MetroPlusHealth and Elmhurst Hospital hosted a Lunar New Year food distribution event on Wednesday, Feb. 17, to bring some relief and joy to a struggling community that had been the epicenter at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic last year.
The food distribution event, scheduled from Feb. 17 through Feb. 19, is serving 500 community members a day who had to pre-register via Eventbrite to ensure a safe and socially distanced setting.
Guests included Queens Borough President Donavan Richards, state Senator Jessica Ramos, state Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry, President and CEO of MetroPlusHealth Tayla Schwartz, and Helen Arteaga Landaverde, the new CEO of Elmhurst Hospital.
On Saturday, Feb. 13, volunteers from the community, as well as Elmhurst Hospital and MetroPlusHealth staff, packed 1,500 bags with tea bags, instant noodles, rice and canned food, donated by MetroPlusHealth. Schwartz made it a family affair, as she and her 15-year-old daughter helped prepare the bags on Saturday.
In a one-on-one conversation with QNS, Schwartz discussed how Elmhurst Hospital stepped up during a challenging time by supporting the community and meeting the tremendous health care challenges COVID-19 caused.
“At this point, we are really seeing a significant comeback. You can see Elmhurst is back. Elmhurst Hospital is back,” Schwartz said. “So we wanted to celebrate this comeback together with a new year and combine the celebration supporting the community.”
In her speech during the event, Schwartz pointed out this Lunar Year is the Year of the Ox, a symbol of mental, emotional and physical strength and stamina.
“Strength and stamina are what this community has exhibited every single day. We are wishing a happy and better Lunar New Year,” she declared.
Helen Arteaga Landaverde, the new CEO of Elmhurst Hospital, thanked MetroPlusHealth for their continuous support and for helping them celebrate Queens’ diverse population. She acknowledged how difficult the past year had been and that the event was a way to thank the community.
“This new year is going to be a year of resilience and hope, and we just want to share the happy and hopeful message with everyone today,” Arteaga Landaverde expressed.
Referring to the long line that had formed outside Elmhurst Hospital, Richards noted that it spoke to the needs of the community and how the pandemic has exacerbated the disparities surrounding food and housing. He also promised that, as the borough president, he would honor any capital request Elmhurst Hospital has.
“The bottom line is you do such important work. And I want to thank the frontline workers who literally are always on the front line, whether it’s in the hospital or outside,” he said. “One of the things that I love about this institution is that the people who work here are truly community-driven.”
State Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry also commented on how challenging the past year had been and praised Elmhurst Hospital for meeting that challenge.
“Where would we have been in this community if we didn’t have Elmhurst Hospital? Where would people have gotten the care? Where would people have gotten tested? Where would they have gotten the food that has been served continually?” he asked.
He also appealed to everyone to use the celebration of the Lunar New Year as a reason to come together.
“This is clearly a time when we must pull together. We can not afford division,” Aubry added. “We need to be standing together no matter who we are, what race we are, what ethnicity we are. This is the time for us to stand together. This is a great celebration for that.”
For state Senator Jessica Ramos, Elmhurst Hospital is more than just a clinic — it’s a community center where people from all over the world come together and find ways to help each other out.
“Elmhurst Hospital has been a lifeline throughout this pandemic and for decades in this community. It’s the Year of the Ox, and it’s a good thing that it is because we need strength and stability now more than ever,” she concluded.