Over the past few months, thousands of migrants have been bussed to New York City from the states of Texas and Arizona. Our friends at United Way of New York City estimate that nearly 19,000 migrants have arrived, 75 percent of whom have entered the city’s shelter system. These numbers are only expected to grow over the coming months, posing our city with the ultimate question: How do we rise up to serve and protect our new neighbors?
For community members like Teresa Concepcion (founder of “The Red Door Place,” a Food Bank member pantry in Manhattan), the answer to that question has been developing itself in real time.
“A month ago, I was put in contact with a shelter in Brooklyn that was drowning,” she recently told us. “They had begun to house 200 new arrivals, including 12 large families, many of whom had family members that were ill and needed assistance, including a set of twins on dialysis and chemo. In a matter of moments, we struck up an agreement and I began sending them what non-perishable food items and resources I had.”
Teresa (above) was quick to point out that this is a Women and Children’s shelter, which means that fathers are not permitted to stay with their families. When asked where they would have to go instead, she explained that many would turn to the streets, in yet another form of separation for those that have already been through so much.
How does she know this? Because word has spread fast that The Red Door Place is a safe space to receive food and these fathers have been visiting her weekly food distributions.
“They are always very cautious when they first approach us,” she says. “They usually come in small groups and ask what kind of paperwork they need to visit the pantry. It takes a while to explain that they don’t need paperwork, that they can get the food they need for free without worry.”
While Teresa is determined to continue supporting her newest clients, she admits that the strain on her resources is overwhelming. “Even before these new folks started visiting the pantry, our regular visitors had gone up from 400 to 650 a week. When you add in the migrant visitors, the numbers have nearly doubled in the span of a month and a half.”
To fill in the gaps, she has leaned on a network of supporters and nurses in the neighborhood to provide her with the extra diapers, menstrual products, birth control, toiletries, and personal hygiene essentials these families need. But even with all this extra support, she knows it’s only a band-aid solution.
“Now my mind goes to winter,” she explains. “How are we going to keep all of these people warm? I usually manage to give my regular clients a coat and gloves each year, but I don’t know if I’ll be able to do that for the growing number of migrants my program is supporting. I don’t want to turn anyone away, but don’t know what to do.”
When asked about the new arrivals visiting her pantry, Teresa says they are just “shell-shocked.”
“They are going day to day, that is the only way to describe how they’re making it through right now. They’re literally just thinking of the moment. They’re not even angry yet – they're scared and lost.”
To make her point, Teresa shared an anecdote about a young migrant woman staying at the shelter. She had not been feeling well, but had been hesitant to talk to the shelter director. Eventually, it turned out that she was pregnant and worried that admitting that might cause her to lose her housing. As Teresa commented: “How bad does it have to be – how scared do you have to be – not to admit something like that?”
Mayor Eric Adams himself announced earlier this month that we are in a state of emergency and must move quickly to support new arrivals to our city. It is vital that they are housed, that they are fed, that they are made to feel safe and welcome in their new home.
We at Food Bank are proud to provide food and other resources to community members like Teresa who are on the ground fighting to do just that. Times of crisis test us all, and it’s everyday folks like Teresa and her team at The Red Door Place that remind us of how powerful we can be when we rise up together.
For more on how YOU can uplift our city’s newest neighbors, click this link. Your generosity will help us provide crucial food items to the New Yorkers that need it most.