Either their work, like app-based food delivery, was deemed essential or their restaurant and bars shuttered. Reverend Young and his congregation saw firsthand the pandemic’s threat to the economic security and physical safety of many in Queens.
First Baptist Church partnered with Queens Together, of which I’m a member, to provide hot meals and groceries to neighbors facing food insecurity.
Founded by service industry veteran and Astoria resident Jonathan Forgash in the midst of the pandemic, Queens Together advocates and provides support to local restaurants while connecting Queens residents to much-needed meals and groceries. Member restaurants stretch from Astoria and Laurelton to Long Island City and Jamaica.
Since March 2020, they have raised over $170,000. That money paid for more than 40,000 meals cooked at dozens of Queens restaurants that are sent to shelters, senior facilities, food pantries, and the unhoused across Queens.
The funds also paid for thousands of pounds of dry goods and groceries. Through September, Queens Together helped pantries support approximately 7,000 people per week.
Studies indicate that somewhere between one-third to half of the city’s restaurants will close for good. That adds up to 8,000 restaurants and a loss of 106,000 jobs. A recent study released by Comptroller Scott Stringer’s office puts the potential job loss total as high as 160,000.
As the city’s restaurant industry faces a crisis that threatens its very survival, it can be easy to lose sight of the far reaching impact just one lost restaurant job has here and around the world.
The impact of a lost job starts with one of the 24,000 restaurant employees who call these neighborhoods home, but quickly spreads through the community. Family members face increased economic insecurity. Local shops lose another customer. The impact can be felt in many other countries.
Jackson Heights, Corona, and Elmhurst are home to the top three neighborhoods for residents in the restaurant industry. They are also some of the most diverse communities in our city. In many ways, Queens and these neighborhoods in particular are the crossroads of the world.
As the owner of Nneji restaurant in Astoria, I see my staff, many of whom are immigrants, visit Western Union to send remittances to family members back home. Money from our city’s restaurant and bars cover the cost of hospital bills, school fees, and other daily necessities in countries across the world.
Up to ten people can rely on the salary of a single restaurant worker.
As the owners of small and local restaurants, we see these struggles on a daily basis as we do everything we can to keep flipping to the “open” side of the sign for our customers and keeping the lights on for our staff.
Next month marks the one-year anniversary of restaurants and bars shuttering in New York City. As the pandemic enters its second year, community groups, and local elected officials need the state and federal government to do their part.
Our industry, hundreds of thousands here, and millions abroad that it helps support can’t wait any longer.
For more information on donating, volunteering or restaurant membership, please visit Queenstogether.org.
Beatrice Ajaero is the owner of Nneji and a member of Queens Together.