Written by Dilber Shatursun
Having partnered to distribute free groceries and personal protective equipment (PPE) to Latino residents in Queens, NY in May, Tzu Chi NY and Brigada de Esperanza NY were ready for a second run. Plans were organized between Tzu Chi volunteers and Brigada coordinator Nancy Tituaña for another grocery giveaway on Saturday, June 27. But suddenly, tragedy struck.
On the afternoon of June 24, while removing groceries from her car trunk to deliver to a community member in need, a drunk driver rear-ended Nancy’s vehicle- leaving Nancy pinned in between. Reports suggest that “the collision was so violent it caused the hood of the sedan to fold from the impact.” Rushed to Elmhurst Hospital, her Brigada colleagues were rattled: what would happen to Nancy? What would happen to their plans and the families counting on them?
After careful thought and discussion with Tzu Chi NY volunteers, including San San Chiang, they decided to proceed in honor of Nancy’s giving spirit. “We thought we were going to cancel this distribution,” San San said, “but Judge Carmen said ‘No- we have to use our action to pray for Nancy.’” The judge she refers to is Carmen Velásquez, New York State Supreme Court Justice and Brigada board member and volunteer. Before the event began, Justice Velásquez shared a few words of inspiration.
Before the start of the distribution, Brigada and Tzu Chi volunteers gather to say a prayer for Nancy Tituaña. Photos/Héctor Muniente
Since the last distribution in May, the same community has continued to reel. As per the North American Congress on Latin America, Latinos makeup 28% of Queens residents, and that they ”accounted for 34% of COVID-19 deaths citywide in early April… through mid-May.” For this reason and more, the neighborhoods of Jackson Heights (where the distribution was held) and Corona, home to many Latino New Yorkers, continued to be the focal point for Tzu Chi and Brigada volunteers.
Their previous joint effort caught the attention of Alianza Ecuatoriana Internacional, another Queens-based nonprofit offering aid through the pandemic. They joined this time, providing frozen, ready-to-eat meals received from Red Hook Terminal in Brooklyn. Walter Sinche, Alianza’s Executive Director, explained this was the time to “lend a hand to our brothers and sisters… to help them get back on their feet.” He emphasized however, that diverse organizations working together did something more in a time of heightened racial divides.
Also contributing to the distribution were Brigada volunteers and husband and wife Galo Gaicochea and Romana Galecio from Queens. Romana, having been a member of her local Lions Club for over 12 years, has always been committed to community service. Learning of the distribution from Justice Velásquez, her longtime friend, Romana and her husband brainstormed ways to help other than as volunteers. That’s when the light bulb went on.
“Coffee is one of those things we [Latinos] enjoy every morning once we awaken. It’s terrible to get up and not be able to sip and enjoy some coffee. So I said, ‘no, we’re going to give the people coffee!,’” Romana recounted. Galo, too, shared that, “a coffee break… helps one get through work with a fresher outlook.” With this in mind, they brought 100- 1lb. bags of grounds to supplement the grocery packages for recipients.
Brigada de Esperanza NY volunteers Romana Galecio and Galo Gaicochea donate 100 lbs. of ground coffee to add to care recipients’ grocery packages. Photos/Héctor Muniente
As the distribution proceeded that Saturday, monetary donations also came in. From a building across the distribution site, a neighbor brought over $251 – all the cash in his wallet – to donate to the team. Then, after a woman had received her grocery package, her husband came shortly after to hand over a $100 check to Tzu Chi. Such gestures of generosity reminded all the volunteers of the significance of their mission.
Nevertheless, Nancy’s welfare was everyone’s mind. But, Tzu Chi and Brigada volunteers demonstrated how powerful putting forth goodwill can be to work through grief and, at the same time, honor the dedication and sacrifices of the people we hold dear. Fabián “Conde” Cabrera, a Brigada volunteer who had accompanied Nancy on her last grocery delivery, put some of this feeling to words.
Families across Jackson Heights and Corona, Queens, receive fresh produce, frozen foods, pantry staples, and a new appreciation for Tzu Chi NY and Brigada de Esperanza NY’s missions. Photos/Héctor Muniente
Watch this video to see the recap of Tzu Chi New York’s June food distribution with Brigada de Esperanza NY, where over 300 households received food packages as aid.
As we send sincere wishes to Nancy and her family, click here to support her recovery via GoFundMe, and as the COVID-19 crisis continues…