Despite losing job, Sunnyside woman leads pandemic relief for thousands

Sofia Moncayo (left) and her top volunteer Lucy Bodden outside the Mosaic West Church in Sunnyside. (Photo courtesy of Sofia Moncayo)

More than a year after it began distributing food to families in need, the Mosaic West Church is still providing food and other necessities to members of the Sunnyside and Woodside community thanks to the coordination of Sofia Moncayo, a Colombian-born woman, and her neighbors.

The Woodside/Sunnyside Community COVID-19 Relief Group began as a collaboration of neighborhood civic and religious groups at the height of the pandemic.

“It’s been an interesting ride, a lot of ups and downs along the way,” Moncayo said. “I’ve been lucky enough to become the face of this thing simply because I’m good at logistics, but the real thanks goes to a large number of volunteers who keep coming back week after week to make this all possible. I couldn’t have done this without them. This is what a community should look like when you’re helping others. Most of the volunteers and donors aren’t even churchgoers. It’s amazing how it all came together.”

Photo courtesy of Sofia Moncayo

Moncayo was furloughed as a bookkeeper at a construction company at the onset of the pandemic, and she and her husband had to close their martial arts studio in Woodside.

“I am still furloughed but the company has continued to provide health insurance, so that’s a big help,” Moncayo said. “And we’ve reopened the martial arts school but we still owe the landlord more than $20,000, so we’re still negotiating with the landlord to work that out.”

Photo courtesy of Sofia Moncayo

In April of 2020, the food lines regularly stretched from the Mosaic Church on 43rd Avenue, down 46th Street and up Skillman Avenue. One one day that month, the food pantry ran out of food with more than 200 people still waiting in line.

Moncayo raced to a local supermarket and used her own credit card to purchase more than $1,200 worth of groceries for those in need.

“Those first few months I was operating in crisis mode,” Moncayo said. “Sunnyside has so many artists who lost their jobs when the city closed down, especially last July and August. If you can source your food somewhere, then you can pay your electric bill and keep your lights on.”

Photo courtesy of Sofia Moncayo

Moncayo and her volunteers are still providing food to nearly 2,000 people a week.

“Most of the food was donated by neighborhood restaurants at the start, like The Skillman — they provided hundreds of dollars in produce from their provider each week and they also provided much-needed storage space,” Moncayo said. “Then we were in the USDA’s Farm to Families Food Box program, but that initiative has run out of funding so we are going to have to depend more on fundraising for now.”

Anyone interested in donating can go here.

Photo courtesy of Sofia Moncayo

Moncayo was so thankful for the help the group received from area restaurants, she created a Facebook group to help publicize the establishments in the area that were in danger of closing for good.

The group known as 25 for Sunnyside and Woodside has more than 2,000 members who share photos of their meals in a way that promotes the restaurants.

“I just love the restaurants in Sunnyside and Woodside so much,” Moncayo said.”I don’t want to see anyone closing down.”