Food, coffee, diapers: Amid pandemic, van delivers donations

  • Sistas Van driver Denise Rodriguez pauses in front of the van she uses to pick up and drop off supplies for those in need of help amid the coronavirus outbreak, Tuesday, May 19, 2020, in New York. Originally launched to help survivors of sexual and reproductive violence and physical abuse, the women's network and their van have been delivering badly-needed resources to black and Hispanic communities, which have been disproportionately affected by the fast-spreading virus.

    Sistas Van driver Denise Rodriguez pauses in front of the van she uses to pick up and drop off supplies for those in need of help amid the coronavirus outbreak, Tuesday, May 19, 2020, in New York. Originally launched to help survivors of sexual and reproductive violence and physical abuse, the women's network and their van have been delivering badly-needed resources to black and Hispanic communities, which have been disproportionately affected by the fast-spreading virus. Associated Press

  • Black Women's Blueprint intern Shabieko Ivy carries bags of donated clothing destined for the Bushwick Mutual Aid group to a bookstore, distributing them to members of the community in need amid the coronavirus outbreak, Tuesday, May 19, 2020, in New York. Launched a year earlier by the nonprofit Black Women's Blueprint to help survivors of sexual and reproductive violence and physical abuse, during the coronavirus outbreak the women's network has focused on delivering badly-needed resources to black and Hispanic communities, which have had some of the city's highest rates of contagion and death from the virus.

    Black Women's Blueprint intern Shabieko Ivy carries bags of donated clothing destined for the Bushwick Mutual Aid group to a bookstore, distributing them to members of the community in need amid the coronavirus outbreak, Tuesday, May 19, 2020, in New York. Launched a year earlier by the nonprofit Black Women's Blueprint to help survivors of sexual and reproductive violence and physical abuse, during the coronavirus outbreak the women's network has focused on delivering badly-needed resources to black and Hispanic communities, which have had some of the city's highest rates of contagion and death from the virus. Associated Press

  • Black Women's Blueprint intern Shabieko Ivy, left, and Sistas Van driver Denise Rodriguez, right, inquire with Rachel Uhlir about donating clothing to Bushwick Mutual Aid which has set up operations inside Mil Mundos bookstore, closed to customers during the coronavirus outbreak, Tuesday, May 19, 2020, in New York. The aid group accepted some of the donated clothing, but didn't have space for all the donated clothing.

    Black Women's Blueprint intern Shabieko Ivy, left, and Sistas Van driver Denise Rodriguez, right, inquire with Rachel Uhlir about donating clothing to Bushwick Mutual Aid which has set up operations inside Mil Mundos bookstore, closed to customers during the coronavirus outbreak, Tuesday, May 19, 2020, in New York. The aid group accepted some of the donated clothing, but didn't have space for all the donated clothing. Associated Press

  • Brooklyn Clayton, right, abandons social distancing precautions to embrace Sistas Van driver Denise Rodriguez after arriving by bicycle to volunteer with the van's crew in handing out free toiletries, personal hygiene products and other items to members of the community in need amid the coronavirus outbreak, Tuesday, May 19, 2020, in New York. Clayton lost her job as a personal chef during the outbreak and now volunteers with the group.

    Brooklyn Clayton, right, abandons social distancing precautions to embrace Sistas Van driver Denise Rodriguez after arriving by bicycle to volunteer with the van's crew in handing out free toiletries, personal hygiene products and other items to members of the community in need amid the coronavirus outbreak, Tuesday, May 19, 2020, in New York. Clayton lost her job as a personal chef during the outbreak and now volunteers with the group. Associated Press

  • Sistas Van organizer and driver Denise Rodriguez, left, sets up a table with supplies for those in need in front of a shuttered sporting goods store with help from volunteer Shaquaña Williams-Hechavarria, center, and Black Women's Blueprint intern Shabieko Ivy during the current coronavirus outbreak, Tuesday, May 19, 2020, in New York. Launched by Black Women's Blueprint to help survivors of sexual and reproductive violence and physical abuse, the women's network has pivoted during the coronavirus to delivering badly-needed resources to black and Hispanic communities that have been disproportionately affected by the fast-spreading virus.

