What a week it has been.
Election Night stretched into several sleepless nights. On Saturday at 11:24 a.m., CNN finally called it for President-elect Joseph Biden. And then came New York City’s response: Music, horns honking, pots banging, champagne popping and jubilation filled the streets.
Now what? This new chapter in America calls for something we’ve been all about for a long time: to be a better neighbor.
photo: Holadem K. Koffigoh
While Washington figures out this messy transition, ours is clearer: to work toward recovery in our own communities. We’ve got a long winter ahead. The weather will (eventually) get colder. Covid cases are on the rise again; the city’s positivity rate is above 2% for the first time in more than four months.
How to help? We spoke to co-founder of East Brooklyn Mutual Aid Kelvin Taitt about the power of community work when the government doesn’t step up.
The origin story of East Brooklyn Mutual Aid is a familiar one. Taitt has a history with community organizing and is part of the Ocean Hill Neighborhood Association. He got Covid-19 in March. He knew then that the world was going through something serious. When the pandemic hit New York City with a vengeance in April, Taitt and his neighbors immediately began searching for ways to help each other.
“We were asking, ‘What can we do?’ There were three of us and we started to brainstorm,” Taitt said. “We decided we want to start a mutual aid group.”
The mission was simple: securing food for the community. With a lack of funding to buy groceries for neighbors, Taitt and his team started working with Crown Heights Mutual Aid. Crown Heights supplied Taitt’s network with about $1,000 a day. Taitt and his co-founders then started spreading the word in their neighborhood of Ocean Hill-Brownsville in Brooklyn.
“I was going to the grocery store myself with a volunteer, and we were buying groceries for 10 families a day,” Taitt said. “We started in our own neighborhood with our own people.”
As word got around, thanks to grassroots efforts and social media, more people wanted to do their part. More volunteers signed on, the group started raising money and created headquarters. The mutual aid network is now a staple in the community, built by its people, for its people.
“We’ve fed over 2,500 individual families and 5,000 people through mass distributions in Brownsville,” Taitt said.
With people still out of work and fewer families sending kids to schools (where they can get a meal), the number of people requesting groceries has been growing every week.
Even if immediate need subsides once the pandemic is under control, Taitt believes that mutual aid networks are here to stay. As people realize they can provide essential needs and services for their own, he said, they will start and continue to do so. This only underscores longstanding neglect from government officials.
“We went through a season of not being able to depend on our government for our basic needs and had to supply them ourselves,” he said. “We had to create a community that took responsibility for their neighbors by making sure they had meals on their tables every week.”
When politicians like Biden release economic recovery plans like “Build Back Better,” Taitt remains skeptical. In a perfect world, mutual aid would be considered for funding in local, state and federal budgets. With more money, these networks could create systems that work for their people.
“The processes are old,” Taitt said. “We need an opportunity to create them ourselves. If we are empowered on a local level to do that on our own, we’ll flourish.” The pandemic taught many communities that no one has your back like your neighbors.
A major challenge the area now faces is the threat of eviction. Gov. Andrew Cuomo passed an eviction moratorium in March, where tenants in financial hardship due to Covid-19 can’t be evicted for failing to pay rent, but it ends on Jan. 1, 2021. With no word of what tenants should do next, the New Year brings about even more uncertainty for renters when it comes to food and shelter.
“Food insecurity is directly related to access to shelter,” Taitt said. “People shouldn’t have to choose between paying rent and putting food on the table.”
For the holidays, the group is buying and giving away 100 turkeys and holiday fixings and trimmings like cranberry sauce, gravy and eggnog with deliveries in the week leading up to Thanksgiving. The aid network will do the same around Christmas.
You can join East Brooklyn Mutual Aid as a volunteer. It’s looking for help with:
- Intake (this help line operates seven days a week for those with accessibility issues)
- Social media
- Community outreach
If you’re in need of groceries, EBMA serves Ocean Hill, Brownsville, East New York and Cypress Hill. You can place an order by filling out this form (instructions are in English and Spanish) or calling 347-450-4446, no questions asked. Taitt’s request is to do so as a donation, if you can pay for some or all of your items. You’ll be matched dollar for dollar — and it’s tax deductible.
If EMBA doesn’t service your neighborhood, don’t worry. Mutual aid networks exist across New York City, including:
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photo: Erica Reade Images
OUT & ABOUT
In memoriam: Roughly one in every 33 people in Queens has been infected with Covid-19, resulting in more than 5,000 deaths, making it the hardest-hit of the five boroughs. What makes the loss more devastating is that many people have not been able to properly grieve or celebrate those who have passed. Unlike past national tragedies — think 9/11 — there are few visual displays of mourning.
photo: Erica Reade Images
This Saturday, Nov. 14, the Flower Heart Project will join NYCNext at a location in Queens to honor those we’ve lost, while also creating space for hope and joy. In an effort to abide by social distancing guidelines, details aren’t being released until shortly before the event takes place. We will be live streaming the event from our Facebook page. Follow us for details.
