Newsletters

Yummy Albanian; 5,000+ vaccine hunters, haiku in paint

photo: Nitin Mukul

Dear Neighbor,

How it started: A newsletter to get through the pandemic.

How it’s going: 5,000+ people have asked us for help getting a vaccine.

In a recent discussion with Harlem Gunness, the director of St. John’s University’s public health program, we compared notes. Gunness just completed a study of conditions in Jackson Heights, Corona and Elmhurst during the pandemic. Significantly, he found that social distancing and quarantining has been impossible in many households, even if one member contracts Covid-19; that Latinos lacked a primary care physician at higher rates than other groups; that many families lack soap, hand sanitizer and other essentials to get through a pandemic.

After hearing about Epicenter’s efforts, Gunness encouraged us to summarize our findings for broader dissemination. As a media organization, we know this is a nontraditional way to report a story and we never planned to pivot from a weekly newsletter into a full-service vaccine registration company. But three pandemics are colliding right now:

  • Systemic racism 
  • Loneliness/absence of community
  • Coronavirus

On its own, each would pose a significant obstacle to an efficient vaccine rollout. Together, they are creating a public-health crisis and exposing the limitations of business as usual. We at Epicenter feel uniquely positioned to be a part of the solution, born out of serving hard-hit communities, connecting intersectional audiences we consider our neighbors, and leveraging communications across platforms, media and languages.

These confusing, fragmented systems require some glue. So we share this reporting in hopes it informs vaccine distribution for the days to come, in New York City and beyond, and hastens efforts to get shots in arms to those who need them most. Here’s a summary of the experience of our team and volunteers, with the longer piece and proposed solutions for many of the problems identified here.

photo: Nitin Mukul

It’s very hard to get an appointment

Most people come to us in frustration. They or someone they love have heard they qualify but cannot figure out how to get a vaccine.

Essential workers and elderly people were given priority in eligibility but are precisely the people who cannot spend hours on a computer to book an appointment, so many have been left behind.

They give us their information in a few different ways:

  • They fill out this online intake form.
  • They see a flyer in any number of languages and follow the QR code to be taken to the form.
  • They call 917-818-2690 and leave their information, which one of us then inputs into the intake form.
  • They send an email to our main inbox. We received emails mostly in English but occasionally Spanish and Chinese.
  • They text one of us after someone they knew (family member, fellow churchgoer, colleague) secured a vaccine through Epicenter.
  • Their boss, supervisor or business owner reaches out and provides lists of qualifying employees (most common among restaurants).

photo: Nitin Mukul

Every day, we hear from so many eligible people who haven’t gotten their vaccines because of concerns over access, fear, time or language issues. To be clear, many of them have been eligible for months.

It is almost impossible even for those devoting their days to this effort to keep on top of all the twists and turns. Announcing changes and availability on social media (such as this tweet from an Assemblywoman saying people over the age of 85 could now just walk in; something we did not see in news stories or press releases elsewhere) means you have to be constantly plugged in to stay current. Those meant to be at the front of the proverbial line are the very populations that are not on the internet all day long, often unable to check email, let alone be on Twitter.

Without this technology or the ability to drop everything the instant a tweet goes out, the people most in need are not able to connect with the appointments (and this is assuming there is no further barrier such as language etc).

If an elderly person walks into a pharmacy to seek an appointment, she should be helped to get one instead of being directed to a website (there’s a reason she went in person). Most of the registrations require somebody’s email address; some sites reject using the same email twice, which makes it hard for a child booking on behalf of both parents.

The current system is about drawing different categories of people into vaccination centers; more effort needs to go into pushing vaccines out to communities. Read more.

Eligibility keeps expanding for vaccines (we see you 50+) and our volunteers can share tips and tricks to book yourself. Join us Wednesday, March 24, at 8 p.m., live-streaming on our socials
The many barriers between Asians and vaccines right now

One of our Chinese-language volunteers, Vivian Tam, started noticing patterns and obstacles facing the Asian community. Read our Q&A with her here.

photo: Nitin Mukul

To be Asian and Atlantan right now

By Simi Shah

Randy Park and I are the same age, 23. If my neighborhood were 2 miles to the left, we would’ve gone to the same high school. We’ve probably strolled the same parks; frequented the same shops. This little metro Atlanta suburb is our home.

