Tuesday, June 23, 2020
How Henry Street Settlement is helping neighbors in need during the COVID-19 crisis
Text and photos by Stacie Joy
I’d never been to the Henry Street Settlement’s Boys & Girls Republic on Sixth Street between Avenue D and the FDR.
So when Jon Harper, the acting director of emergency response food distribution, invited me I was eager to see what he and his team of workers and volunteers were doing to help support the community through a food initiative.
I visited twice, first on a Monday afternoon to watch the food arrive (some via a partnership with UPS) and get sorted and packed into bags, and then again the following morning to accompany folks as they delivered the packages to local residents in need.
Afterward, I spoke with Jon about the history of the organization, the assistance process and how those interested can get involved.
Can you speak a bit about the Henry Street Settlement program? How did it come to be at the Boys & Girls Republic location on Sixth Street?
Henry Street Settlement has been around since 1893. It was started by Lillian Wald as the Nurse’s Settlement, and has been responsible for an incredible amount of work on the Lower East Side.
Henry Street Settlement serves more than 50,000 people each year with programming in employment and education, health and wellness, transitional and supportive housing, and arts and humanities. Lillian Wald was very active in NYC’s response to the 1918 pandemic! So it’s only appropriate that we are stepping up now to provide critical services to folks on the Lower East Side and East Village who need them.
Boys & Girls Republic is a youth community center that Henry Street took over in 1997. Formerly called Boys Brotherhood Republic, it was created in the 1930s with a special emphasis on youth citizenship and self-government, which Henry Street carries on. Because congregate youth programming was suspended due to the COVID-19 crisis, this building was available to open the food pantry.
How did this food initiative start? How and where do you receive goods and perishables, and how many individuals and families are you providing supplies for?
Henry Street has several food initiatives that were already in place: a large Meals on Wheels program and daily meals for several hundred older adults through our senior center.
This emergency food initiative started because of the acute need that surfaced almost from the start of the COVID-19 crisis. Ninety percent of the calls to Henry Street’s new helpline are from people facing food insecurity — primarily because they are seniors or immunocompromised people who cannot leave their homes, or because they’ve lost their livelihood.
Another nonprofit that provides extraordinary service to the Lower East Side, the grassroots organization Vision Urbana, reached out to us because their client base was growing quickly due to the crisis, and after some discussion we started up a partnership with them.
Currently almost all of our food comes to us through their relationship with the Food Bank For New York City. We are currently distributing that food to over 400 households.
What is the process, from how someone applies for assistance to receiving the packages?
People can contact the Henry Street Settlement helpline at 347-493-2787. A case worker will talk to them about food as part of a broad range of needs that Henry Street might be able to help them with. Right now, we are working to rapidly expand our delivery capacity so that we can provide food to the growing number of people who are requesting this service.
Then, every Tuesday, we send a wonderful set of volunteers and staff out to deliver each bag of groceries to the recipients. It’s important that it be delivered instead of picked up so that we can maintain social distancing, and also let our recipients stay in their homes where it is safer for them.
How can people get involved? Is there a way for folks to donate funds, goods, and/or volunteer their time?
There are several ways that people can get involved! The fastest way, of course, is to donate money through our website. Just go to www.henrystreet.org and click on the “donate” popup that comes up.
We are not currently accepting donations of food — unless of course you can donate an entire pallet of something! We also are very lucky to have and very reliant upon an amazing set of volunteers for the actual deliveries. Come join us! It’s 9 a.m. on Tuesdays, and usually we are done by noon, though if you can only come for an hour or two that’s still useful. If you’re interested in volunteering, please contact Deanna Sorge at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is already a major undertaking and a large-scale program. What’s next for this project?
The need for help with food insecurity is enormous, especially in our neighborhood. We are working very hard to identify more sources of food so that we can turn this from a two-day-a-week on-site operation into a full-time operation; sending food out multiple days every week. We have the people and the space to expand, we just need the food to be able to distribute, and the funds to make it happen!
H/T to Christine Koenig for her help in setting up this interview.