Southern Brooklynites help struggling locals, restaurants in need

coronavirus food access
Giveaway: Rabbi David Okunov (above) hosted a food giveaway outside a Neptune Avenue Key Food on March 17.
CNG Photo

As coronavirus continues to spread across the city, several southern Brooklynites have come together to help their neighbors in a time of need — spearheading food giveaways, meal delivery services, and restaurant crawls. 

The efforts began on Sunday, when a Coney Island do-gooder led a handful of residents on a Chinese restaurant food crawl in Bensonhurst.

“Restaurants are hurting and jobs and family businesses may be lost due to prolonged shut downs and reduced seating,” said Steven Patzer, a Gravesend resident who hosted the event. “These are businesses that deserve to continue to be part of our food landscape.”

The group ordered food from six eateries including 86 Bakery, Mr. Bun, and Chen Won Dim Sum, which have suffered up to a 70 percent drop in business, Patzer said. Attendees ate mostly outside and used hand sanitizer as a precaution, he added.

coronavirus food access
Restaurant crawl: Steven Patzer (right) led a group of Brooklynites on a Bensonhurst restaurant crawl on March 15.Courtesy of Reyna Gobel

On Tuesday, a Coney Island synagogue got in the spirit by hosting a food giveaway to help struggling locals. 

“Key Food was out of stock of eggs, potatoes, and onions, so people who simply couldn’t get food locally were so grateful we provided it for free,” said Rabbi David Okunov of the Warbasse Jewish Heritage Congregation.

The congregation had ordered food as part of its annual Passover giveaway, but rather than have congregants wait inside the W. Fifth Street synagogue, the Rabbi decided to distribute it outside to passersby. In total, the congregation gave thousands of pounds of vegetables, fruit, eggs, and Passover food to more than 500 families, Okunov said. 

“Their faces were beaming with joy,” he said. “It was a priceless moment of my career.” 

Another Jewish community group is working to get free meals to Coney Islanders in need. The Jewish Community Council of Greater Coney Island has converted its five senior centers in Coney Island, Sheepshead Bay, Gravesend, and Homecrest into food distribution sites where locals and pick up free breakfasts and lunches, according to council’s executive director. 

“‘Grab and Go’ meals are full, nutritionally balanced meals as would be served in the senior center when congregate meal service was open,” said Rabbi Moshe Wiener. 

coronavirus food access
Free food: A March 17 food giveaway distributed more than 2,000 pounds of onions and potatoes, as well as a range of other food.CNG Photo

Meanwhile, a Coney Island pol is pushing the city and state to contract with local restaurants to deliver food to homebound residents at a discounted price — which would provide relief both to struggling businesses and homebound residents.

“There are restaurants sitting idle and hungry people who need to stay home. This is how we can support our communities. This is a win-win,” said Assemblywoman Mathylde Frontus.

Many southern Brooklyn restaurants could remain afloat by charging $6.50 per meal, according to several restaurant owners, meaning that a hungry senior could pay just $13 for two hot-delivered meals per day, Frontus said. 

The program would also allow food deliverers to monitor the health of vulnerable New Yorkers, keeping health officials up to date on the spread of the coronavirus.

“There are people who need care,” Frontus said. “Out of sight does not mean out of mind.”

If you or someone you know does not have the means to purchase food or is homebound, check to see if one of JCCGCI’s five senior centers is near you, or sign up for the Warbasse Jewish Heritage Congregation’s next food delivery by emailing rabbi@718synagogue.com.