Need to know more about coronavirus in New York? Sign up for THE CITY’s daily morning newsletter.
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.
Barbara Williams, a lifelong Brooklynite, has a reputation as the neighborhood do-gooder in Williamsburg.
She volunteers with census outreach, regularly hosted movie nights for seniors before the pandemic, and owns a business that supports women going through menopause.
After sharing on Facebook that she had pneumonia, Williams received a call from local north Brooklyn Assemblymember Maritza Dávila (D-Brooklyn), a “mutual friend” on the social media platform.
“She called and was like ‘What do you need?’” Williams, 53, recalled. “And I said, ‘I need food for my seniors.’”
That was in early March. Since then, she’s coordinated distribution efforts for over 5,000 hot meals in Williamsburg, half of them for senior citizens. The majority of the meals are distributed in Lindsay Park Housing, the sprawling seven-building cooperative housing complex off Union Avenue and Broadway where Williams has lived for 24 years.
Williams oversees a team of seven volunteers who deliver hot meals obtained from a variety of sources: private donations, Bushwick non-profit Sustainable United Neighborhoods, and World Central Kitchen, the charity run by celebrity chef José Andrés.
“I don’t know how she does it,” said Kevin LaCherra of Greenpoint, who connected with Williams while coordinating mutual aid relief in his own neighborhood. “She’s unstoppable.”
After that call in early March with the assemblywoman, Williams called “one person in each building who I knew was tight with seniors” and quickly got to work. Now, they’re feeding “anyone in need,” she said.
“We have over 2,700 apartments, but everyone talks to each other,” said Williams, who grew up in the Ingersoll Houses in Fort Greene. “All you have to do is tell one person.”
She and the volunteers, all of whom live in Lindsay Park, keep tabs on elderly residents, with their contact information saved on a spreadsheet cultivated by Williams.
And she does it all from her apartment, which she’s barely left in the last two months. Though she’s recovered from her pneumonia, which was unrelated to COVID-19, she has respiratory issues and remains indoors as a precaution.
“It’s building on a community that we already have,” Williams said of the relief efforts. “I love, love, love my community.”
“I get a lot of calls from people who need help. I say, ‘What do you need? You don’t need to be strong. I’ll be strong for you.’ ”
Do you have a neighbor helping your New York City community during the coronavirus crisis? Tell us about them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Want to republish this story? See our republication guidelines.
SUPPORT THE CITY
You just finished reading another story from THE CITY.
We need your help to make THE CITY all it can be.
Please consider joining us as a member today.