BROOKLYN HEIGHTS – Two teachers from the private St. Ann’s School are giving back to their community during the coronavirus pandemic by fundraising, organizing, and donating meals to essential workers– all while teaching virtually full-time. They call it Brooklyn Cares.
During the early days of the coronavirus, Michele Levin, 41, had reached out to her former colleagues at Columbia Children’s Hospital of New York asking if they needed volunteers – Levin was once a practicing pediatrician. At the time, they told her they weren’t in need of extra hands in pediatrics, so, she began talking with her colleague Stephanie Schragger, 48. Both of them co-teach an interdisciplinary class at Saint Ann’s School for high school juniors and seniors called Sex: A Historical and Biomedical Exploration of Human Reproduction, though they acknowledge that students often refer to it simply as “Sex.”
Schragger and Levin wanted to find a way to help out frontline workers who were risking their lives, and local restaurants that had been hurt economically. Levin had gone to Harvard Medical School and completed residency training in Pediatrics. Schragger’s husband is a non-clinical worker who was initially working late nights at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. For both of them, it was personal.
So three weeks ago, they came up with Brooklyn Cares.
In these weeks, the two teachers have raised over $16,000, delivered over 1,000 meals, working with local restaurants who do the cooking. About 300 of those meals were delivered to Cobble Hill Health Center, a local nursing home hit hard by COVID-19, others have gone to University Hospital of Brooklyn- SUNY Downstate, NYC Health + Hospitals/Kings County, Maimonides Medical Center, NYU Langone Hospital- Brooklyn, NYC Health + Hospitals/Bellevue, and Manhattan VA Medical Center.
Where do these meals come from? Local restaurants. So far, they have worked with Bar Toto, Purslane, Kitchen at Cobble Hill, La Vara, Insa, Butler, and Mile End Delicatessen. They plan on expanding to others soon.
“Living in a building of health care workers and hospital employees, I’ve talked to so many people who are working grueling hours, under unimaginably stressful conditions to help those patients fighting COVID-19,” Schragger said. “I wanted to help out hospital workers in any way possible, and helping to donate meals felt like a productive way to show support since I couldn’t help out in person. I also really value the way that local restaurants bring so much life and vibrancy to Brooklyn neighborhoods, and I wanted to do anything I could to help them to survive.”
Schagger and Levin don’t pick up and deliver the meals alone; St. Ann’s psychologist Liz Bernbach and nurse Pumpkin Wentzel help them out. With a goal to provide at least 1,500 meals by the end of this month, it seems this power duo plans on getting no sleep– but to them, it’s all worth it.
Levin lives in Cobble Hill. A former teacher, she returned to the classroom about eight years ago after doing her residency in Pediatrics. Along with co-teaching with Schagger, she also teaches Science and is the tenth-grade dean. For Levin, it was frustrating not to be able to spring into action and put her medical training to use, but she soon directed her energy to teaching, being a mother, and helping those in need.
“It’s been very, very busy trying to plan this fundraiser while teaching full time and also helping with virtual schooling at home for our children,” she said, “but it has made both of us feel a sense of purpose and pride in being able to contribute to our communities in this one small way during such an incredibly difficult time for so many here in our city.”
Schragger lives on the Upper East Side. She’s been teaching history at St. Ann’s School since 2002. She too juggles work with being a mother with her efforts of giving back. For her, it’s about putting frontline workers in the spotlight.
“I feel like health care workers are starting to be seen as the heroes that they’ve always been, and I hope that this support and respect will continue well beyond the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said. “I’ve also been so touched by the outpouring of support and kindness that we’ve already received from the restaurants that we’ve worked with, as well as the friends, family, and even strangers who have supported our fundraiser. ”
“There are a lot of really wonderful people working to help and a tremendous amount of community strength here in Brooklyn and throughout New York City,” Schragger continued. “I’m hopeful that New York City can continue to do everything possible to make its way through these trying times.”
And no matter how hectic it all gets, these teachers want to continue giving back. They feel as if it is their duty to do so.
“Rainbows in our windows to brighten the world of children walking by, clapping and ringing bells in support of our healthcare workers at 7 p.m. each night– there is such a sense of togetherness and community here in Cobble Hill,” Levin said, “and finding a way to contribute to these efforts and support healthcare workers, as well as restaurants and their staff here in our neighborhood is what planted the seed for us that has grown into Brooklyn Cares.”
To donate, check out their GoFundMe page.