Sapna COVID Relief Work

As rained poured down the early morning of May 23rd, almost 60 people stood in line waiting to receive food from Sapna NYC’s first emergency food pantry. The next week, 100 people showed up. The week after that, 150. And in the following weeks, more than 200 East Bronx residents were lining up as early as 5am outside of Sapna as word spread about our food pantry.

“My husband has worked in restaurant kitchens for over 20 years. All the standing and hard work caused him a lot of health problems, but he still worked… until COVID. He hasn’t worked since the first week of March and with his diabetes and other problems, I’m scared for him to go even if they open again. I looked for a job now for myself, but nowhere is hiring. We haven’t been able to pay rent for 2 months. We can’t get unemployment, stimulus, or food stamps so we’re surviving on the little we have and groceries we get from Sapna,” said an undocumented person, who comes to Sapna’s food pantry.

When NYC shut down all non-essential businesses and schools in mid-March of 2020, Sapna had to shift its work to meet the new needs of the community. COVID-19 spread like wildfire through NYC and in April, the Bronx became the epicenter of positive cases. Our staff made wellness calls to all our community members to check-in and see what issues they were facing. Our community members were afraid, not only of getting sick, but also the fear of not being able to make payments for necessities like food and rent and not knowing when they would be able to find employment. Around 95 percent of our community reported unemployment. For weeks in April, grocery stores in the Bronx were shut down, many pantries closed, and stores that were open were price gouging, making even basic food unaffordable. Due to the increased need in our community, Sapna NYC shifted its efforts to starting an emergency food pantry.

Thanks to funding by Robinhood Foundation, New York Women’s Foundation, Islamic Relief USA, NY Community Trust, National CAPACD, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez & team, The Department of Sanitation & New York State Funds, and donations from our supporters, we have been able to run a full pantry for 15 weeks and will continue need-based food distribution through the end of the year.

Sapna has served over 2,500 households with fresh groceries. Thanks to food donations by Rap4Bronx and New York Common Pantry, in addition to our own grocery bags, we have been distributing 200+ grocery bags each week.  Each household received two bags- one with pantry items such as oatmeal, tuna, pasta, oil, onions, potatoes, garlic and ginger and another bag with fresh produce such as cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, apples, oranges, zucchini, eggplant, carrots and cucumbers. At Sapna, we are committed to not just feeding our community, but making sure that we provide healthy and culturally appropriate groceries that include many fruits and vegetables.

“My husband is a yellow cab driver, but he hasn’t been able to work. We receive unemployment, but it isn’t enough. With children, rent, food, phone bills, and other expenses, we can’t pay. We applied for SNAP, but were told that there was a problem with one of the documents. Before we went to a pantry and got some canned food. We can’t eat those, we don’t know what to do with them. Your groceries are so helpful. They are the things we eat and we can cook them the way we like, the way we’re used to,” said one community member.

In addition to the food pantry, Sapna NYC staff has:

  • Created a real-time COVID message line in Bengali & English
  • Made wellness calls to 200+ community members
  • Supported our clients with virtual assistance in submitting applications for SNAP food stamps, unemployment insurance, and rent relief
  • Shifted ESOL and Citizenship class to phone conference classes or individual phone sessions
  • Increased virtual outreach for Census 2020 completion; Sapna has reached out to over 2,000 people and has gotten over 600 completions
  • Created and completed a new Job Readiness workshop series virtually
  • Partnered with Chhaya to distribute $25,000 to undocumented workers in need