Dear Neighbor,

We’re about halfway through a summer that … feels unlike any previous summer in the city. We want to take a temperature check (the metaphorical one!) on YOU. How are you staying inspired and motivated? Are you anxious about the future? Where is your happy place? What do you need? Let us know.

One idea that might center you and give purpose: Volunteering. Here are some ideas to help you get out of the funk.

Call a senior. Many of our older neighbors are still isolating with no real end in sight. To help combat loneliness, several organizations have launched programs connecting the elderly with volunteers for weekly phone and video chats. It’s an easy way to give back to the community and mutually beneficial. There’s a lot to be learned from seniors. JASADorot and Heights and Hills are all accepting applications for phone volunteers.

Photo courtesy Bigs & Littles NYC Mentoring Services

You can also get the kids involved. Make an art project out of it! Heights and Hills and City Meals seek handmade cards to cheer up the elderly who are social distancing at home.

Consider becoming a mentor. Bigs & Littles NYC is taking applications for its mentorship program, which pairs adults with local youth in need of role models. Men are highly encouraged to apply. Bigs are matched with Littles according to their gender, and there are currently more than 100 boys waiting to be matched with a male mentor.  Learn more and fill out an application.

Join a mutual aid network. Mutual aid networks essentially consist of neighbors helping neighbors. They are grassroots, direct and effective (and inspire this newsletter every week). Find your local network here.

The economic impact of coronavirus has been devastating for many, and food pantries and soup kitchens have seen an increase in visitors. With the additional $600 in weekly unemployment benefits just expired on Sunday, brace yourselves. Help with meal prep and delivery is in high demand. God’s Love We DeliverCitymeals on Wheels and the Bowery Mission all need volunteers.

Invisible Hands and Heights and Hills need people to pick up and deliver groceries to homebound New Yorkers.

Rafael Rodriguez, volunteer gardener in Jackson Heights

Beautify your neighborhood. Join volunteer-run organizations dedicated to improving the community, such as the Jackson Heights Beautification Group. If your neighborhood doesn’t have one, ways to make a difference anyway: Water the sidewalk trees in front of where you live — each one needs about 15 to 20 gallons of water per week. Compost your food waste: In the US, such waste accounts for about 30% to 40% of the food supply. City composting initiatives are on hold due to coronavirus, yet many local organizations will take your scraps. Tip: Keep scraps in the freezer until ready to compost to stave off odor and flies.

Please help us grow this community by hitting forward on this newsletter, spreading word about its existence in your networks and asking folks to subscribe. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram. We also seek donations to pay our vendors and freelancers. 


What’s the deal with the pandemic benefit for NYC public school students?

P-EBT, the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer Program, is a federally funded program intended to compensate families whose children normally receive free meals at school, but couldn’t when schools closed due to Covid-19. Because all New York City public schools offer students free breakfast and lunch, those students will be receiving P-EBT, regardless of immigration status, family income or employment. The benefit is $420 per student.

How do you get it?

You don’t need to apply. If you already receive EBT or Medicaid benefits, P-EBT will be loaded directly onto your card. Otherwise, eligible families will receive a card in the mail.

What if you received the benefit but don’t need it?

An Epicenter-NYC subscriber with three children in New York City schools asked how she could donate the $1,260 in P-EBT benefits she will be receiving. We looked into her question and here’s what we found: P-EBT cards are non-transferable and non-returnable. Therefore, financially secure families may want to consider using their P-EBT benefits for normal grocery shopping and then donating the money saved to a local charity or food bank. We also recommend contacting your local mutual aid network to see what its needs are.

Where can you spend it?

Most stores that sell groceries — including Target and Costco — accept EBT, as well as the majority of New York City farmers markets and greenmarkets. The markets, a great opportunity to support small farms and local businesses, also give customers $2 in Health Bucks for every $5 spent using EBT. Health Bucks can be used to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables.

