New York relies on an “army” of volunteers that grows at a rate of increasingly complex crises.

Dominican Zoila Estrella, 70 years old, For two decades, she has followed a routine that has given her life more meaning: She helps the organization West Side Campaign Against Hunger (WSCAH) Works to distribute fresh and nutritious food to the most vulnerable in New York City.

it’s just about One of hundreds of organizations addressing the issue of food insecurity in the Big Apple, And Zoila is one of that great army of volunteersThey come out every day to lend their shoulders in different “battlefields”To help people whose lives expose them to complex situations.

,I am poor. But there are people poorer than me. And if I have the will and time to help, it gives me a satisfaction I can’t describe. “Seeing people happy makes me happy.”says the islander, who has lived in upper Manhattan for more than 40 years.

It would be too complicated to try to install it How many non-profit organizations, community-based and helping the most vulnerable, are connected across the vastness of New York, one of the mega cities in the world where the highest number of billionaires live. On the contrary, this is where one of Highest poverty rate in the country.

Precisely, thousands of volunteers of all types, available in the most difficult moments and to permanently confront structural problems, are a huge force to face an endless series of social, environmental, economic and health-related dramas, whose Is concerned not only with hunger, but with crises Such as sexual violence, cruelty to animals, addiction, discrimination, forced migration, hate crimes, integration of prison populations upon release, and the at-risk or loneliness of older adults...anyway, a long et cetera, It is difficult to explain briefly.

“I’m sure that no matter how tough this town is, It is one of the most helpful in the world, People donate to help people they don’t even know. There is a great need for newly arrived immigrants now. Many people do not even have a kitchen where they can cook their food. They live in shelters. And this city has moved forward with them,” Zoila says in between her driving routine. Long queues of people getting food to complete their diet.

a study of Finance Corporation People Wallet Hubstudied the country’s 100 largest cities, analyzed child poverty rates and Number of homeless people compared to volunteer hours per capita, the ratio of favors and donations to charity among neighbors. On that list, the Big Apple was in a group of five cities. More generous with those less fortunate.

Puerto Rican Janet Colón has an active job as a volunteer in New York prisons. (Photo: F. Martínez)

is the most marginalized

The “face” of volunteerism in New York City grows in crises, as has become evident during the complex years of the pandemic. Many nonprofit jobs are “downstream”, that is, beyond emergencies, there are everyday, It is focused on supporting those who are, by definition, disadvantaged, at risk, and subject to the accusing gaze of many.

For example, Puerto Rican Janet ColonA resident of The Bronx, five years ago she joined the Campaign to Release Seniors (RAPP) as an associate in assistance programs, one of several coalitions reaching out to the prison population in New York. Not only to ensure that their sentences are carried out with minimal respect for their human rights, But achieving more harmonious integration into society once released.

“For example, this Christmas I saw volunteers who go into prisons just to be with prisoners who have no family. this is amazing“, He said.

Janet has experienced firsthand that volunteer work is not the same when combined with Provide assistance to the elderly, children or the homelessBecause in the case of prisoners, not everyone accepts that this is a population that is in prison for “making a mistake.” Need an opportunity or be valued as dignified people.

“In my own family they tell me I’m crazy. But right now I’m basing myself on the fact that Jesus Christ lived with the worst people in society because all humans deserve the opportunity to change. He was helping criminals, lepers, prostitutes. And we have to protect that as part of their message.”Shared Puerto Rican.

In their words, RAPP volunteers, who celebrate that Governor Kathy Hochul allowed Amnesty for 16 people on Christmas EveThe work of these defense organizations is important so that those who Have committed a crime, are released and can return to their neighborhood without posing any threat, as many people think.

“The most beautiful thing about this volunteerism is that in addition to monitoring the food and health conditions of people in prisons, the efforts that this group makes, even in the worst situations, where they are judged by justice as criminals being nominated, They value their lives and can change. I have seen great changes. “Prisons should not become machinery for making people worse off.”Janet pondered.

government is not enough

Even more so when it becomes clear that the Big Apple has been shuttered this year without thousands of program volunteers, with alarming rates of food insecurity, mental health problems, a lack of affordable housing, a growing immigration crisis and complex addiction problems. . Of Municipalities, governments and the federal government will never be enough.

Large quantities of food are distributed daily to pantries, social events and religious initiatives throughout the five boroughs. And on these dates, marked by Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year, where somehow a feeling of solidarity is activated towards those who have less, There is hardly any other city in the world where so many support initiatives are available, so that thousands of people do not end the day without eating.

In fact, according to a report shared by Hunger Free America, the number of New York City residents without enough food over a seven-day period was, on average, 9.3% higher in September and October 2023 compared to September and October 2021.

During that period, the number of people without adequate food increased in the New York metropolitan area. 1.2 million to 1.3 million.

Hunger Free America attributes this increase in food insecurity to the end of its expansion Child tax credits and universal school meals.

Organizations like VIA, composed of 100% volunteers, emerged in the Big Apple to provide answers to information gaps in very specific immigrant communities. (Photo: Courtesy: VIA)

When the pillars are volunteers

But food shortages may be one of the easiest problems to measure. In a complex and multiracial society like New York, which is also one of the axes of migration in the country. Precisely in this sense, initiatives have emerged that attempt to fill the gaps in guidance, information and adaptation. Made 100% by volunteers.

In 2016, when the migrant crisis in New York City had taken on huge dimensions that we had not even realized since the spring of 2022, some young Venezuelan professionals became Niurka Melendez and Hector Arguinzones, He created the Venezuelan and Immigrant Assistance (VIA) organization.

At that time, there was a huge information gap Forced migrants and asylum seekers in the Big Apple, With this organization he established support groups, legal and emotional support clinics, Where the fundamental pillar is voluntary human capital.

“Today, between lawyers, psychologists and other support groups, we have a group of volunteers that exceeds 30 people. The people who facilitate the sessions are trained in aspects such as mental health, so that they are able to address very painful human processes.Melendez explained.

In addition to typical events of the Christmas season, such as dinners with typical Venezuelan dishes and the distribution of coats on a permanent basis to newly arrived families, VIA has become a platform that has made it possible to raise awareness, even among institutions, of what it means to be a forced migrant and an asylum seeker.

“Seven years ago, there was no visibility into the nature of an asylum seeker’s situation. And certainly not about the horrific and worsening humanitarian crisis my country is facing. When we volunteered as translators for support days with organizations that help immigrants from Africa and Eastern Europe, We thought it was important to provide this help to our people. And on this path, volunteerism has been crucial.”The worker concludes.

Do you want to volunteer?

Almost all of New York’s dynamics in terms of health, education, culture, sports, support initiatives for the elderly, and community advocacy organizations require volunteers throughout the year, professional and non-professional, multilingual, or simply with a profession of service. , For others. We share only a few ways according to certain areas of interest:

  • care about new york Centralizes volunteer opportunities for various community organizations in different areas, especially for at-risk people: Visit: https://www.newyorkcares.org
  • NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital One of the Big Apple’s major hospital centers offers volunteer positions in a variety of areas. Visit: https://www.nyp.org/giving/volunteer
  • Citymeals on Wheels organization We are constantly looking for help delivering meals to seniors in need: visit www.citymeals.org/volunteer

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