    Sistas Van organizer and driver Denise Rodriguez, left, sets up a table with supplies for those in need in front of a shuttered sporting goods store with help from volunteer Shaquaña Williams-Hechavarria, center, and Black Women's Blueprint intern Shabieko Ivy during the current coronavirus outbreak, Tuesday, May 19, 2020, in New York. Launched by Black Women's Blueprint to help survivors of sexual and reproductive violence and physical abuse, the women's network has pivoted during the coronavirus to delivering badly-needed resources to black and Hispanic communities that have been disproportionately affected by the fast-spreading virus. Associated Press

  • Volunteer Sequaña Williams-Hechavarria, right, instructs youngster Jade Suarez to look beneath the table for books as Jade's mother, Maria, signs up for assistance and free supplies provided by Sistas Van during the coronavirus outbreak at a busy Bushwick intersection in the Brooklyn borough of New York, Tuesday, May 19, 2020. Sistas Van was originally launched by the nonprofit Black Women's Blueprint to help survivors of sexual and reproductive violence and physical abuse. But during the coronavirus, the women's network has pivoted to delivering badly-needed resources to black and Hispanic communities, which have had some of the city's highest rates of contagion and death toll of the fast-spreading virus.

    Volunteer Sequaña Williams-Hechavarria, right, instructs youngster Jade Suarez to look beneath the table for books as Jade's mother, Maria, signs up for assistance and free supplies provided by Sistas Van during the coronavirus outbreak at a busy Bushwick intersection in the Brooklyn borough of New York, Tuesday, May 19, 2020. Sistas Van was originally launched by the nonprofit Black Women's Blueprint to help survivors of sexual and reproductive violence and physical abuse. But during the coronavirus, the women's network has pivoted to delivering badly-needed resources to black and Hispanic communities, which have had some of the city's highest rates of contagion and death toll of the fast-spreading virus. Associated Press

  • Black Women's Blueprint and Sista's Van driver Denise Rodriguez, left, prepares a small bag of free personal hygiene items for Lauren Daraio, a homeless woman, from among items the group is offering at their temporary setup near a busy transit hub in the Brooklyn borough of New York during the coronavirus outbreak, Tuesday, May 19, 2020. Rodriguez and other women from Black Women's Blueprint have been delivering badly-needed resources to black and Hispanic communities, which have had some of the city's highest rates of contagion and death toll from the fast-spreading virus.

    Black Women's Blueprint and Sista's Van driver Denise Rodriguez, left, prepares a small bag of free personal hygiene items for Lauren Daraio, a homeless woman, from among items the group is offering at their temporary setup near a busy transit hub in the Brooklyn borough of New York during the coronavirus outbreak, Tuesday, May 19, 2020. Rodriguez and other women from Black Women's Blueprint have been delivering badly-needed resources to black and Hispanic communities, which have had some of the city's highest rates of contagion and death toll from the fast-spreading virus. Associated Press

  • Sistas Van volunteer Sequaña Williams-Hechavarria, right, warns people who lined up to receive supplies to spread out and safely distance themselves while waiting in line as she and others hand out free supplies and personal hygiene products in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn amid the coronavirus outbreak, Tuesday, May 19, 2020, in New York.

    Sistas Van volunteer Sequaña Williams-Hechavarria, right, warns people who lined up to receive supplies to spread out and safely distance themselves while waiting in line as she and others hand out free supplies and personal hygiene products in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn amid the coronavirus outbreak, Tuesday, May 19, 2020, in New York. Associated Press

  • Sistas Van driver Denise Rodriguez, center, adds a can of tomato juice to a woman's bag after the woman waited in line to receive free food and other donations the group was giving away to those in need at Brooklyn's Broadway Triangle amid the coronavirus outbreak, Tuesday, May 19, 2020, in New York.

    Sistas Van driver Denise Rodriguez, center, adds a can of tomato juice to a woman's bag after the woman waited in line to receive free food and other donations the group was giving away to those in need at Brooklyn's Broadway Triangle amid the coronavirus outbreak, Tuesday, May 19, 2020, in New York. Associated Press

  • Sistas Van volunteer Sequaña Williams-Hechavarria, left, listens as Francisco Martinez, who lost his job due to an injury and now sells face masks from a cart on the street, makes his case for help after passing by a table the group had set up at Brooklyn's Broadway Triangle, a busy intersection and transit hub in the middle of Brooklyn, amid the coronavirus outbreak, Tuesday, May 19, 2020, in New York. Twice weekly, Sistas Van workers and volunteers deliver resources to some of the hardest hit areas of New York city, often immigrant communities and communities of color.

    Sistas Van volunteer Sequaña Williams-Hechavarria, left, listens as Francisco Martinez, who lost his job due to an injury and now sells face masks from a cart on the street, makes his case for help after passing by a table the group had set up at Brooklyn's Broadway Triangle, a busy intersection and transit hub in the middle of Brooklyn, amid the coronavirus outbreak, Tuesday, May 19, 2020, in New York. Twice weekly, Sistas Van workers and volunteers deliver resources to some of the hardest hit areas of New York city, often immigrant communities and communities of color. Associated Press

  • Sistas Van organizer and driver Denise Rodriguez guzzles a bottle of water while taking a break in the midst of a busy day of setting up for and distributing free supplies to those in need in the hard hit areas of Brooklyn during the coronavirus outbreak, Tuesday, May 19, 2020, in New York.

