May 17, 2020 By Michael Dorgan
Desperate Queens residents have been forming long lines outside a Sunnyside food pantry in recent weeks.
The queue for food outside the Mosaic Church Office on 43rd Avenue stretched an entire block Friday and demand is surging, according to local volunteers.
“Friday was by far the biggest we have seen, we saw people starting to line up at 2:30 p.m. and we don’t open until 5 p.m.,” said Woodside/Sunnyside Community Covid-19 Relief Group coordinator Sophia Moncayo.
The group, which was established in March by church leaders and civic organizers such as Brent O’Leary, provided non-perishable food items to more than 800 people last week.
The group operates from the Mosaic Church Office at 46-01 43rd Ave and Woodside on the Move’s offices at 51-23 Queens Blvd. The Mosaic Church location opens on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and the WOTM site opens every Saturday. Both sites are open from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. to help feed needy residents in Queens.
Moncayo expects the lines to get even bigger because people are running out of money. The economic shutdown is set to continue until at least the end of May and many residents are without work.
In its first week, the group saw between 50 and 75 people but the numbers have increased as the weeks have gone by, Moncayo said.
“This was nowhere near what was happening even a month ago and we’re starting to see people come from a lot of other areas like College Point, Brooklyn and as far away as The Bronx,” she said.
Needy residents are able to pick up a wide variety of food items such as canned foods, fruit, vegetables, pasta, and prepackaged goods. Other items include baby diapers and infant formula.
Food is given out based on what the people say they need, Moncayo said.
“People are very honest and even bring back certain foods if they find they don’t need them,” she said.
The group has about 40 volunteers handing out food, taking stock deliveries and providing door-to-door deliveries to housebound residents.
Around eight helpers hand out food behind the counter while three others will tend to people outside.
The outdoor group hand out water to keep people hydrated and bring elderly individuals to the head of the line to prevent them from standing too long.
People can feel embarrassed to line up for food but it’s not their fault, Moncayo said.
“We try to make it a place where people feel welcome so we play some music and try to make them smile,” she said.
Simon Padilla, another coordinator with the group, said that while times are tough, a community spirit is rising that will have long term benefits.
“Something really beautiful is happening underneath all of this aside from the despair people are going through,” he said.
“The people receiving food want to give back to the community and so many have said they would love to volunteer their skills, like teaching a class or even help with the food distribution themselves,” he said.
The community spirit has allowed the group to raise over $50,000 from local people and small businesses.
A Delaware-based charity run by Queens natives Jeff and Michael Kaplan provided a big grant two weeks ago.
The charity promised to donate $10,000 if the Woodside/Sunnyside group could match it within a week. The Woodside/Sunnyside group pulled in $14,000– and got the $10,000.
The Mosaic church has been injecting cash and a Facebook fundraiser organized by Moncayo has raised almost $12,000 in the last 17 days.
Neighborhood businesses are helping out too. The Skillman Bar, located on 45-20 Skillman Ave., has been donating pallets of vegetables twice a week and teachers at I.S.125 have been delivering food and diapers. The Skillman is also working on a plan to organize the group’s food deliveries through its supplier in order to reduce costs.
Local residents are offering up whatever they can too by dropping off food at the Mosaic Church office. The center is open from 10 a.m. on weekdays to take deliveries and people can make financial donations there also.
“It is so comforting to see the community pull together and we will get through this,” Moncayo said.
However, the group is making a renewed call for financial donations because their cash will only last to the end of May due to the surge in demand.
“We are trying to plan for the long-term because people are not simply just going to get back to work as soon as the economy re-opens, Moncayo said.
Financial donations can be made via the group’s Facebook fundraiser page.