The virtual reality of Isabella Di Pietro’s recent Harvard graduation was very different from what she anticipated eleven weeks ago. For one thing, she had taken a leave from school to help her family save its UWS-based restaurant business, while responding to the needs of frontline healthcare workers.
Once the effort was launched, contributions began to pour in from friends, restaurant customers and local residents. The funds generated went to contributing restaurants which prepared and delivered meals to frontline workers who barely had any time away from patient care.
Two months in, with the COVID burden on NYC hospitals significantly reduced, there’s a different food insecurity crisis affecting new groups of people: those who have lost or are losing their jobs.
This is compounded by the needs of low income seniors and others whose illnesses and disabilities put them at higher risk of COVID.
“I see lines snaking around the block from the West Side Coalition Against Hunger distribution point on 86th and West End, with people waiting to receive everything from cans of soup to fresh vegetables,” says Isabella. “Along with the 60 healthcare facilities we’ve served, we’ve delivered to eighteen shelters and supportive housing residences so far, including five run by the West Side Federation for Senior and Supportive Housing (WSFSSH), and the essential workers at the West Side Campaign Against Hunger (WSCAH) on 86th and West End.”
She says there’s a great need to engage government support and involvement. Crowd funding alone will not fund the need for prepared meals among the city’s growing population of hungry seniors, adults and children. The related support for farmers and others in the food service industry – many of whom are in crisis – needs to be addressed beyond a neighborhood’s humanitarian response.
Feed the Frontlines NYC has been consistently providing thousands of meals per week, many to residences that pre-COVID, relied on community centers to provide daily meals to their clients. That service stopped with COVID. Adding to the food crisis is the looming disaster of 50 percent of NYC restaurants projected to never reopen, adding to the staggering numbers of unemployed.
This 10-week crash course in addressing food insecurity is ongoing for Isabella and the scores of people who have joined her family. On what would have been graduation day, where she and her classmates would have marched to receive diplomas, she instead drove to Bed Stuy to pick up potatoes and spinach (before her virtual graduation began). Isabella’s support of the “we’re all in this together” approach is a lesson and inspiration to others.
To support Feed the Frontlines NYC, visit feedthefrontlinesnyc.org/buymeals. This weekend, the initiative is also hosting a virtual auction featuring products donated by Upper West Side businesses like Upper West Spa to raise funds for their efforts.