Like millions of others, during the pandemic, Sofia Moncayo was furloughed from her job at a construction company but despite her own plight, she decided to help. In March 2020, a food distribution started in her New York City neighborhood and within a month, Moncayo took the reins of the food distribution program run through the Mosaic West Queens Church and expanded it to serve hundreds of people.
Through the program, dozens of volunteers distribute more than 1,000 boxes of food to families twice a week. “I think helping others has to do something to your brain chemically because if we had not being doing everything that we’re doing, I think this would have been a much scarier time,” she said. “Being able to dig in and help others, it really gives you perspective and helps you believe that you’re going to be OK too.”
Moncayo remains unemployed and she and her husband currently owe five months of rent for their martial arts studio in their New York City neighborhood. Most of the food is donated by a neighborhood restaurant and other sources. There’s also been help from the Farmers to Families Food Box Program overseen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Moncayo also continues to lead fundraisers to help those affected by the pandemic.
Many of the volunteers who joined in the food distribution she runs also lost their jobs during the pandemic. They’ve found a way to give back to their community during this difficult time and make sure everyone in need feels welcomed.
Sunnyside resident Carol Sullivan lost her stage manager job when Broadway theaters closed because of the virus. She was hesitant at first about receiving food from a pantry, but she said that Moncayo and the other volunteers made her feel welcome. “It has been a link to the community that I didn’t have before and it also saves a lot of anxiety over having to have money to pay for food over having to pay for the bills.” Sullivan said.
Moncayo comes from a humble background. Along with her family, she used to get in line in such pantries in order to have some food to eat. While things are uncertain for her, she still wants to give it back to the institution that helped her live and become who she is. “One of the things that we wanted to make sure is that we don’t look at people on the pantry line as people that need food, and really focus on, ‘hey, these are our neighbors.”
Residents in need have been able to pick up a wide variety of food items from the pantry such as canned food, fruit, vegetables, pasta, and prepackaged goods. Other items include baby diapers and infant formula. The organizers of the Sunnyside food pantry have been recognized by an international non-profit organization for their hard work. Several were named recipients of the Neighborhood Everyday Hero Award by the Kiwanis International Queens West Division for providing food to struggling residents throughout the pandemic. The award recognizes people who have gone above and beyond the call of duty to help residents during the COVID-19 shutdowns without expecting anything in return.