State Senator Michael Gianaris recognized 13 organizations and individuals from western Queens for their work to uplift their neighbors during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The honorees gathered at a ceremony in Rainey Park to receive their awards on Aug. 25. The honorees provided monetary relief, meals and more to help their communities through unemployment and financial hardship.
“So many people stepped up to help their neighbors during the COVID-19 pandemic in so many different ways – providing food, organizing small businesses, distributing needed supplies – that we should thank them for the efforts that saved lives and kept our community together,” Gianaris said. “I appreciate all their efforts and their partnership in the last year. The western Queens community emerged stronger and better able to tackle the serious challenges we continue to face.”
Jaime-Faye Bean, Sunnyside Shines Businesses Improvement District’s executive director, received the 2021 Woman of Distinction award for her work with small businesses during the pandemic.
“We’ve tried to provide consistent assistance and support for the small businesses in our area,” Bean said. “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.”
Bean communicated the rapidly changing COVID mandates and grant programs in Spanish and English, which she said was highly effective. Bean said through her involvement with Sunnyside Shines, she was also able to raise over $100,000 for small businesses in western Queens.
Not only did Bean help close to 300 businesses, but she also helped raise over $10,000 for food pantries in the borough.
“My immediate reaction when I see a crisis is to respond and to try to respond meaningfully and ensure that people are provided for,” Bean said. “I was happy to do this. If I know how to get things done, it’s my duty to humanity to use that in a way that helps people.”
Bean has focused her advocacy and charitable work on small businesses because they make our neighborhoods feel like home.
“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, a nonprofit founded in March of 2020 that works to aid small businesses, was also recognized by Gianaris.
Jonathan Forgash, the executive director of Queens Together, started fundraising using social media to help about 75 small restaurants to help them stay open during the height of the pandemic. They were also able to deliver over 60,000 individual meals to people in need across Queens.
“We fed over 200,000 people last year,” Forgash said. “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.”
Mohammed Jabed, the general secretary of the Astoria Welfare Society, was given a Commendation Award for his work on culturally responsive food security work during the pandemic. Jabed was feeding the homeless throughout the pandemic, volunteering at welfare services, and working on the 2020 Census to help make sure Bangladeshi residents were counted.
“Since my early life came to New York, I grew up seeing people’s struggle,” Jabed said. “I was working on the field from the day one of the COVID lockdown through Astoria Welfare Society and served around 700 to 1,000 families per day.”
The other honorees included Queens Liberation Project; Queens Together; Kelli Craig from LIC Relief; Roseann McSorley of Katch Astoria; Otis and Finn Barbershop; Kate Peterson of Proud Astorian; K. Bain of Queensbridge 696; Community Activist Lashawn “Suga Ray” Marston; Rocky from the Astoria Pug; Ridgewood Tenants Union; Kambri Crews of Q.E.D.; and Mohammed Jabed of the Astoria Welfare Society.