As Queens became the “epicenter of the epicenter” of the COVID-19 pandemic two years ago, community-based organizations moved mountains in the mad scramble to provide relief to their neighbors across Queens.
One Astoria-based group was able to organize faster than most to feed frontline workers and families in need while helping local restaurants stay in business while re-employing restaurant workers to pack produce and make deliveries.
“Queens Together began when COVID-19 shut down New York City in March 2020,” Queens Together Executive Director Jonathan Forgash said. “We built an organization to empower, represent and support our restaurant community and a ‘plate it forward’ program to feed frontline workers and people facing food and economic insecurity.”
Queens Together made a difference for food-insecure Queens residents and made a direct impact on the financial stability of small business restaurants and their employees through fundraising, volunteers and partnerships with community-based organizations.
“When COVID-19 hit New York, Queens Together stepped forward and raised a banner that we could all rally around. Organizing restaurants to feed our overwhelmed healthcare workers and neighbors,” said Michael Fuquay, owner of The Queensboro in Jackson Heights. “They saved many restaurants in the process. Queens Together is the real deal.”
In the past two years Queens Together provided prepared meals, groceries and fresh produce for more than a quarter of a million people. Additionally, the organization funded more than 60 restaurants and businesses to prepare foods for neighbors, pay bills and keep employees working. Queens Together established a food pantry at Variety Boys & Girls Club in Astoria with satellite pop-up pantries across Queens.
Forgash and his team created a network of more than 300 restaurants, small businesses and community groups. Plus, Queens Together provided important news and grants information from agencies at all levels of government as well as COVID-related information, education, promotion and tech services, often in a variety of languages and handed out door-to-door by community-based organization partners.
“Queens Together was instrumental in keeping local businesses open by connecting them with monies to provide food to frontliners and those in need,” said T.M. Walker, owner of MumsKitchens NYC in St. Albans. “We are honored to be a member of this game-changing organization.”
Last November, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney honored Forgash for his service to the residents of Queens during the pandemic, and she announced on March 8 that she had secured $250,000 in funding for Queens Together, along with nearly $1 million for the Floating Hospital in Long Island City and $800,000 for Urban Upbound’s Youth Career and Training Program.
“I’m thrilled that all of my community project funding requests for these deserving organizations were included in this year’s appropriations bill, including Queens Together,” Maloney said. “All these groups are integral to our community, and I’m honored to be able to support their work through federal funding. The $250,000 for Queens Together will bring much-needed stability and support to our small businesses and restaurants.”
Forgash said the funding will allow Queens Together to become a fully operational organization that will act as FEMA for restaurants and families across the borough in the event of another public health emergency in the future.
“With this funding from Congress, we will continue to build our network of local restaurants and community groups,” Forgash said. “Together, we will work to improve the public health and wealth of New York City’s largest borough. When the next crisis hits NYC, we can be the ‘boots on the ground’ leader connecting agencies and resources to communities across the borough.”