Photo by Crystal Jo on Unsplash

Dear Neighbor,

It’s a most confusing time to be a New Yorker. Masks on or off? Is Covid surging or are things back to normal? To take our unvaccinated kids to an indoor restaurant or not? As with all things New York, we are many cities in one right now. On the issue of vaccines, Epicenter-NYC reporter Andrea Piñeda-Salgado headed to two neighborhoods on different sides of the coin to better understand why we are so divided.

Neighborhoods in Manhattan, like Hell’s Kitchen, the Upper East Side and the Financial District are rapidly returning to normal as their vaccination rates remain consistently higher than other parts of the city. Areas in Brooklyn and Queens like Far Rockaway, Canarsie and Crown Heights have the lowest vaccination rates, with less than 40% of the residents having received at least one dose.

Photo of a bar and restaurant in Hell’s Kitchen by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

According to the New York City Department of Health, Hell’s Kitchen has the highest vaccination rate, with nearly 100% of the estimated population fully vaccinated. Compare that to Far Rockaway, where only 32% of residents are fully vaccinated.

We visited and spoke to neighbors in both places to understand why. Key takeaways:

A connected community 

Victoria Barlow has been a resident of Hell’s Kitchen for more than 35 years. She runs the Facebook group called “Hell’s Kitchen Neighbors,” where neighbors are able to share questions, information and anecdotes. The group has served as an incredible resource during the pandemic and created the best ambassadors for the vaccines—each other.

“It really helped that everybody who got the vaccine shared that they got the vaccine and if people would just say, ‘I just got it, I got my second one and I was a little tired, but I’m feeling better now,’ and you know I think neighbors talked to each other and communicated with each other,” Barlow said. “In fact, it was in the group that a neighbor told me where I could get my vaccine.”

Access to the actual vaccine

One of the most important factors contributing to the difference in vaccination rates between Hell’s Kitchen and Far Rockaway seem to be the presence of vaccine sites. In Far Rockaway, vaccines are much harder to access.

A Google search for vaccine sites in Far Rockaway yields only five results, and most of them close before 6 p.m. Hell’s Kitchen has nine options. Hell’s Kitchen, on the other hand, was once home to one of the largest vaccination sites in NYC: the Jacob Javits Center. And while people from all over the state came here to get vaccinated, it served its neighbors pretty well too.

Access to quality information

One thing that stuck out to me was the difference between the availability of information and overall attitudes people in these neighborhoods tend to have toward the vaccine.

Vinniette Anderson, a resident of Far Rockaway for 15 years and a member of First Presbyterian Church, told me his community places a lot of value on information shared by neighbors: What is being said about the vaccine may not be the most accurate or the most positive.

“Some of the people just have a reluctance to take medicine in general, they prefer a more natural, a more holistic approach,” she said. “So there are those people — and I’m sure a lot of them too just talk among themselves about just their fear. And it’s just amplified, you know, depending on who you speak to or anecdotal information you can get from, you know, whether emails or WhatsApp or whichever source they get it from.”

Charine Hastings, who has owned a hair salon in Far Rockaway for the past 20 years, has also noticed her community’s hesitancy toward the vaccine.

“They’re just scared. People are just scared because this vaccine came out and they said it is too quick for them,” she said. “I just hope and pray that everybody gets vaccinated and this virus won’t come back to hit us hard.”

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Join our community here.


Every week, neighbor and author Radha Vatsal will be providing her recommendations for what to read and watch throughout the summer.


Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Stories of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly tells the story of the many Black women “computers” and scientists who worked for NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) and its predecessor, NACA (National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics.)

These include Dorothy Vaughn, a mother of four and a female “human computer;”  Mary Jackson, an aerospace engineer and Katherine Johnson, who performed the calculations for John Glenn’s space flight. In a 2016 interview with, Shetterly explains, however, “You couldn’t tell this as a single person’s story. This is the story of broad success of women overall, and African-American women specifically, in a job category that it’s simply assumed where they don’t exist. During a time of Jim Crow segregation, during a time when women frequently weren’t even allowed to have credit cards in their own names, here were these women — large numbers of women — doing very high-level mathematical work at one of the highest scientific institutions in the world at that time.”

Hidden Figures is detailed and eye-opening. It sheds light on a little-known facet of the past, and once again shows that people of color contributed to fulfilling the American dream in ways that many readers may not have learned about in history textbooks and might not have imagined were possible. But for Shetterly, who is African-American, women computers were par for the course. Visiting her father, who was a scientist at NASA’s Langley Research Center, she says, “As a child . . . I knew so many African-Americans working in science, math and engineering that I thought that’s just what black folks did.”

Hidden Figures was adapted into an award-winning film in 2016, starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monáe. It is also available in a young readers’ edition for children ages 8-12.

Hidden Figures can be streamed on Amazon for $3.99.


Photo by Andrea Piñeda-Salgado for Epicenter-NYC

Make sure you have a listen to our latest episode, which features a discussion about what to make of Eric Adams, how to cover his ascent, and the history women and people of color might make in the City Council. Tune in tomorrow to learn about a museum exhibit that encapsulates what life was like during the pandemic for some South Williamsburg residents.


