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Queens Non-Profit Helps Thousands Get Through Pandemic, Featured on The Today Show

Sunnyside Community Services staff distributing food at the Woodside Houses.

April 14, 2021 By Ryan Songalia

For many Americans, the COVID-19 pandemic created a financial strain that is still being felt more than a year later.

That sting has been felt more so by those who haven’t qualified for federal unemployment assistance or other pandemic benefits—primarily undocumented immigrants. That’s where Sunnyside Community Services has tried to fill the gaps.

The nonprofit organization, which provides assistance to Queens residents regardless of their immigration status, was featured last week on The Today Show in a news piece that highlighted the plight of two local immigrants who have struggled amid the pandemic.

One, a 44-year-old Sunnyside resident named Adriana, is an undocumented immigrant worker who cleans apartments to earn a living. The other, 29-year-old Myra from Corona, came from Ecuador as a child and works at a food cart.

While Myra qualified for pandemic relief as a DREAMer, Adriana did not.

Adriana continues to struggle. Her family of four all caught COVID-19, and quickly burned through their modest savings. Now they survive on her husband’s job working in the kitchen of an upscale restaurant.

When their finances were stretched to the limit, Adriana’s family turned to Sunnyside Community Services, which opened a food pantry last April after the borough was hit hard by the pandemic.

Adriana said she didn’t like seeking help. “Very shameful to go to the pantry. I was embarrassed.”

The organization, which is based on 39th Street near Queens Boulevard, has been providing community and home care assistance since 1974. Executive Director Judy Zangwill says she had not seen anything as dire as this pandemic but said that she and her staff have been trying to do what they can.

“It’s just a band-aid but it helps carry people through for a period of time,” Zangwill said.

More than 700 families have been given direct cash assistance of $1,000 by the organization since April of 2020, according to Monica Guzman, the organization’s Associate Executive Director. She said another 683 families are on a waiting list.

In addition, more than 16,500 packages of food and 157,000 face masks have been handed out, with about 600 families receiving food assistance through their pantry each week.

Guzman says the exposure from The Today Show has led to a surge of assistance from the public, both for the organization, and direct contributions to Adriana’s family.

“We’re trying to raise as much awareness as possible for the need for funding to help people like her,” Guzman said.

Guzman says there is some cause for hope, with $2.1 billion being allocated from the state budget for the Excluded Workers Fund, which will provide assistance to undocumented New Yorkers who were previously ineligible for unemployment and other benefits.

“It just remains to be seen in the fine print who is truly eligible, how easy is it going to be to get that funding, how quickly can it be turned around,” Guzman said.

In addition to emergency relief, Sunnyside Community Services continues its regular operations, which includes online support for senior citizens and meal delivery, home care workers for vulnerable residents, English language classes and legal services for immigrants, as well as after-school programs and learning labs for teens.

Assistance for the organization can be made through online cash donations through its website and/or through purchasing items on their Amazon wishlist. Items can be shipped directly to SCS or dropped off on Mondays and Wednesdays.

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