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Reflecting on the BronxWorks Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

Staff and Participants during the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020

In the March 2021 newsletter, we reflect on the BronxWorks response to the COVID-19 pandemic over the past year. For many BronxWorks essential programs, operations continued without interruption with adjustments made for safety protocols, including office modifications and hybrid scheduling. While it would be impossible to share all of the amazing stories that have taken place throughout this year, we would like to share the experience and insights of a handful of programs that exemplify the BronxWorks commitment to service.

BronxWorks expands food pantry and access to emergency food across the organization

Maria Rivera, Department Director of Senior Programs, prepares grocery bags for distribution at the Heights Senior Center.
Maria Rivera, Department Director of Senior Programs, prepares grocery bags for distribution at the Heights Senior Center.

At the outset of the pandemic, an immediate need that emerged was food insecurity stemming from loss of income or employment. As a response, BronxWorks expanded food pantry and emergency food services across 12 sites. The BronxWorks Community Food Pantry quickly shifted from a bi-weekly to a weekly schedule. Held on Saturdays to provide access to working households, since March 2020 the BronxWorks Community Food Pantry has assisted over 1,270 households and distributed over 21,650 grocery bags, along with diapers, baby formula, cleaning supplies, personal protective equipment, and other essential items.

Staff from BronxWorks Workforce Development Department, Asia Sanders, Recruiter for the HERO Dads program (back), and Jobs Plus Assistant Program Director, Shaquanna Cody-McGrew (front) prepare food boxes for distribution to participants.
Staff from BronxWorks Workforce Development Department, Asia Sanders, Recruiter for the HERO Dads program (back), and Jobs Plus Assistant Program Director, Shaquanna Cody-McGrew (front) prepare food boxes for distribution to participants.

In similar fashion, other BronxWorks offices expanded their emergency food services, reaching high-need community members in NYCHA houses and senior residences in many Bronx neighborhoods. These programs have distributed tens of thousands of grocery bags to thousands of individuals and families. Thanks to the support of generous funders and supports and through the dedicated work of staff across all of these sites, BronxWorks will continue to help address the rising food insecurity within our communities.

Prior to the pandemic, the CMCC Kitchen cooked and provided over 600 meals to BronxWorks  family shelters, recreation programs, and day care and early childcare center programs through the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP). This year, many families did not enroll in these programs or could not come out to get food, so the Kitchen had to grapple with the issue of how to increase access to the food program amid rising food insecurity. To address the challenge, kitchen staff experimented with pick up and delivery services to provide convenient and safe access to the crucial meals that many households have come to rely on.

BronxWorks Carolyn McLaughlin Community Center Kitchen staff Carlos Ribeiro (front) and Maribel Abreu (back) prepare hundreds of meals every day for various programs.
BronxWorks Carolyn McLaughlin Community Center Kitchen staff Carlos Ribeiro (front) and Maribel Abreu (back) prepare hundreds of meals every day for various programs.

Furthermore, when the Jerome Avenue Mens Shelter (JAMS) relocated to a Midtown hotel for the safety of the residents, the CMCC Kitchen was tasked with preparing and delivering meals to participants at the new location. The kitchen packages over 200 individual meals and delivers them twice a day every day of the week.

BronxWorks is committed to supporting our community across the digital divide.

For many programs, the restrictions of the pandemic meant finding new ways to deliver crucial resources and services to address the inequalities that persist throughout the borough. One example lies in the BronxWorks Community Health programs and SNAP-Education, which immediately adjusted to a virtual service delivery model.

COVID-19 opened the door and showed the value of virtual programming. It showed that our programs could do it well and reach a larger audience than before,” said Community Health Programs Director Rachel Gill.

BronxWorks Senior Centers also added virtual programming as a component of their service model during the pandemic. Staff at our senior centers continue to conduct wellness checks, and seeing an increase in isolation, began to offer virtual activities around mental health wellness, nutrition, technology support, and exercise classes. The BronxWorks senior centers are embarking on an expanded virtual curriculum set to launch at the beginning of April. The initiative will include purchasing of tablets to distribute to participants and providing access to low-cost internet service.

Students from our after-school programs show off their various STEM models.
Students from our after-school programs show off their various STEM models.

The pandemic has also drastically affected students who had to adapt to remote or hybrid learning. BronxWorks acted immediately in a number of ways to bridge the digital divide in our communities and bring digital inclusion to participants. BronxWorks received multiple grants from generous funders to support digital inclusion and enhance STEM learning in our Children & Youth programs. The grants fund upgrades to computer labs and purchasing new equipment, including computers, smartboards, printers, and tablets for participants to borrow for remote learning needs.
Another large development in BronxWorks digital inclusion efforts was the expansion of Wi-Fi access to all three of our family shelters. When in-person learning closed in New York City schools, BronxWorks took steps to secure Wi-Fi access for the Jackson Avenue, Willow Avenue, and Nelson Avenue Family Residences. The shelter teams reached out to a trusted vendor that recently installed closed-circuit television systems. Using the existing network, we installed Wi-Fi hotspots throughout the buildings. By mid-May, all three family residences were connected to high-speed Wi-Fi, allowing students to reliably participate in remote learning.

Creatively connecting our families in shelter to Wi-Fi is just one example of our relentless efforts to support Bronx families,” said Eileen Torres, Executive Director.

Thanks to all of these efforts and more that we could not cover, BronxWorks has been able to innovate and adapt to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. We hope that by sharing examples of our efforts through this past year, we can express our appreciation for the staff that have made these accomplishments possible. As the pandemic continues, BronxWorks remains committed to doing everything necessary to sustain exemplary services and support our community to recover and build a brighter future for the Bronx.

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