Air conditioners wanted: Emma Lazarus High School, which serves newly arrived immigrants in lower Manhattan, is asking for extra air conditioner units. Several students don’t currently have air conditioning at home and, well, we’re in the middle of a heat wave. If you have a working AC you can part with, email Julie at

Rise up: The Future Leaders Coalition is working with college students to, in turn, work with high school students to launch social-justice initiatives in their own schools. In 16 sessions, students will learn to create a project map, goals and benchmarks. If interested, email the coalition.
Rent relief workshop: On Wednesday, July 29, Communities Resist and Los Sures plans a virtual housing workshop with tips on how to apply for New York’s Covid Rent Relief Program; the deadline is the following day. The presentation is in English and Spanish. Register here.
How to cope: Let’s face it; we’re all struggling. To help New Yorkers move forward, the New York State Office of Mental Health has introduced Coping Circles. These are small support groups facilitated by mental health professionals with an emphasis on stress management and enhancing resilience. Learn more and sign up.

Blood donors urgently needed: A reminder that blood supply is still critically low due to the cancellation of blood drives during Covid-19. If you are healthy and able, schedule an appointment with the New York Blood Center.



Live, (yes, LIVE) Jazz: Tomi Jazz has to be one of Midtown’s — if not New York City’s — best-kept secrets. This Japanese restaurant has taken advantage of the city’s relaxed outdoor dining regulations and turned part of 53rd Street into an outdoor music venue. Happy hour is daily from 5 to 7 p.m. (we recommend the creamy cod roe spaghetti) and music is from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Make sure you bring some cash to tip the band. Visit Tomi’s website for more info.

It’s a concrete playground: As part of New York City’s Open Streets program, several streets will be closed to vehicles during specific hours, expanding areas to more safely walk, bike, gather and for kids to be, well, kids. The Play Streets initiative also offers activities like arts and crafts, sports, reading corners, dance classes and more. See all Play Street hours and locations.

Beat the heat: With temperatures uncomfortably close to triple digits and a blanket of humidity to boot, a reminder that several city pools have officially reopened: Tottenville Pool and Lyons Pool in Staten Island, Mullaly Pool in the Bronx, Wagner Pool in Manhattan, Liberty Pool and Fisher Pool in Queens and Sunset Pool in Brooklyn. The following pools will open on August 1: Crotona Pool and Haffen Pool in the Bronx, Jackie Robinson Pool and Marcus Garvey Pool in Manhattan, Astoria Pool in Queens and Betsy Head Pool in Brooklyn.

Local flavor: Because who doesn’t love an excuse to eat for a good cause? On Saturday, August 1, Tastes of Brooklyn is hosting a food crawl from Gowanus to Carroll Gardens where participants can sample a diverse selection from local residents. Ticket proceeds benefit Seeds in the Middle, a local nonprofit group dedicated to promoting social change through sustainable health. Four-taste tickets are $30 and 12-taste tickets are $80. Note: Online payments incur a processing fee but you can also pay by cash or check. Learn more and check out participating restaurants.

(Courtesy the Artist; Socrates Sculpture Park; Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York; Kavi Gupta, Chicago; Roberts Projects, Los Angeles; Image by Scott Lynch)

A monument to support: Socrates Sculpture Park was once an abandoned landfill and illegal dump site. Today the park in Queens along the East River is the largest outdoor space dedicated to sculpture in New York City. Its latest exhibit, “Because Once You Enter My House It Becomes Our House,” by interdisciplinary artist Jeffrey Gibson, honors the ingenuity of Indigenous North Americans, pre-Columbian Mississippian architecture and queer camp style. Learn more.

I scream, you scream: A bit of relief in the midst of a heat wave: Ample Hills is back. After closing its doors in March due to the pandemic and declaring bankruptcy, many of us worried the ice cream shop, with its mix of hyperlocal flavors (à la The Hell’s Kitchen Sand) and classics (Ooey Gooey Butter Cake, anyone?) was done for. Last week Ample Hills reopened its locations in Astoria, Chelsea and Prospect Heights under new leadership. More locations should follow soon. Check its website for updates.

