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Staten Island Seniors Get a Special Delivery: Food and Masks

Volunteers at Staten Islands’s New Direction Services prepare grocery packages.
Volunteers at Staten Islands’s New Direction Services prepare grocery packages.
Photo: Courtesy of New Direction Services

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For many New Yorkers, the COVID-19 quarantine has prompted stocking up and hunkering down.

But some intrepid Samaritans have sprung into action to aid vast numbers of people who can no longer fill the fridge or put food on the table.

All this week, THE CITY is profiling some of the grassroots volunteers feeding those at risk of going hungry, one neighbor at a time.

Angela D’Aiuto started delivering food to seniors almost by accident.

Through her local food pantry, D’Aiuto arranged for a friend’s mother to receive a bundle of fresh groceries — and a reusable mask.

The woman was apparently so impressed with the groceries that she spread the word among her friends — all fellow regulars of the Todt Hill Neighborhood Senior Center, with whom she’d stayed in contact after the center closed in mid March.

“All of the sudden we’re getting calls randomly from seniors from different circles,” D’Aiuto, a North Shore native, said. “Calls like, ‘We hear you’re delivering masks and fresh fruits and vegetables.’”

Now, D’Aiuto and two of her friends are delivering free groceries directly to seniors across Staten Island.

The effort is helping fill a gap that opened when senior centers across the city closed, depriving their usual visitors of a reliable place for lunch. Meanwhile, overwhelmed food pantries are struggling to serve an increasing number of vulnerable clients.

‘A Good Snowball’

Two months ago, D’Aiuto and volunteers at the Suit-Up Network, a workforce development group for low-income Staten Islanders that she founded after Hurricane Sandy, began sewing and selling cloth masks on a pay-what-you-wish basis.

All proceeds go toward New Direction Services, her local food pantry. The “Sewing Brigade,” as D’Aiuto calls it, also donated scores of masks to the food pantry to give away to seniors.

That’s how she arranged to deliver food to her friend’s mom.

“It snowballed from there,” she said. “But it’s a good snowball.”

The volunteer-based Sewing Brigade, headed by D’Aiuto, have sewn and delivered cloth masks to 350 seniors across Staten Island.
The volunteer-based Sewing Brigade has sewn and delivered cloth masks to 350 seniors across Staten Island.
Courtesy of Sewing Brigade

D’Aiuto and her friends, Debra Monte and Diane Holder, now have 20 regulars, all seniors, recruited through word of month among the original Todt Hill group and beyond.

While still volunteering for the food pantry, each of the women deliver to two or three seniors per day, sometimes driving 40 minutes each way, per dropoff.

Each elder receives a weekly grocery bundle sourced by the food pantry, and the trio sometimes supply additional treats.

For example, one 98-year-old client — another Todt Hill regular — was craving fresh zucchini. So D’Aiuto surprised him with some along with his regular groceries.

As for the Sewing Brigade: They’ve given away masks to 350 seniors so far.

The experience, D’Aiuto said, has brought her even closer to the elders of her home borough — though she conceded she and her friends have developed a soft spot for the seniors from Todt Hill.

“We adopted them, basically,” D’Aiuto said with a laugh, adding, “and have wonderful conversations with them.”

Do you have a neighbor helping your New York City community during the coronavirus crisis? Tell us about them at coronavirus@thecity.nyc.

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