SOUTH BROOKLYN – One of the many communities that have been hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic are the undocumented. Because of their status, this group of hardworking people (most of them deemed essential workers) are being ignored by the city, state, and federal coronavirus aid. This is where the Brooklyn Immigrant Community Support (BICS) group comes in.
About eight weeks ago, the ‘stay at home’ order began. But it was in that week that Devon Morales, 42, and Fabiola Mendieta-Cuapio, 37, decided they were going to be doing the opposite of staying at home– they were going to be out helping everyone that needed help. Because if they won’t do it, who else will? We were not able to speak to Mendieta-Cuapio, but we did chat with Morales about what this group means to them and the community.
At the start of the pandemic, Morales and Mendieta-Cuapio got on the phone to discuss what they could do to serve those in danger of being forgotten. Both of them are local community organizers and activists who have done immigration work together in the past.
“We knew there were trust issues with asking for help from government organizations and that help had to come from within the immigrant community itself,” Morales said. “Many in the immigrant community have been left unemployed, while many others are on the front lines as essential service workers without any job protections or health insurance and who are being underpaid and threatened with calls to ICE.”
The first thing the duo did was create a GoFundMe page for their initiative, BICS. Currently, they have raised close to $18,000, which goes to direct relief for the undocumented. The money isn’t just going for food– it’s going toward anything they need.
“We have dozens of phone calls coming in every day from fearful families who have run out of food, diapers, personal hygiene products, and are at risk of eviction,” the GoFundMe page says. “It is with great sorrow that we are also now receiving calls from families who have lost loved ones to COVID and are distressed that they do not have the money needed for burial.”
“We have a team working with these individuals to direct them to resources and have been able to provide groceries and hot meals to hundreds of families in South Brooklyn.”
BICS currently operates out of The Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Bay Ridge, which had offered them space. The group, which consists of about 50 volunteers, is in there almost every day of the week. They do grocery pick-ups where they purchase the food items and then deliver the groceries to homebound/sick families, bringing items like rice, beans, sugar, eggs, cilantro, tomatoes, bananas, jalapenos, cabbage, and Maseca Instant Yellow Corn Flour – staples of the Latino community. Groceries are bought in bulk from Jetro, and as of this writing BICS volunteers have served over 1,000 families.
They also do hot food deliveries about three to four nights every single week. Most of the free meals (about 300 to 400 a week) are provided by local restaurants who want to help. Recently, BICS also began partnering with local organizations to come to Southern Brooklyn to help people complete the census.
“We want to make sure that we are doing more than feeding people, we want to make long term contributions to our community,” Morales told Bklyner.
Most of the volunteers are Mexican and women. And the majority of people the group serves are Mexican and Latino.
“So this is real mutual aid where communities are helping themselves,” Morales said. “My co-partner and our regular volunteers are all women of color. It moves me so much to work beside these women. We all risk our health and leave our families and children every day to come to serve. Women all over the city are leading mutual aid groups. I could not be prouder of the sisterhood.”
For Morales, giving back is nothing out of the ordinary. She was raised in Baltimore, Maryland, and moved to NYC for school when she was 18. She’s been here ever since and has been living in Bay Ridge for 12 years. Morales is a widowed mother of two children (ages 14 and 10). She notes that she is white and her kids are half Latino. Currently, Morales is unemployed “and scared for her future like so many other people.”
“Helping people is my heart’s desire,” she told us. When we asked her if the pandemic has changed her, she said no.
“It changed my circumstances and my habits,” she said. “Like, I don’t sleep very well and I eat too much. But not who I am at my core. I think the pandemic is just showing you who people truly are. You now see to the extreme who the selfish are and who the helpers are.”
When we asked her if the pandemic has changed the city, she again replied, no.
“I am of the belief that there is nothing new under the sun. Just because we may be experiencing something personally for the first time doesn’t make it new or unique. We have been through times of suffering recently,” she said, “9/11, Hurricane Sandy, I don’t believe things ever truly change because of the ruling class that is in power. Poor and minority folks will always suffer the most and bear the long term burdens while the city keeps telling us to work harder and never sleep.”
What gives her hope is that “love will always remain.”
“When people are hurting and suffering it is just in my nature to want to help. I am an empath with a servant’s heart; it’s one of my fruits of the spirit [a biblical term],” she said. “As a woman of deep biblical faith, I serve because I believe it is our purpose here on earth to help one another and to love one another deeply. The only way to show love is by taking care of one another.”
To volunteer or donate to BICS, check out their page here.