a recipient’s grocery list on her phone. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle

“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.

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After Szpicek dropped off the groceries, the recipient said she felt bad having someone go food shopping for her.

Anna Moccia-Field, a volunteer with the group Invisible Hands, grocery shops for a woman in Flatbush. Since the coronavirus pandemic has shuttered local businesses and kept people indoors, new volunteer groups like Invisible Hands have sprung up to fulfill the needs of people most at risk from the virus. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle
Anna Moccia-Field, a volunteer with the group Invisible Hands, grocery shops for a woman in Flatbush. Since the coronavirus pandemic has kept people indoors, new volunteer groups like Invisible Hands have sprung up to fulfill the needs of people most at risk of serious complications from the virus. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle

“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.

Mutual aid groups are communicating on Facebook and new organizations like Invisible Hands have brought volunteers throughout the city and beyond into Slack channels to coordinate tasks.

Theresa Monforte-Caraballo of Grandma’s Love hands a care package to a volunteer with Bay Ridge Cares. The volunteer will take the food to a family in Gravesend who can’t leave their home during the coronavirus pandemic. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle
Theresa Monforte-Caraballo of Grandma’s Love hands a care package to a volunteer with Bay Ridge Cares. The volunteer will take the food to a family in Gravesend who can’t leave their home during the coronavirus pandemic. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle

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.

Theresa Monforte-Caraballo, left, and Lisa Lynch of Grandma’s Love are partnering with Bay Ridge Cares to bring care packages to people in southern Brooklyn who can’t leave their homes and can’t afford groceries. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle
Theresa Monforte-Caraballo, left, and Lisa Lynch of Grandma’s Love are partnering with Bay Ridge Cares to bring care packages to people in southern Brooklyn who can’t leave their homes or can’t afford groceries. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle

“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.”

Interested in volunteering with Bay Ridge Cares? Fill out this form.


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