Washington Heights nonprofit the Community League of the Heights (CLOTH) has been helping the community for more than 60 years, addressing social service needs and providing affordable housing for thousands of New Yorkers.
While it is based in Manhattan, thousands of Bronxites come there for food and even more since the COVID-19 crisis began.
“I actually feel as if I am working more now than I did before,” said Yvonne Stennett executive director of the organization.
CLOTH has been operating a food pantry in Washington Heights for 64 years and doing delivery service for disabled and homebound seniors to help them overcome the challenges driven by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Stennett said typically the pantry was open Wednesday and Friday mornings by appointment, but everything changed when the coronavirus arrived.
They stopped taking appointments on March 13 and are now open six days a week. Stennett starts her day at 6 a.m. and doesn’t stop until 11 p.m., coordinating more than 20 employees and five volunteers to run the operation.
Stennett has been with the CLOTH for 40 plus years, but never witnessed anything like this.
“It was hard to anticipate what it [COVID-19] would be like,” she said. “We always knew there would be a demand on certain services. We didn’t fully understand what that meant. I think what we’re realizing more is for a lot of people the psychological toll that it’s taking.”
The facility now gets two deliveries Monday, which are usually gone by Wednesday and another Thursday and Friday. They go through about seven pallets of food daily from City Harvest, which includes foods such as pasta, produce, cabbage and onions and also receive several cases of tuna and salmon from another local food bank.
Although they don’t open until 9 a.m., people are often lined up outside, six feet apart, starting at 7 a.m. Members of the 33rd Precinct spray painted the area outside of the building every six feet.
According to Stennett, this past month has been emotionally draining, but also gratifying due to the fact they have been able to help so many people.
“We’re grateful that the volunteers come,” she said. “They’re part of something that’s bigger than themselves.”
She told the Bronx Times that the staff understands that are risking their own health by coming to work. But they know there are many people struggling financially that don’t know where their next meal will be.
“There isn’t one staff member at any point in time that didn’t want to do this,” she said. “I think we’re blessed. It’s not about anything but being able to help another human being. We have a group of people who think of others instead of thinking of themselves.”