From grocery pickups to delivering medical supplies, here’s how you can help (or get help)
As the coronavirus pandemic took hold of the Queens area, the ever-present characteristic of kindness emerged throughout our community. Existing organizations, schools, businesses, and individuals materialized in the most astonishing and amazing ways, showcasing our inherently Jewish qualities. Distributions helplines were formed for food, medicine, medical equipment, and everything in between. The unity of our society continues to be one of the most heart-warming manifestations of mi k’amcha Yisrael, “Who is like Your nation, the Jewish people?”
Due to the contagion, area hospitals have been overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients. Community medical personnel have gone above and beyond to keep the ill safe and comfortable as they nurse them back to health. Local activist Nechemia Hoch saw other communities institute an oxygen concentrator loaner program that prevented hundreds of coronavirus-related hospitalizations and sought the partnership of other local askanim to bring our community this resource. Longtime community physician Dr. Ellie Bennett explained, “After we conferred with our medical community, we came to a realization that a vast majority of those experiencing coronavirus-related breathing complications could avoid hospitalizations with proper oxygenation in a medically appropriate manner.” Community resident Ari Elbogen worked behind the scenes to ensure the project seamlessly developed. “In under 24 hours, community members raised nearly $40,000 to purchase 44 oxygen concentrators,” stated Hoch. “The Amudim Organization was founded on a pillar of kindness and remains dedicated to serving community members in times of crisis. We used our resources to locate available oxygen concentrators vendors and help bring them to a community in need. We as well established a dedicated call-line for the program. It was our z’chus to partake in this endeavor,” said Zvi Gluck, Director of Amudim. A volunteer mentioned, “It became imperative to ensure we keep our family and friends home and not expose them to other hazards in the overburdened hospital system.” Moshe Vatch, a Misaskim of Queens coordinator, was contacted to organize the volunteer distribution effort. “With many of our operations on hold, Misaskim of Queens took on the task of helping those in need. We gathered a task force where protocols were put in place to ensure that the equipment would be used properly and serve its intended purpose,” explained Vatch. FreedomCare, a home care consumer-directed personal assistance agency that allows people to hire and manage their own caregivers, was brought in to provide a free visiting nurse service to virtually check in on those with concentrators. “The program experienced overwhelming success and most definitely saved lives,” concluded Bennett.
Queens Borough Safety Patrol Shmira worked with their Brooklyn counterpart, CWSP, to provide pulse oximeters to monitor heart rate and oxygenation levels of COVID-19 patients. “Many devices were loaned throughout Queens to those who called in requesting our help,” stated Shaya Lloyd, a local Shmira Coordinator. Medical personnel were recruited to monitor participants and ensure continuity of care.
From a spiritual perspective, the Orthodox frum community sought an outlet of inspiration. Chazaq, in partnership with the Queens-based TorahAnytime platform, continues to rise to the virtual podium on a near-daily basis with a slew of shiurim for men, women, and children on varied topics all with acclaimed lecturers. “Rabbi Paysach Krohn, Dr. David Lieberman, Mr. Charlie Harary and Rabbi David Ashear are scheduled among others to lead streaming classes this upcoming week providing a source of chizuk to the Jewish world in this trying time,” detailed Chazaq Events Coordinator Robbie Aboff.
The community also rallied to deliver much-needed nourishment to those on the frontlines. “On Friday, April 17, the Alliance of Bukharian Americans Health Committee provided COVID-19 relief to healthcare workers at LIJ-Forest Hills Hospital as part of their recent initiative entitled Food for Our Heroes,” explained committee member Jonathan Koptyev, a second-year medical student at Rutgers-RWJMS. “We delivered 160 kosher pizza pies from Benjy’s Pizza in Kew Gardens Hills to feed the nearly 800 daytime healthcare workers.” This initiative was one of three that were implemented by the ABAHC COVID-19 Relief subcommittee. Tax-deductible donations for Food for Our Heroes are currently being collected through a GoFundMe link: gofundme.com/f/v8br2q-food-for-our-heroes.