100 years of women’s suffrage: Last week, Four Freedoms Park on Roosevelt Island unveiled a 12′ x 100′  field of sunflowers as an homage to the anniversary of the 19th amendment, which gave women the right to vote. The sunflowers may not be real, but that doesn’t make them any less Instagrammable. The exhibit will be on display through August 20. We recommend taking the tram from 59th Street and Second Avenue and making a day out of quaint, gorgeous Roosevelt Island.


A view from Breakneck Ridge

This week, we’re looking north and focusing on hikes…

Sugarloaf Hill Trail; Garrison, NY

For a less-crowded hike with a great view, check out this beauty in nearby Garrison. The 2.8-mile trail starts in a large meadow. Stick to the trail and avoid the long grass (read: tick city). Very quickly you enter the woods. You will pass a stream (feel free to frolic). Stick to the red trail for the best view (the blue trail intersects with the red). The final 10-minute stretch is intense but tell your whining kids you’re almost there. And bam, you are, with a view overlooking the Hudson, and oddly, little cacti growing at the top. Have a snack. You earned it.

Hudson Valley

Scenic Hudson maintains a series of great trails of varying lengths and levels of difficulty in the Hudson Valley, from Yonkers to north of Hudson. Two of the best hikes for kids are the Black Creek Preserve in Esopus and Poet’s Walk near Red Hook. The Walkway Over the Hudson, near Poughkeepsie, is an old rail bridge that has been converted to a walking/biking/scooting bridge and it’s great for kids (but can get crowded).

The Catskills

In the Catskills, Minnewaska State Park and Mohonk Preserve have many hiking options, including a walk at the base of the famous “Gunks,” on the Undercliff/Overcliff Loop (easy). The breathtaking Millbrook Ridge Trail has 360-degree views of the Catskills (medium difficulty — but fine for most kids!). A great swimming hole and easy hike for kids in Mohonk Preserve is Split Rock, at the Coxing Trailhead; but note that this parking lot fills up early in the day. Also in Mohonk Preserve, the Bonticou Crag Trail has terrific views from the top of a giant rock, and features an optional difficult but fun giant rock scramble to get to the top. (Do not attempt the rock scramble with very small kids!)

Big Indian

If you are near Big Indian or Phoenicia, the Giant Ledge Trail provides a strenuous hike — it’s a moderate to difficult trail with a significant ascent. This in-and-out trail leads to a series of giant rocks with spectacular views of the valley below. Another fun adventure is to look for waterfalls on the way to the Peekamoose Blue Hole swimming hole. Note: The Blue Hole requires a permit on weekends and holidays, and permits are limited. The Tanbark Loop behind the playground and church in Phoenicia is a moderate hike with good views.


For those who want a challenge, the aptly named Breakneck Ridge Trail is the real deal. It earns its “difficult” rating and should not be attempted with small kids or by people who have not hiked and rock scrambled before. But your efforts will be rewarded with glorious views of the Hudson Valley and West Point. This hike is near Cold Spring, and you can get to the trailhead without a car via Metro North.



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 at


This week we welcome artist Priyanka Bhagavan, who shares this work titled “Pegasus.” (See it?)

“When I was making this painting, I was feeling hopeful because I had an idea of a painting with all these swirls/flow art. As I was making it, I was hoping it would have all those swirls, too.”
The Queens resident finds happiness in painting and loves to experiment with different designs and color combinations. See more of her art on Instagram. We saved the best for last: She’s 11 and entering seventh grade this fall.
This newsletter was written by Danielle Hyams, with contributions from Taryn Merkl and Sumathi Reddy. It was designed by Nitin Mukul and edited by Faye Chiu and Robin Cabana. Did you like it or find it useful? Tell a friend to sign up. Support our vendors, freelancers and efforts by making a donation to our tip jar

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