Photos and text by Stacie Joy
Yesterday was the first distribution day since we published the stories (here and here) about the asylum seekers at the former St. Brigid's School, which the city is using at a temporary "respite center" on Seventh Street and Avenue B.
It's a big production, with many community members reaching out, eager to help. I hope all donated goods: clothes, bedding, towels, personal-care products, book bags and shoes will find good homes with the newly arrived refugees.
I arrive a bit early at the drop-off location, and it's already filling up — so many people are bringing in so many items. As I frantically text some reinforcements — friends and neighbors — to help organize the growing donations, more and more people drop off bags for the hundreds of asylum seekers arriving here in the past week.
The community support is more than I ever imagined, with residents bringing precisely what is most needed: shoes (chancletas are a highly requested footwear), jeans, sweats, T-shirts, blankets, sheets, towels, and backpacks. A local wine bar owner drops off hundreds of dollars worth of new shoes, socks and bedding.
People carefully explain what they've brought, and several ask me about providing ongoing support. It's touching — and daunting. Hundreds of pounds of items are piling up...
However, we reach an understanding and are soon working together to get the goods to the people who need them. And hundreds of asylum seekers are provided clothing, bedding and hygiene products. The donated backpacks — a hotly sought-after item — move faster than I anticipated.
Site workers also help me pair specific items with those who made a request, and we strategize how to get the most-requested item — Wi-Fi access — to the people. Since there is no coordination between the city and several agencies working within the site, getting anything accomplished through government channels is impossible.
There are some heartwarming moments — two women are ecstatic over a donated box of new makeup, a gentleman spies some glittery shoes he admires, and the woman requesting extra-small or extra-extra-small yoga pants finally grabs two pair. Someone else spies the AeroBed that was dropped off, and we Google translate how to inflate it — often with amusing results and a much-needed moment of levity.
As soon as items hit the table (and sometimes before), they are nabbed by the center's residents. And a new bus of immigrants arrives in the middle of the distribution, while another bus parks down the block to take people to Albany. Many take their newly acquired packs, clothes, and goods and head to the bus in preparation for heading north — all thanking us before they board.
The scene is sometimes chaotic, with altercations between city and state employees, and the police are called to intercede. Additionally, a few Medrite employees — the subcontractors the city hired — are agitated, and some unkind words are uttered. Still, no one stops the Free Store, and even when security arrives via NYC Emergency Management, they are supportive.
This was a hugely successful community event, thanks mainly to East Village residents and EVG readers. Many of the asylum seekers expressed gratitude and thanks for the generous help. Future drop-off dates at Assemblymember Harvey Epstein's office at 107 Avenue B at Seventh Street are:
• Tuesday, June 6, 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
• Thursday, June 8, 3-5:30 p.m.
• Tuesday, June 13, 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
Previously on EV Grieve:
• Missed meal deliveries and a need for basics: the developing situation at the East Village respite center for asylum seekers