Two days ago, Randy Park discovered that his mother, Hyung Jung Kim — “the strongest pillar in my life” as he described her — would never return home. A domestic terrorist killed her at the massage parlor where she worked, in an attack that left eight people, six of them Asian Americans, dead.

When I open up Randy’s GoFundMe page, a campaign that has raised over $1.5 million in the last few days, my eyes fixate on a singular phrase:

“This fundraiser is located near you.”

At first blush, it’s incredibly mundane, but it signifies something unbearably heavy. This hits home because this is home.

Randy and his brother belong to communities we’ve known our whole lives — we as in Asian Americans, we as in Atlantans. I spent my formative years in Duluth, Georgia, the very suburb where Randy lives, a suburb not 30 minutes from Acworth. On trips into the city, I’ve probably driven past that Gold Spa a hundred times. Continue reading.

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. 

 

OUT & ABOUT

photo: Guggenheim

Shop women-owned
Catch 40+ women vendors and artisans this Saturday and Sunday, March 27 and 28, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. The Makers Show is back at City Point for Women’s History Month, featuring vintage clothing, jewelry made with fuse recycled metal, purses made with mud cloth front the Ivory Coast and much more.

photo: Citywinery.com

City Winery’s Downtown Seder
The Jewish holiday Passover, begins this Saturday, March 27. City Winery is hosting its 27th annual (virtual) Sedar two days earlier, on Thursday, March 25, starting at 7 p.m. NYC mayoral candidates Andrew Yang, Scott Stringer, Ray McGuire and Kathryn Garcia will each be doing a blessing. The Seder will also include comedians Lewis Black, Judy Gold and Mark Normand and musicians Macy Gray, David Broza, Idan Raichel, Marc Cohn among others. Dr. Ruth and Al Franken will be delivering additional greetings. Register here to join the celebration.

Works & Process
The live (oh how that word excites us!) performing arts series has returned to the Guggenheim Museum through April 19. Works & Process will also present surprise daytime performances in the rotunda. Glimmerglass Festival, Jazz at Lincoln Center and the Metropolitan Opera are among groups that will be performing. The next performance, “The Missing Element,” which fuses the music making of beatbox with street dance, will take place on Tuesday, March 30. Tickets go on sale 72 hours prior to each performance. Learn more.

State of Democracy
The 2020 election season and its aftermath certainly gave our democracy a run for its money. This Thursday, March 25, join the 92nd Street Y in collaboration with Knight Foundation, ProPublica and Craig Newmark Philanthropies for a full day of panels focused on the future of democracy. Speakers include public policy expert and Harvard professor Danielle Allen, ProPublica editor Stephen Engelberg, journalist Wesley Lowery, Michigan’s Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, and many more. Reserve your free tickets here.

photo: krispykreme

Got the vaccine? Have a Krispy Kreme
The doughnut chain will give you a free Original Glazed doughnut every.single.day through the end of the year with proof of Covid-19 vaccine card. We applaud businesses incentivizing getting the vaccine. Who’s next?

 

GIVE & GET HELP

photo: therollinglibrary

Work in vaccine distribution
We shared this last week and many of you were interested, so here we go again: As New York City ramps up its vaccine efforts, it needs more people to staff vaccine sites. There are various positions that need to be filled, including those that don’t require a medical background or a college degree. The positions are full-time and offer high pay rates. Learn more.

Astoria-based writer types wanted
 The Rolling Library is looking for locals who want to share their love and knowledge of professional writing, zine making, creative writing, literacy, manuscript submission and “literally anything else” for in-person workshops. Sound like you? Shoot them an email at therollinglibrary@gmail.com.

Free healing circle
Asian Identified Folx can join a free healing circle this Thursday, March 25, from 6 to 7 p.m. The event will be an open dialogue and a safe space to talk, listen and support each other as a way for healing. You can talk about any and all things and come as you are. You can also participate without speaking. To join, email asianhealinggroup@gmail.com.

How to reduce food waste
Did you know that more than one-third of food produced in the U.S. goes uneaten each year? If you’re anything like us, you know the terrible feeling of tossing a carton of moldy strawberries or a bag of sad, soggy lettuce. Join this online workshop with NYC-based environmental justice activist, public health professional and sustainability content creator Belinda Chiu on Thursday, March 25, at 6:30 p.m., to learn why food waste is a global issue, how to reduce food waste at home and how to combat food waste through composting and supporting local advocacy efforts. Get your pay-as-you-wish tickets here.

