Brooklyn residents found help from neighbors during pandemic year
A year ago, an attack from the coronavirus pandemic forced New Yorkers to return home, fracturing communities and relegating social ties to the digital realm.
But as the pandemic progressed, Brooklynites found ways to help those in need and connect with their neighbors like never before.
As cases began to recede in early summer and outdoor gatherings were deemed safe, residents found themselves facing a drastically changed borough that needed their help to cope with aggravating crises – almost all still common today. Brooklyn residents continue to be infected and killed by COVID-19, and thousands of small businesses face shutdown, with shaky economic impacts throughout the city and those who had previously been regularly employed found themselves struggling to pay for food and rent.
Throughout last summer, the borough found itself at the epicenter of an uprising against police brutality, a disturbing increase in gun violence and the fallout from an austerity budget that led to cuts to essential services like the sanitation department and the parks department.
Brooklyn manufacturers, businesses and ordinary people have come together to support each other during the pandemic, mass-producing personal protective equipment for Health workers and demonstrators to brighten up the sterile storefronts of Coney Island with colorful murals and log lines for others at crowded sites like grocery stores and health clinics.
For Brooklynites like Katie Kerr, helping was as easy as creating a digital platform to help her neighbors organize garbage collection. Inspired by a similar effort launched in Manhattan, Kerr created the Facebook group One Block Brooklyn, which helps residents organize garbage cleanup in their neighborhood in an effort to tackle the dramatic build-up of trash on sidewalks and in parks, spurred by a combination of budget cuts and increased outdoor socialization to stem the spread of the virus.
“People were starting to come out, and there was an increase in waste, whether it was because services were cut and more people were coming out,” Kerr said. “It was an easy way for people to give back. There was this great sense of community in New York and Brooklyn.
Fighting a pandemic of small business closures
For Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce president Randy Peers, the pandemic has dealt a blow to small businesses in the borough he could never have seen coming.
“I never would have thought in my life that I would have seen something so deep in terms of a real economic crisis for our small business community,” said Peers.
At the beginning of the city first phase of reopening in June – three months after the start of the pandemic – the Chamber Bring back Brooklyn Fund, which has raised over $ 730,000 to date, has started handing out grants for PPE and deep cleanings as moms sailed through complicated conditions and often evolving guidelines.
The organization also provided 16 interest-free loans of up to $ 10,000 and purchased 100 electric heaters and 100 propane heaters so restaurants can organize alfresco dining throughout the colder months.
Loan programs like the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce have helped fill gaps in support for small businesses that have been left out of federal relief programs, Peers said. “Not all businesses have been able to get federal support, not all businesses qualify for a P3 loan or an IDA loan, so every little bit counts,” he said.
The business advocacy group is still working to distribute money from the Bring Back Brooklyn Fund, which Peers says still accepts donations, while also connecting business owners with the Small Business Resource Network for other types of assistance. Yet a recent Brooklyn bedroom survey shows that 80% of Brooklyn small businesses reported a drop in revenue from the previous year, with half of those businesses saying they made less than half of the profits they would typically make in 12 months.
While Peers acknowledges that the damage the pandemic has done to business runs deep, he says the way business owners have adjusted in the midst of the crisis and the rise in vaccine distribution has been critical. reasons for optimism.
“I’m actually an optimist,” he said. “If we can get through these next two months and we can stay on track with aid, vaccinations, and if the governor continues to open up more sectors of our economy and increase openness capacity , I think that by the summer we will be able to return to a certain sense of normalcy. “
Self-help groups emerge
The past year has seen the proliferation of self-help networks in the borough and the city, spurred by an exacerbated hunger crisis and a drive to ensure that homebound and vulnerable people have what they need to stay safe inside.
Groups like Mutual Aid from Gowanus have sprouted from the resources of larger volunteer networks such as Mutual Aid New York City. The Gowanus Group, which began organizing in November, worked to meet 200 requests for groceries and other essentials, working with the Gowanus and Wyckoff Homes Tenant Associations.
The collective also launched one of the only “free stores” in New York, dubbed the “sharing corner” on Bond and Douglass streets. The outdoor community cupboard allowed locals to donate items such as clothes, diapers, and non-perishable foods, as well as pick up whatever they needed.
“There’s this really nice exchange of free resources, and a hub for community members to share goods, share experiences, share information, in a really open and caring way,” said Ava Cotlowitz, an organizer of Gowanus Mutual Aid. “A lot of people who come to the store are a bit in awe that something like this exists, especially in this time of immense crisis.”
Cotlowitz says the group hopes to build on their self-help work well beyond the pandemic and continue to generate a sense of community through the work.
“We have seen so many people of different races, different socio-economic classes, different interests, different goals, different skills, learning to work together and move in a way that can create change and progress, ”she said. “I think it’s so powerful and something to keep building.”
Editor’s Note: A version of this story originally appeared in Brooklyn Paper. Click here to see the original story.
Register for amNY’s COVID-19 newsletter to stay on top of the latest coronavirus news throughout New York City. Email [email protected] with any further comments, questions or advice. Follow Brownstoner on Twitter and Instagram, and like us on Facebook.