People Power Amidst a Pandemic

Stephanie Chrispin

Giving Tuesday usually takes place on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving/The National Day of Mourning. As the largest day of global giving each year, this initiative provides much-needed resources to nonprofits around the world. This year, in response to the devastating toll COVID-19 is having on our communities and nonprofits, #GivingTuesdayNow has been organized for Tuesday, May 5th, as an early call to give if you are able. 

To celebrate #GivingTuesdayNow, we seek to honor some of Trinity’s grantee partners who have been supporting the most vulnerable during the pandemic. As recipients of our COVID-19 rapid response grant, these organizations have shifted their operations to respond to their community’s needs in the pandemic while continuing to work building a more equitable and safe New York City for all our neighbors. Exodus Transitional Community, the Osborne Association, and Neighbors Together shared updates from the field on ways they’ve adapted to our new reality.

Exodus Transitional Community

Exodus Transitional Community is a faith-based community grounded in the belief that "we can’t rewrite our past, but we can determine our future." The Exodus motto is “Changing Lives – Restoring Hope”. This is done through a myriad of programming for men, women, and young adults who are affected by—or at risk of—justice involvement.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Exodus had to reduce service hours to 5 hours daily and assemble small teams of staff on a rotating basis to continue to provide vital services to individuals seeking services at their East Harlem location, assisting with basic needs and crisis intervention services. Staff who are not in the office providing in-person services continue to provide case management and job placement assistance remotely.

For Exodus, community is a verb—they show up for and help those are being released from incarceration, citywide lockdown notwithstanding. For example, just as the novel coronavirus hit New York City in March, an individual came to Exodus who had been released recently after serving a 37-year sentence. He had no food, no place to live, and no money—and two $100 tickets for jumping the subway turnstile. Because Exodus is committed to keeping its doors open even during these difficult times, Exodus community members were there to welcome him home, provide food, comfort, referrals for emergency housing, and a Metro Card so he would not have to jump any more turnstiles.

Stories like this one are common and those coming back to the community after incarceration face even more dire circumstances, given the additional strain of navigating bureaucracy in the midst of a public health crisis. Still, Exodus is committed to expanding its community of care and is currently working with the Mayor’s Office to help lead an emergency hotel operation for over 100 people who have been released from Rikers Island to help stem the spread of the virus among the City’s jail population. Learn more about Exodus’ work and how you can help here.

The Osborne Association

The Osborne Association serves individuals involved in the criminal justice system (both currently and formerly incarcerated people), their children, other family members of these individuals, and by extension, the communities in which they live. Supporting approximately 12,000 people a year across New York State and in prisons and jails with various basic needs and crisis-intervention services, Osborne also leads ongoing advocacy campaigns to gain greater systemic support for the individuals, families, and communities they serve.

As a “Provider of Basic Necessities to Economically Disadvantaged Populations,” Osborne’s services are considered essential during this time under Governor Cuomo’s ‘New York State on PAUSE’ Executive Order that went into effect on March 22. Given the crucial role their staff play in supporting program participants in almost every facet of their lives, Osborne has been offering additional support outside of their traditional services, including emergency assistance to families and establishing a reentry hotline where staff can conduct virtual needs assessments for at-risk incarcerated people, relaying messages to their lawyers and family members, and offering them general emotional support.

Osborne has doubled down on their advocacy efforts, fighting for early release for incarcerated people and reentry supports for individuals to be released from jails and prisons as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. They have been working closely with state and local criminal justice agencies and corrections systems to release as many individuals from NYC jails and NYS prisons as possible to prevent the spread of the virus, especially to protect older individuals and the immunocompromised. Efforts included drafting appeals to Governor Cuomo, gathering signatures from state legislators and all members of the Governor’s Reentry Council, and working collaboratively with other advocacy organizations and groups to push for government response— resulting in the release or anticipated release of 375 individuals from NYC Dept. of Corrections jails on work-release. Read more to learn about the latest updates and calls to action from Osborne.

Neighbors Together

Neighbors Together is a dynamic soup kitchen and social service agency that is fighting to end hunger and poverty in the Ocean Hill, Brownsville and Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhoods of central Brooklyn—three of New York City’s most impoverished and politically disadvantaged neighborhoods. Their three integrated programs—Community Café, Empowerment Program, and Community Action Program—meet the growing need in their community for emergency food and life-stabilizing social supports and address the underlying systemic conditions that perpetuate hunger and poverty.

The COVID-19 outbreak forced Neighbors Together to temporarily close their Community Café for 5 business days, reopening on March 25th to serve “to go” meals. Shifting to remote work, their Supportive Housing Specialist continues to arrange phone interviews for supportive housing and their Housing Advocate is working to connect members to housing and emergency resources and is supporting members via texts, calls, and email. Demand for Neighbors Together’s services continues to increase as COVID-19 disproportionately impacts homeless, poor, and low-income people and as other emergency food programs are closing or reducing services.

Through their Community Action Program, Neighbors Together is collaborating with affordable housing and homeless coalitions to call upon city and state elected officials to take immediate action to stem the spread of COVID-19, increase access to screening and healthcare for those who need it, and mitigate the economic impacts of the pandemic on the most vulnerable New Yorkers. In March, they published an open letter to Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo to demanding the city and state to establish short-term and long-term measures to address the survival needs of homeless and low-income New Yorkers, following up with a digital press conference with fellow Trinity grantee partner VOCAL New York, along with Communities United for Police Reform, Picture the Homeless, and others serving those experiencing homelessness in New York City. Neighbors Together also launched a social media push with the hashtag #homelesscantstayhome to build broader support for the need to protect and house homeless New Yorkers during this crisis and to keep them housed after this pandemic ends. Learn how you can take action to help Neighbors Together protect their members and the larger community.