 

Welcome back high schoolers
 About 55,000 students returned to classrooms on Monday –– was yours one of them? Still, most students remain enrolled in remote-learning as the school year comes to a close.

De Blasio opens new opt-in period
Families who didn’t feel ready to sign-up for in-person learning last fall, here’s your second chance. From Wednesday, March 24, until Wednesday, April 7, all students have the option to return to classrooms. The catch? Only 3K, Pre-K, Elementary and District 75 students who opt-in will return in April, while middle and high school students who opt-in have no set return date.

No budget cuts over here
Funds are typically withheld from New York City public schools whose enrollment rates aren’t up to snuff, but not this year. De Blasio and Schools Chancellor Meisha Porter decided to save 877 schools from returning more than $130 million. Helping to cushion that loss is De Blasio’s move to allocate $4.5 billion of federal Covid-19 relief aid to New York City schools.

 

AN ANNOUNCEMENT

Epicenter-NYC, along with other partners in URL Media, is launching a weekly newsletter focused on this year’s New York City municipal elections, where not only the mayor but much of the City Council and other crucial local positions will be filled. Our first edition will focus on newly naturalized New Yorkers who will be voting now for the first time, and we want to hear from you! Have you recently become a U.S. citizen with plans to cast your ballot (or deciding whether and for whom to do so)? Please reach out to us here.

 

DAY-TRIPPING

photo: wavehill

This week we are sending you up to the Bronx. Your destination? Wave Hill, which is the perfect place to welcome spring. Truly an oasis in the city, Wave Hill is a 19th-century estate set on 28 acres featuring beautifully manicured gardens and stunning views of the Hudson River. Bring a book and spend the day relaxing.  Reserve your tickets (Adults; $10 Children; $4) here. If you’re so inclined, Riverdale Park, full of woodlands and trails, is just a short walk. For dinner head to head to Arthur Avenue, also known as the Bronx’s Little Italy. Get there before 6 p.m. so you can peruse the offerings of the Arthur Avenue Market. For dinner, our recommendation is Çka Ka Qellu for traditional Albanian fare. Albania and Italy are neighbors, separated by a sliver of sea, and the Bronx contains a large population of people from both countries. For dessert, do not, we repeat, DO NOT leave the Bronx without stopping by Lloyd’s for some of its famous carrot cake.

 

LAST WORD 

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.

This week we welcome Arthur Kvarnstrom.

“My watercolor paintings and ink drawings embody qualities that are increasingly important to me. They rely on relationships of simplified form and space while employing color or black and white as a means of expression and communication. These works, painted over a period of several years represent my interpretation of abstract shapes found in this particular landscape.

Additionally, painting on location provides a thorough immersion in nature, an experience that informs the painting. The natural world is alive and wondrous. Being present in nature is a spiritual experience that I share through painting. Painting is a meditation on nature akin to poetry — haiku in paint…”

Kvarnstrom draws inspiration from his many teachers over the years, as well as from other painters. Rembrandt is a perennial favorite, as are Fairfield Porter and Lois Dodd who have vindicated his commitment to painting the world around him.

Art has always been part of Kvarnstrom’s life. After high school he attended Dutchess Community College in Poughkeepsie, New York, majoring in Liberal Arts, and signing up for all the art classes. At that point, making art didn’t seem a viable way to spend a life, never mind make a living. It certainly wasn’t within the realm of possibility according to his parents. Not knowing what to do next, he spent several years floundering, including a stint in the Navy.

He went on to earn a BFA from the University of Arizona and an MFA from Kent State.

Kvarnstrom’s early work was based on direct observation, which has not changed. What has changed is his intent. During his student years and for some time following, his objective was to accurately draw or paint what he saw. In the last several years, his intent has evolved to focus on marks and abstract shapes and rhythms.

You can see more of Kvarnstrom’s work on his website.

 

 

This newsletter was written by Danielle Hyams, Jade Stepeney, S. Mitra Kalita and Simi Shah. Photographs and design by Nitin Mukul and editing by 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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