Free photo workshop for Queens teens

Back to the Lab, the photography focused organization that works to promote an interest in the craft, particularly in underserved communities, is hosting a free summer workshop for high schoolers. During the program, which runs from Aug. 2 to 13, students will learn the basics of photography, storytelling techniques and leadership and community relationship building skills. The program is free and all equipment will be provided. Queens students ages 14 to 18 are eligible; the application deadline is July 28. Learn more and apply here.

It’s raining cats and kittens
New York City Animal Care and Control is hosting a cat adoption extravaganza this Saturday, July 24 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at its Manhattan location (326 E. 110th St.)  Adoption fees are as follows: two kittens for $200, one kitten for $125, young cats are $75 and cats over five years old are $25.The shelter encourages people to browse available felines on its website, where you can also fill out an application. Questions? Email

NYC restaurant week returns for five weeks
And there are deals to be had: now through Aug. 22, diners can enjoy prix fixe meals from more than 500 participating restaurants at special prices. Lunch is $21, dinner $39, and there is also an option of Signature Dining Experience, a new initiative that includes a meal of at least three courses and perks like meeting the chef, special menu items and more. See participating restaurants here.

Tamales and tortas
A new Mexican restaurant, Dulce Cultura, just opened in Astoria (42-20 31st Ave.) and has all of our favorites on its menu: tacos, tamales, homemade ice cream (in flavors like horchata and avocado) and a hefty churro selection. Welcome them to the neighborhood if you have a chance!

Check out this NYC-themed art show this Sunday, July 25, from 12 to 4 p.m. at LIC BAR in Queens. There will be live music and drinks, and 15% of all art sales will be donated to four local organizations that help small businesses and mental health initiatives: Roar New York, LISC NYC, New York Independent Venue Association and the Mental Health Association in New York State.

Guelaguetza Festival
Socrates Sculpture Park in Astoria is partnering with Ballet Folkórico Mexicano de Nueva York to celebrate the Guelaguetza Festival this Sunday, July 25, from 2 to 5 p.m. The celebration, which originated in Oaxaca City, Mexico, honors indigenous culture through traditional dance, music and costumes. Learn more.


Phone a friend

The Neighborhood Network was created during the early days of Covid-19 to help foster friendship and connection over the phone. It is currently seeking more volunteers and participants. If you’re 60 or older (or know someone who is, spread the word!) you can fill out this form to get a friendly call buddy. If you’re interested in becoming a volunteer, which entails calling a senior every week or bi-weekly and developing a friendship, sign up here.

A good, old-fashioned bake sale

Remember the joy of going to school on bake sale day? Come out to support Astoria Food Pantry this Saturday, July 24, by purchasing your favorite baked goods. The bake sale will take place at 31st Open Street in Astoria. You can also support AFP by baking something! You can drop off the goods (with major allergens noted, please) at 25-82 Steinway St. this Thursday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. or Friday from 12 to 5 p.m., cash and Venmo accepted at the bake sale.


Kerhonkson, located about two hours upstate, is the perfect place for those who want to escape the city’s heat and jump into nature, quite literally. At Minnewaska State Park Preserve you can enjoy lakes, waterfalls and more than 50 miles of footpaths for hiking and biking.

Once you’ve worked up an appetite, head to Arrowood Farms, a “terroir-driven” farm-to-table brewery, distillery and restaurant.

And, because we like our day trips to be food-focused, be sure to stop at Helena’s Specialty Pierogies on your way home to pick up some homemade pierogies — which come in more than 20 flavors and are sold by the dozen — and Polish sausages.


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.  If your work is selected, you will receive a $100 stipend and become part of our growing network of artists.

Rebirth, 2021, acrylic on canvas, 18″ x 20″. Photo courtesy of the artist Bonnie Astor.

This week we welcome artist Bonnie Astor. Astor’s paintings and mixed media artworks have been exhibited in solo and group shows in Seattle, Los Angeles, New York City, Athens, Greece and Venice, Italy.

Jaffa Dreams, 2020, watercolor inks and acrylic on canvas, 24″ x 30″. Photo courtesy of the artist Bonnie Astor.

Her artwork has been featured by nonprofit organizations for women’s empowerment, education and access to health care projects. As an art activist, she leads community workshops benefitting people of all ages with disabilities, mental illness, homelessness and in transition.  Astor has a master’s degree in studio art from NYU as well as a master’s degree in nursing from Rutgers, both of which inform her work and interactions with people around the globe.

Upside Down World; 2020, watercolor inks on yupo paper, 18″ x 24″. Photo courtesy of the artist Bonnie Astor.

Astor, along with curator Lois Stavsky, maintains the blog ART BreakOUTwhich provides a platform for artists who work on the margins of the art establishment — to provide exposure, while educating the public about them. It has a focus on self-taught and outsider artists whose art can now be seen in galleries and museums around the world.

Beauty and the Beast , 2021, acrylic on canvas, 8″ x 10″. Photo courtesy of the artist Bonnie Astor.

They currently have an exhibition on view at The Local NY in Long Island City.  Alone / Together: A Visual Meditation on Our Times, features work in a range of media by more than 20 artists traversing continents, cultures and generations. The exhibition is open 24/7 through August 29. See more of Astor’s work on her website.

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