In the United States, the coronavirus pandemic has done its worst to the residents of New York, infecting more than 300,000 people and counting. NYC Relief has provided food, water and necessities to the needy and homeless throughout NYC for more than 30 years. Previously, they fed their guests by pouring hot soup out of Camtainers into cups and encouraging them to sit with their community and socialize. With social distancing and cross-contamination concerns, NYC Relief had to rethink the methods they’ve used for three decades.
“We started shifting gears and thinking about to-go containers and then we ran into the problem of…how on earth are we going to actually serve to-go soup, which is what we primarily serve, in a way that is healthy and safe and hot?” said Josiah Haken, Vice President of Outreach Operations. “We actually had one day where I was out on the bus serving and we did to-go containers and I just noticed that the soup wasn’t hot like it normally is…that was when I realized we had to change everything.”
Haken started looking for an insulated transport product that could accommodate their to-go soup containers.
“We switched over to the Cambro [GoBoxes] because they’re stackable, they’re lightweight and they actually carry a large amount. We actually figured out that in one Cambro GoBox, we can carry up to 44 to-go containers of soup stacked,” said Haken.
Typically, NYC Relief would serve around 200 people, during the pandemic it’s increased to 400.
“The needs have doubled. There was a window of time where a lot of people didn’t have access to food,” said Haken. “Most of the homeless that we serve that have the option of staying home. That’s the most obvious statement ever, but it’s just reality.”
NYC Relief has been able to continue providing food despite the increased number of guests they’re experiencing thanks to monetary donations and increased provisions provided by Teixeira’s Bakery.
“We’re making more [soup] and we’re raising money as fast as we can to keep up with demand,” said Haken. “We’re getting more bread from the bakery. They reached out to us and they’ve been super helpful. They’ve been giving us as much bread as we want, as much bread as we need which is amazing. They are a massive bakery. I know that their production has dropped, I also know that we have a 30-year partnership with them, so we reached out to their owner and he said that they are going to make sure that we have all the bread that we need.”
Many of NYC Relief’s guests would go hungry if it weren’t for their consistent presence within the community.
“The feedback we get is that they appreciate us continuing to serve because many, many programs have not,” said Haken. “The fact that we continue to show up is deeply meaningful to them.”
One big reason they’re able to keep their operation running is their devoted staff and volunteers. While they’re being as safe as possible, there are undeniable risks associated with their work.
“We’re trying our best to be as safe as possible. We purchased a full orders of N95 masks for our staff and our volunteers. We’ve changed the way we serve. We’re changing gloves, we’re trying to maintain social distance while we serve. At the same time, it’s risky,” said Haken. “We’ve basically told our staff that serving is optional, we don’t require any of our staff members to serve.”
For individuals or organizations that are sitting on the sidelines and want to help but aren’t sure how, Haken suggest getting creative to continue making an impact.
“Just because the way you maybe always serve or the way you’ve always volunteered or the way you’ve always helped is no longer available, doesn’t mean you should stop. Maybe you just have to do kind of what we’ve done, just adapt. Rethink what you’re serving and how you’re serving it so that you can make a difference in someone’s life,” said Haken.