All Bukharian Community Network, a collaborative group of Bukharian organizations and individuals established to promote mutual support of individual community initiatives, was established as a strong testament to the unity and resilience of the Bukharian community during these difficult times. Their flagship initiative, run by the not-for-profit organization Congregation Emet Ve Emuna, is a campaign entitled Shield Our Heroes aimed at gathering donations for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for distribution to healthcare workers in the community inadequately supplied by their employers. “During a time that everyone is isolated at home, we must unite in whatever ways we can to tackle the issues that have arisen in our community due to the virus’s spread” said the ABA Health Committee’s Cofounder, Covid-19 Relief Subcommittee Chair, and liaison of the ABA to the ABCN, Boris Semkhayev. (Visit sites.google.com/view/abcn to learn more and charidy.com/shieldourheroes to place a donation for PPE.)
Grocery shopping and medicine pick-ups have been other major obstacles for those held up in quarantine. Three local organizations emerged to assist in dealing with this issue. Am Yisrael vs. COVID-19 is a volunteer-based group established by Nicole van Amerongen of Woodmere, and Aaron Priven of Manhattan, servicing members of the Jewish community throughout New York and New Jersey who are in quarantine. They currently boast 10 locations and over 1000 volunteers. They operate locally through a WhatsApp group of 10 administrators and 85 volunteers. Yisroel Zylberberg, a resident of both Israel and Lakewood who is currently on spring break from the University Chicago Business School, was delighted to join the effort. “I was happy to write some computer code for our website and help with the coordination and logistics enabling over 600 tristate residents to receive service in roughly an hour or two from calling in.” Zylberberg noted a case where tefilin were needed to be transported to a hospital and another where a patient needed their glasses. Am Yisrael vs. COVID-19 also set up a fund to help the families who are suffering both from COVID-19 and financial instability during these treacherous times.
The Zeh Lozeh chesed group, originally founded by Mr. Faivy Mund of Toronto, Canada, operates in Queens with a team of nearly 100 volunteers who pick up food items and medicine and deliver them to homes of homebound and quarantined families. Kew Gardens residents and first year beis medrash boys Yisroel Cohen, a talmid of Yeshiva Shar Hatorah, and Yeshaya Shuter, who attends Senders in Monsey, coordinate the local effort. Cohen’s father Sam has an acquaintance in Toronto who inquired about establishing the Queens branch. With the group operating in 13 cities, the initiative was established in Queens as well. Over 120 requests for help have been submitted to a hotline number via WhatsApp, where a symptom-free volunteer is anonymously matched the same day. Keep in mind, all items must be paid for prior to pick up.
To receive help from the group or to volunteer, please call 332-217-1718.
Chaverim of Queens established a grocery, medicine, and other essential pick-up service after a community supporter reached out to set up a volunteer group. “Our very first delivery was for an Australian who reached out for Queens relatives who needed food for Pesach,” said Avigdor Cyperstein. the program’s founder. Many calls have been processed to help the community in this time of need. Hershel Praeger, a local volunteer, explained, “It is very rewarding for us to be able to help out the homebound during this tough time.” Fran Aschendorf of Kew Gardens Hills explained the situation quite poignantly: “Just imagine that all-alone feeling... stuck in your home... spouse left by ambulance and admitted to the hospital... Pesach around the corner... that all alone feeling... that panic of getting needed groceries for yourself and your 99 year old mother-in-law... and then a friend suggests contacting Chaverim...just imagine... that in a blink, numerous responses coming in saying, ‘just tell me what you need’... and just imagine one responder calling to say ‘I am in the supermarket now. Just tell me if you think of anything else’...and that smile, that wonderful smile as they bring the packages to the porch for you. Just imagine ,wonderful friends who step up to the plate when late on seder night when you need to walk to your mother-in-law to sleep over so she will not be alone... and imagine the wonderful friends who say that they will stop their seder and pick you up... and walk a safe social distance with you so you need not walk alone... just imagine... my never ending gratitude to the members of Chaverim and to my wonderful friends.”
For assistance from Chaverim, please call 646-610-3375.
On the municipal level, the city is providing kosher grab ‘n go meals provided by Borenstein Caterers under the Volove Kashrus hechsher. Meals can be picked up at all the Kew Gardens Hills meal hubs at P.S. 154 (75-02 162 Street, 11366), or at P.S. 164 (138-01 77 Avenue, 11367), for children and families from 7:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.
By Shabsie Saphirstein