Activists raise $13K for Bronx street vendor whose fruit city trashed

Diana Hernandez Cruz next to her stall that was raided by the city at Pelham Bay Parkway.
Photo by Kevin Duggan

An online fundraiser has collected more than $13,000 for the Bronx street vendor Diana Hernandez Cruz, whose fruit stand was raided last month by the city, with sanitation workers dumping fresh produce in the back of a garbage truck.

“The community has come out and I really appreciate all of those donations from them all,” Hernandez Cruz told amNewYork Metro in Spanish through an interpreter. “I’m very blessed and fortunate… I really appreciate all the support from all the community and my people.”

The GoFundMe campaign has amassed $13,214 as of Oct. 4, just over a week since it launched on Sept. 26, and an organizer of the donation drive hopes to hit $15,000 by the end of this week, with all of the money going straight to the sidewalk merchant.

“The goal is to cover the expenses she incurred when everything was thrown out and whatever additional funding we can provide given that she’s a single mother,” said Jeremiah Cedeño, a co-founder of the group New York City Workers for Justice. The organization is made up of Big Apple municipal employees who banded together in the aftermath of the police murder of George Floyd in 2020 to fight racism in the New York City government.

A fellow Bronxite, Cedeño was dismayed when he saw the now-viral video on social media of Department of Sanitation workers dismantling Hernandez Cruz’s stand at Pelham Bay Parkway near White Plains Road and tossing her fresh produce into the back of a dump truck as police officers guarded the scene on Sept. 23.

“You shouldn’t throw out food,” he said. “Since kids we were taught not to throw out food, but apparently we need to remind the mayor that we shouldn’t throw out food.”

The city’s Department of Consumer and Worker Protection (DCWP) came to inspect the stand at the time, which Hernandez Cruz runs without a license, and DSNY claimed they tossed the crates of watermelons, bananas, and strawberries after she abandoned the stall, but online video showed her standing right next to the garbage collectors.

Hernandez Cruz said she’s been trying to get a license for five years, but due to a decades-old cap on the permits, thousands of street vendors, many of whom are immigrants and of low-income, have chosen to bypass long waitlists and hawk their goods illegally.

The unsanctioned sellers are often pitted against brick-and-mortar shops and so-called business improvement districts, or BIDs, who see them as cutting into their margins and lobby politicians against expanding access to licenses.

“They’re not doing any criminal activity, they’re victims of a faulty process, they’re just trying to make ends meet like we all are,” said Cedeño. “They’re just as essential and just as frontline as many other workers who deserve the respect and admiration that they’re getting.”

At a rally following the bust on Sunday, Sept. 26, activists with the Street Vendor Project and local elected officials slammed the city crackdown on the sidewalk market, especially the disposing of pounds of perfectly good fruit.

DCWP admitted that binning the goods was a mistake and that agency inspectors should have contacted the Health Department to check whether the produce was safe for donation instead — but that didn’t bring back the roughly $10,000-worth of food Hernandez Cruz estimates she lost as a result.

After the press conference, Cedeño asked members of the Street Vendor Project how his organization could help out and after posting the fundraiser online, the effort quickly gained steam.

The single-largest donation came from Hot97 radio host Ibrahim “Ebro” Darden, who gave a whopping $5,000, and his morning show’s Twitter account also reposted the original video, which brought a lot of attention to Hernandez Cruz’s ordeal.

Hot97’s press office did not respond to a request for comment.

Hernandez Cruz, a single mother of four who moved from Mexico to the U.S. 12 years ago, said she’s not had any issues with the officials since, but hopes that the city and state can make it easier for vendors like herself to get licenses.

“I’m still in the struggle fighting to survive and keeping my business afloat. The little that I make in this business I reinvest in my business,” she said. “Whatever tax or fees we have to pay, we’ll pay them, but we just want to work and thrive in this ongoing pandemic, because it’s not easy for us.”

This story appears courtesy of our sister publication amNewYork

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