Manhattan born and brewed: Beer lovers, rejoice. The borough’s only brewery is here. Torch & Crown Brewing Company is giving us our fix of local handcrafted beers, right in Hudson Square. Its current lineup has a little bit of everything — including a double IPA clocking in at 8.1% and a Vienna lager. Make a reservation here. If you’re not comfortable mingling and just so happen to be below 23rd Street, you can get beer delivered to your door in under one hour (!!!). Don’t worry, though. Anyone above 23rd in Manhattan or in Brooklyn and Queens can get same-day delivery between 4 and 8 p.m.
Pie day:Thanksgiving is fast approaching. If you are in need of a pie — savory or sweet — consider Brooklyn-based Pistache, a Black and woman-owned local bakery that our readers rave about. Place your order before Nov. 22 by emailing email@example.com or calling Yvan at 917-597-8387. Delivery available.
I’m blue: Not a political reference. It just so happens that Pantone chose Classic Blue as its 2020 Color of the Year. It is fitting though, isn’t it? For a brief escape from reality, visit Artechouse’s immersive and technology-powered exhibit, “Celestial,” dedicated to the sights, sounds and sensations of Classic Blue. Reserve tickets in advance.
“Say Their Names”:The Public Theater Facade’s latest visual installation honors and remembers the Black lives lost to police brutality and white violence. From Nov. 11 through 25, the names of more than 2,000 Black lives killed by police will be projected across the front of the building between 5 p.m. and 2 a.m. Art by Sydney G. James, Jarrett Key, Tylonn J. Sawyer and Dáreece Walker will also be featured. You can visit the installation at 425 Lafayette St. in Manhattan. Learn more here.
Celebrate Diwali: The Hindu festival of light is this Saturday, Nov. 14. How to celebrate? Visit neighborhoods like Jackson Heights or Richmond Hill in Queens to grab a sweet or samosa. Our favorites: the paneer tikka at Angel, the doubles at Singh’s Roti Shop, and the coconut barfi at Maharaja Sweets.
Make sure you are subscribed to our spin-off newsletter, The Unmuted. Written by two veteran education journalists, it focuses on everything schools. This week’s edition will feature a Q&A with education journalist Melinda D. Anderson, whose op-ed about virtual learning and anti-Black bias in schools recently appeared in The New York Times. Is there something specific you want to see covered? Let us know.
#NYCOfficeHours: Attention,Spanish speakers. Join New York City Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza and Dr. Aaron Miller, executive director of the Family Health Program at NYC Health + Hospitals, for a Spanish-language virtual town hall tonight from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. The two will cover health and safety in schools during Covid-19. Carranza and Miller will also be taking questions. Dial 1-800-280-9461 to join.
School buses are back in business: After it was reported that roughly 13,000 children living in homeless shelters lacked the Wi-Fi necessary for remote learning, the city is exploring whether school buses can be used as mobile hotspots. Several cities around the country, including Austin, Texas, have successfully utilized this approach.
photo: Holadem K. Koffigoh
GIVE & GET HELP
What’s next in the fight against Covid-19?Positivity rates are up in all five boroughs, leading Mayor Bill de Blasio on Monday to say that the city is “dangerously close” to a second coronavirus wave. He listed household transmission and community spread as two major contributing factors, cautioning people to avoid travel as the holiday season approaches. In the meantime, NYC Health + Hospitals is urging New Yorkers to get tested often, even with no symptoms, as a way to stop the spread. See free testing locations here.
The health insurance marketplace is open: From Nov. 1 through Jan. 31, New Yorkers can enroll or renew existing health insurance coverage. For those who need assistance navigating the marketplace, NYC Health + Hospitals is offering a free virtual workshop on Wednesday, Nov. 18, from 3 to 5:30 p.m.; register here. If you want to learn more about the New York State of Health marketplace, read its FAQ. You can also receive direct enrollment assistance from a broker, navigator or certified application counselor here.
Lambertville and New Hope:Located in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, respectively, these “twin” towns, connected by a walkable bridge (and yes, you can stand with a foot in each state), make a great getaway. If visiting with kids, a ride on the New Hope Railroad, which has been in service since 1891, is a must. If you manage a trip before Thanksgiving, you can catch a ghost tour led by author and ghost investigator Adi-Kent Thomas Jeffrey to learn about New Hope’s haunted past.
On a lighter note, there is Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Reserve, which features over 700 native plant species and 4.5 miles of scenic trails. Finish by tasting some truly local beer at Great Barn Brewery, which not only brews the beverage, but grows the grain as well. And of course, we can’t leave you without an ice cream rec: Try Owowcow — everything is locally sourced and handmade.
photo: Holadem K. Koffigoh
We want to see, hear, feel, support your art and response to this moment. To submit a poem, short story, artwork or any shareable experience, email us.
photo: Holadem K. Koffigoh
This week, we welcome photographer Holadem K. Koffigoh. Originally from Togo, West Africa, Koffigoh is a patent agent by day and a street photographer when time permits. His work focuses mainly on Queens, where he aims to capture the magic in small, everyday moments. For more of Koffigoh’s work, check out his Instagram account.