Community Calvary‎ – New $10 Million Borough-Centric Relief Effort

Rosa García usually serves up mimosas and prosciutto flatbread for years to her patrons.

The owner of the Mott Haven Bar and Grill oversees busy weekend brunches at her Bruckner Boulevard eatery, whose busy event calendar also includes movie screenings, art presentations and live painting sessions. The beloved restaurant serves as a second home for local community board members, artists, civic and business leaders.

Now, García and many of those same Bronxites have a new offering on the table- and they want everyone to dig in.

They are rallying together for a new common cause – a $10-million-dollar COVID-19 relief effort specifically focused on critical needs in the borough, which has been hit the hardest by the crisis.

Currently, the Bronx has the highest fatality rates in New York City. As of April 10, 1,185 borough residents have died of COVID-19, according to New York City Health Department data. Of the fatalities, over 90% of the Bronx residents had underlying conditions. The borough also has the highest rate of hospitalizations.

Diana Hernández is a public health researcher at Columbia University who has been studying COVID-19’s spread. She is also a Bronx resident and has been critical of the lack of borough-specific resources provided by authorities.

It would appear, argued Hernández in a recent interview, that “the [Bronx] population is more invisible and more dispensable, which is to me so unfair.”

Cue the community cavalry.

Dubbed “The Bronx Community Relief Effort,” the coalition includes private businesses like Mott Haven Bar and Grill, non-profit organizations, and elected officials – and anyone else who wants to join in.

In a release made public Mon., April 13th, the new group aims to raise a total of $10 million “to support effective, on-the-ground operations [to meet the] most essential needs.

The areas of “essential needs” have been identified as: food insecurity; small business relief; microgrant distribution; personal protective equipment; non-profit economic relief; digital divide issues; legal equity; and housing stability.

The group reports that $4 million has already been raised and is being deployed to offset food insecurity, furnish microgrants to students of the City University of New York (CUNY), and supply tech hardware and support for Bronx students.

The initiative, insist organizers, is a strategic response to the crisis’ oversize impact on the borough, one driven by Bronx-based residents and leaders – the borough’s “boots on the ground.”

“We are building a mechanism that supports community self-sufficiency, empowerment and elevation—leading from within the Bronx for the Bronx,” states Jessica Clemente, who heads We Stay/Nos Quedamos, Inc.

The housing advocacy group is joined a host of Bronx-based organizations that range from Dominicanos U.S.A.; Wildlife Conservation Society, which runs the Bronx Zoo; WHEDco; Bronx Defenders; Spring Bank; HERE to HERE, and Phipps Neighborhoods.

 “Spring Bank is proud to stand together with our fellow Bronx businesses and leaders to be here for the communities we serve, now when they need us most,” said Spring Bank CEO Demetris Giannoulias in the statement. “The initiatives we’re putting in place will have a real impact for people and businesses who need additional support to get through this time.”

Among the elected officials pledging their support are State Senator Alessandra Biaggi; Assemblymembers Nathalia Fernández and Michael Blake; and Borough President Rubén Díaz Jr.

“Our constituents need immediate aid, from food to economic assistance to small business support,” said Fernández. “And it makes it more stressful when one needs to seek multiple outlets for relief. [The relief] will go a long way in providing such assistance, now and in the future. We will get through this crisis as a community.”

 Blake has been assisting local restaurants such as Alexander Avenue’s Beatstro, which mobilized its kitchen and partnered with World Central Kitchen to help prepare thousands of meals to residents in need. In his remarks, Blake said the unique collaboration across sectors could serve as a new model for a “new Bronx.”

 

Having community leaders, philanthropists, the private and public sector come together for both the immediate and long-term recovery for Bronxites is absolutely critical. We must provide relief for today so that our fellow Bronxites have hope for tomorrow. We will lay the foundation in our community for future success.

 

— Assemblyman Michael Blake

 

Donations are being solicited to bridge the balance of funding of $6 million.

The DreamYard Project Inc., which focuses on art and social justice for youths, will serve as fiscal sponsor.

“This initiative is an affirmation of the spirit and determination of the people of the Bronx to care for and nurture our community not only in this hour of need but for generations to come,” said co-founders Jason Duchin and Tim Lord.

 Judy Dimon, Chair of the James and Judith K. Dimon Foundation and HERE to HERE, said the crisis had lain bare gross inequities that have proven persistent – and fatal – for Bronx residents and extolled the effort as a community-centered response.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has starkly amplified and exposed inequity in New York City,” said Dimon. “We stand by those who are out there working day and night in the Bronx to help one another – today and tomorrow. I urge others who are able to contribute to join us in supporting this critical work.”