    Sistas Van organizer and driver Denise Rodriguez guzzles a bottle of water while taking a break in the midst of a busy day of setting up for and distributing free supplies to those in need in the hard hit areas of Brooklyn during the coronavirus outbreak, Tuesday, May 19, 2020, in New York. Associated Press

  • Sistas Van driver and Black Women's Blueprint employee Denise Rodriguez, second from left, celebrates after a day of giving back to her community by distributing free food, personal hygiene supplies, books, diapers and other items to anyone willing to wait in line to receive them from a mobile supply van amid the coronavirus outbreak, Tuesday, May 19, 2020, in New York. Volunteer Brooklyn Clayton, second from right, and Black Women's Blueprint intern Shabieko Ivy pack up the group's table as volunteer Marilyn Louis looks on, far left. Rodriguez dubbed the hard-working foursome her "dream team."

    Sistas Van driver and Black Women's Blueprint employee Denise Rodriguez, second from left, celebrates after a day of giving back to her community by distributing free food, personal hygiene supplies, books, diapers and other items to anyone willing to wait in line to receive them from a mobile supply van amid the coronavirus outbreak, Tuesday, May 19, 2020, in New York. Volunteer Brooklyn Clayton, second from right, and Black Women's Blueprint intern Shabieko Ivy pack up the group's table as volunteer Marilyn Louis looks on, far left. Rodriguez dubbed the hard-working foursome her "dream team." Associated Press

 
 
Updated 6/6/2020 11:30 AM

NEW YORK -- On a recent day, a powder-blue van parked curbside in Brooklyn, one of the hardest-hit communities in America by the coronavirus pandemic, and a group of women wearing protective face masks and gloves set to unloading.

Locals lined up, spaced out next to orange traffic cones on the sidewalk, waiting their turn to pick up much-needed free supplies that help them make it through what are tough times for the borough.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

'We go to areas where we're needed most. Today ... we handed out food, all kinds of food, canned food, squash, coffee, crackers, adult and baby diapers,' said driver Denise Rodriguez, 26. 'We handed out condoms - all essential stuff.'

Known as Sistas Van and sponsored by the nonprofit Black Women's Blueprint, in normal times the vehicle serves survivors of sexual trauma and domestic violence. In times of pandemic, its mission has shifted to delivering donated resources in New York to individuals and communities in need.

Twice a week Rodriguez, a Black Women's Blueprint employee, drives three hours from her home in the Bronx pick up the van in New Jersey before returning to Brooklyn to make the rounds. Three volunteers and an intern - Rodriguez calls them her 'dream team' - meet her to help set up the table and hand out goods.

One of them is Brooklyn Clayton, who moved home with family in New York after the coronavirus's economic fallout left her 'housing- and food-insecure' where she lived in Philadelphia: 'COVID-19 hit Philly in the same ways it hit Brooklyn,' she said.

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Clayton linked up with Sistas Van just five days after arriving and now volunteers her time 'making sure that everybody is receiving the minimum: food, shelter, water and air.'

Volunteer Sequaña Williams-Hechavarria, who was laid off from a digital marketing agency in March due to COVID-19 budget cuts, said she has been hurt both financially and emotionally by the pandemic.

'My whole life, the community has always shown up for me regardless of whether I ask for it or not,' Williams-Hechavarria said. 'Doing stuff like this helps me to feel really great about the communities that have always supported me.'

In front of a shuttered sporting goods store at a busy intersection, the women loaded the table with food, diapers, face coverings and other items. It wasn't long before people snapped up nearly everything except some books, condoms and feminine hygiene products.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

At a second stop, beneath a bustling transit hub in central Brooklyn, the line was much longer. Lauren Daraio, who is homeless, said the free toiletries and food were most welcome.

'The epidemic is hard,' Daraio said. 'You've got to figure out where to eat every day and where to sleep. A lot of places aren't taking people.'

Several men stuffed packages of Ritz crackers into their pockets, thanked the women and were on their way. The crew scrubbed the table, sprayed everything with a strong disinfectant and broke it all down for reloading into the van.

Rodriguez said the operation is focusing primarily on vulnerable sectors of society: 'lower-income, black and brown families, undocumented families, trans-communities,' and helps fill the gaps where people are underserved by government.

'We know that they're going through a hard time. I don't want people to feel alone,' she said. 'So this van is a great way to see people, smile and share time with them, but also give them the things that they need.'

___

Associated Press religion coverage receives support from the Lilly Endowment through the Religion News Foundation. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

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