Guide to Queens: Charitable organizations give back to the borough during COVID-19

queens together
Photos courtesy of Queens Together

Over the past year and a half, Queens organizations have stepped up in major ways to help residents who were affected — directly or indirectly — by COVID-19.

These organizations, including Commonpoint Queens, Sunnyside Shines and Queens Together have continued their charitable work through food and clothing drives, meal deliveries and other fundraising efforts that began long before the pandemic hit the borough.

But COVID-19 pushed them to help the community in new ways: Raising money for restaurants that were forced to lay off employees and shut down indoor dining, helping struggling small businesses apply for grants and making appointments for residents when the vaccines were first rolled out.

Commonpoint Queens

Dozens of volunteers showed up to help distribute meals to homebound seniors on MLK Day with Commonpoint Queens. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

Prior to merging in 2016, Commonpoint Queens ran as two separate entities: the Samuel Field Y, founded in 1954 and the Central Queens Y, founded in 1974. For decades, the social service agency has dedicated itself to advocating for the community and “harnessing philanthropic resources” in order to have a greater impact on those they serve.

When COVID-19 vaccines were just beginning to roll out in February, the organization worked to help the elderly — who were among the first groups eligible to get inoculated — navigate the process. At the time, the organization monitored city and state websites, called medical centers and reached out to lawmakers and community partners to help the 3,000 older adults they serve.

“We have held vaccine education workshops. We sit on the phone together and walk them through the appointment process. We schedule car service transportation for appointments. We have even met some of them at the location to ensure all goes smoothly,” said Commonpoint Queens CEO Danielle Ellman back in February.

In addition to direct outreach, Commonpoint also conducted virtual information sessions to teach the community about the vaccines and other resources, including sessions in Spanish and collaborations with other community organizations.

During the pandemic, the nonprofit continued its existing work running a free clothing boutique for young professionals looking for a job and continued to operate its food pantry in Forest Hills. In July, local resident David Abraham helped to raise over $5,600 for the food pantry.

“A friend in need is a friend indeed. These are words I live my life by. I was so moved by what I saw, I knew I had to do something. I’m grateful for the work being done here to help people in need and proud to be a part of it,” Abraham said.

Sunnyside Shines 

Angélica Acevedo/QNS

The Sunnyside Shines Business Improvement District was signed into law in October 2007 and officially began operating in April 2008. Since then, the BID has catered to the needs of approximately 300 businesses in Sunnyside.

During COVID-19 the BID ramped up efforts to support small businesses in the area, from offering grant assistance to launching its first-ever virtual Pop Up Market. The spring event, which usually takes place in Bliss Plaza, pivoted to Facebook Live and featured dozens of local vendors selling everything from homemade jewelry and soaps to locally sourced honey.

At the end of August, Sunnyside Shines was one of 13 organizations recognized for their charitable work during the pandemic. The BID’s Executive Director Jaime-Faye Bean was awarded the 2021 Woman of Distinction.

“We’ve tried to provide consistent assistance and support for the small businesses in our area,” Bean told QNS. “The overarching theme for me has been to meet community needs during a time of crisis while at the same time linking that to the small businesses ecosystem in the borough and making sure they have resources for survival.”

According to Bean, the BID’s focus was on the commercial district’s small businesses and helping them to survive during COVID. With her help, the BID communicated COVID mandates and grant programs in both English and Spanish and raised over $100,000 for small businesses in the area. She also helped raise over $10,000 for Queens-based food pantries.

“Having small businesses that understand the community, that know people — that is what makes our neighborhoods feel livable,” Bean said. “In a big city like New York, that’s so important. You need that sense of community, and I see so much of that being generated through small businesses.”

Queens Together

Queens Together delivers Fresh Direct pantry boxes to Astoria Houses. (Photo courtesy of Queens Together)

Formed in March 2020, Queens Together is a nonprofit that was the brainchild of former chef and Executive Director Jonathan Forgash and Bean.

Formerly known as “Astoria Together,” the organization started as a way to help feed frontline health care workers and emergency first responders by partnering with local restaurants. When it started, the organization delivered free daily meals to four local hospitals, including Mount Sinai Queens and Elmhurst Hospital.

“Even before COVID-19, we all thought of them as heroes,” Forgash told QNS back in April 2020. “Yes, they get paid and aren’t starving, but they are working brutal hours and giving their all. They deserve a nice, comforting meal.”

Forgash used social media to fundraise for local restaurants during the pandemic and helped about 75 of them to stay open. The executive director also shared that the nonprofit delivered over 60,000 meals to people in need across the borough.

“We fed over 200,000 people last year,” Forgash told. “I have never felt so good about the work that I had done, but also working with close to 1,500 other volunteers, donors, organizations and restaurants. To be a part of a group of strangers that came together to help our neighbors, I really feel fortunate.”

Queens Together and Forgash were also recognized for their charitable work during COVID-19.