An earnest effort to serve New York’s families in need
Long Island (LI) Helpers is a youth-led, collaborative grassroots effort that grew out of a necessity to ensure that residents in Long Island and beyond were able to feed their families at the height of the devastation of the Covid-19 pandemic in New York. Fawzia Syed and Misha Khan, young Bangladeshis based in New York, started the voluntary organisation as Co-founders.
"I think that this organisation, along with the strong work ethic and human display of selflessness, generosity, and humility by my parents have made me the person that I am," says Fawzia. "I strongly believe that my purpose is to serve others in whatever way I can."
The name of the organisation comes from a quote by American icon Mr Fred Rogers of "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood":
"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping. I remember my mother's words and I am always comforted by realising that there are still so many helpers—so many caring people in this world."
Food is a critical part of most, if not all, immigrant communities. For many, traditional diets are tied to religious practices. LI Helpers provides culturally specific food for people in New York. They have served Muslim, Hindu, and Jewish families-- all of whom specifically ask for food items respecting their religious traditions. LI Helpers makes sure to provide meals that are halal to Muslim families, vegetarian or vegan friendly to Hindu families, and kosher to Jewish families.
In these cases, food is a means of preserving the dignity and strong sense of identity that families and communities hold in a diverse, multicultural community such as New York — and at large, the USA.
LI Helpers intends to prioritise grocery deliveries to the populations most prone to fall through the cracks: domestic abuse survivors, disabled individuals, single mothers in New York City shelters, Covid-positive patients, elderly people and undocumented individuals. They began with the modest goal of providing groceries for 12 domestic abuse survivors and their children in Long Island. But with requests and donations pouring in every day, their small effort organically grew to include like-minded groups, businesses and individuals, with the same passion and commitment.
Since March 20, 2020, they have served over 2,500 families. The effort started off with the support of different communities in New York. Leaders in the city uplifted their work through their networks. Many have collected donations for grocery deliveries and long-term projects with families. Manpower for purchasing, organising, and delivering groceries are a critical part of LI Helpers' success and growth.
Most of the volunteers are young people who have dedicated their time to this effort. Many older supporters with families have also supported them financially with regular donations.
Local groups such as Muslims of Long Island, Ummah Giving Circle, and BAPA Bangladeshi American Pharmacists Association as well as businesses, such as Bangladeshi restaurants BBQ Nite and Ali Baba, have helped them with large donations. Food assistance groups such as Bronx Mutual Aid, Queens Mutual Aid, and ICNA Relief NY and many more individuals and families also assisted them.
LI Helpers plans to prepare for the second wave of Covid-19 hitting New York. They are preparing their volunteers to attend to the high number of requests they anticipate getting. They are pushing fundraising efforts and working on organising their inventory of items in their storage space, which is the garage in Fawzia's home.
For the past few months, they received less requests, in comparison to the months of March to July. They are focusing on completing the deliveries and also on their long-term goals.
LI Helpers intends to be an official nonprofit and continue helping certain families they have built relationships with. They hope to connect these families to people who can help them acquire jobs, housing, and other important things for their survival in New York. As loss of jobs and livelihoods, sudden expenses due to illnesses, high costs of medical care, unbearable rent costs, lack of affordable housing and many other issues have indefinitely upended the lives of millions of working-class New Yorkers, the founders of LI Helpers are committed to continue their work by feeding and serving as many of their neighbours as they can.
The author is a freelancer. Write to her at