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A resident at John Adams House receives food as part of the building’s aid program. Photo: Kent M. Wilhelm

In October 1977, Keith Jackson, a sports reporter for ABC News, told the world what the Bronx had known for almost a decade – New York City had abandoned them.

Jackson, who was announcing the second game of the World Series that year, noted from the press box at Yankee Stadium a large structure fire burning in South Bronx.

Without ever saying it directly, Jackson crafted the living metaphor of a burning South Bronx, a symbol of how a shattered local economy and an incoherent leadership strategy at every level of government left residents to fend for themselves.

Nearly 50 years later, the South Bronx faces a very similar crisis during COVID-19.

Just prior to the pandemic, the South Bronx was growing rapidly. Commercial avenues at The Hub, Southern Boulevard and along Third Avenue were bustling, construction cranes dotted the horizon and unemployment stood at 5.7 percent. 

The biggest concern for many long-time residents was that all the new luxury apartment complexes being built would raise rents so high, they could get pushed out.

But the novel coronavirus poses a challenge that could set back much of that hard-fought progress.

Bronx residents have contracted the virus at the highest rates in the city and have suffered more deaths, per capita, than any other borough.  Locally owned businesses that form the South Bronx’s economic backbone have been shuttered by stay-in-place orders, prompting thousands of job losses.

As the city is cleaved into two camps of “essential” and “non-essential” workers, the economic realities of the South Bronx become clear. Workers who remain in “essential” jobs that have kept the rest of the city running — delivery workers, grocery store clerks, subway cleaners, bus drivers, security guards, hospital staffers — face health perils daily.  They have persevered to save their jobs, feed their families and serve their communities.

This, despite the fact that one-quarter of South Bronx residents have no health insurance and one-sixth go without medical care. Bronx residents suffer from high levels of asthma, obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, pre-existing conditions that put them at high vulnerability to COVID.  City health reports show that black and brown New Yorkers have succumbed at much higher rates than others; 73 percent of South Bronx residents are Hispanic, and 24 percent are black, according to city data.

COVID-19 has laid bare the inequalities that have persisted through the 50 years since Jackson’s announcement, as governments at all levels failed to provide sufficient resources or the will to address many of the borough’s distinctive problems – and sometimes have exacerbated them.

But South Bronx businesses, nonprofits, civic groups and individuals are stepping into the breach to help their neighborhoods survive.  Some are veterans of those long-ago battles while others are following their example.

As bread lines form around city blocks for the first time since the Great Depression, organizers like Sonia Taylor at Diego Beekman Mutual Housing, a veteran of the borough’s up-by-the-bootstraps efforts in the 1970s and 1980s, are stepping up to provide relief today.

When the virus hit, Taylor diverted her energies from fighting a new jail planned for Mott Haven to distributing food at local church pantries. Volunteers have been outfitted in protective equipment provided not by the city, but by St. Mary’s Church on 147th Street.

In addition to thousands of other Bronxites leaping into action on their own, a group of local business owners, nonprofits, politicians and donors has teamed up to raise $10 million for a new Bronx Community Relief Effort.  They hope their collaboration will extend well beyond the virus.

Acknowledging everyone on the front lines would take volumes.  We hope this sampling will provide a glimpse into the breadth of neighborhood networks and individuals working to hold the South Bronx together, even as essential workers who live there are keeping New York City going in its time of need.

They are all Bronx heroes.

Food Distribution


Social Services

Food Distribution

Justin Mashia

Bronx Sole Founder

This was the first time that somebody had donated to the night staff, so it really just lifted everybody’s spirits. 

Local Bronx man starts a fundraiser, delivers pizzas to hospitals

by Kelsie Sandoval

In the midst of the coronavirus crisis, Justin Mashia, 39, found himself with extra time and the will to help. Mashia, founder of the running and walking group, Bronx Sole, noticed businesses were closed… read more

Rosa Garcia

Mott Haven Bar Owner

It’s been really fulfilling to help during this time, and give back to the Bronx.

Amidst COVID-19, Rosa Garcia Keeps Mott Haven Bar Open to Help the Community

by Yasmine Chisolm

While restaurants across the Bronx are closed due to COVID-19, Rosa Garcia, owner of the Mott Haven Bar, has a team of people helping her prepare over 400 free meals daily that get delivered to … read more

Genesis Mejia

Carolyn McLaughlin Community Center

She works countless hours to make sure this gets done. I’m very proud of her. She’s a young person who’s always willing to do more.

Food Pantry Worker Feeds Her Community on the Front Lines

by Jesse Vad

As the COVID-19 crisis continues to strain New Yorkers’ access to food, Genesis Mejia is working in the South Bronx to make sure the families in her neighborhood are still eating. Mejia, 28, food pantry coordinator…read more

Alfredo Angueira

Beatstro/ Bricks & Hops / Bronx Draft House

My family had to struggle for many years. I think that is more of a drive to want to help and give back.

Restaurant owner gives out meals to first responders and members of the community

by Kelsie Sandoval

When NYC restaurants were ordered to close in March, Alfredo Angueira’s Bronx restaurants had excess food which he decided to donate to first responders. Since then, his businesses have helped provide… read more 


Francisco Marte

Bodega and Small Business Association of New York Founder

Now we are proving how important small businesses are. When things happen, we stay and risk our lives to help keep the city running. That is why we need the bill to protect us.

Francisco Marte Fights to Keep Store Owners and Residents Safe

by Fiifi Frimpong

Francisco Marte owned his first Bronx bodega in the early 1990s when he was only 19-years-old. He remembers going through uncertainty of how his shop would survive after big companies started… read more  

David Rodriguez

United Hispanic Construction Workers Coalition

You ever heard of ‘the struggle continues’? That’s all us minorities, and the best part of my work is the fact that I help these people feed their family.

Finding Construction Jobs in a Pandemic

by Ambar Castillo

Early one Friday morning in the time of coronavirus, David Rodriguez was swamped. He’d opened the office at 843 Dawson Street just after dawn, waited for any of the men to show up seeking work… read more

Derrick Lewis

Bronx Community Relief Effort

The Bronx Community Relief Effort provides immediate assistance to our borough in its greatest moment of need, while laying the foundation to build stronger and more resilient communities moving forward.

Mobilizing the Community Now and for the Future

by Ryan Songalia

Three years ago, Derrick Lewis had an idea. What if the nonprofit organizations in the Bronx worked together, to amplify the sum of their parts, and, in conjunction with small businesses and elected officials, moved towards a common goal?… read more

Social Services

Ariadna Phillips

South Bronx Mutual Aid / Frontline Strong Relief / Areté Education

Ariadna is a force of nature; she’s someone who does not wait for authorities to respond or the government to respond. She does it herself.

The A Train

by Kent M. Wilhelm

Mirelle Phillips has called her sister Ariadna “The A Train” for her entire life. “Whenever there’s something that comes up, especially in a moment like this, she shows up in every single way she possibly can… read more

Sean Coleman

Destination Tomorrow

Sean drained his own 401K to make it happen, he would do whatever he had to in order to create Destination Tomorrow. Everything he’s done, he’s had to fight to get.

Amid COVID Pandemic, Advocates Say LGBT Issues are Being Unheard by Officials

by Parker Quinlan

Since the beginning of the novel Coronavirus pandemic, Sean Coleman has been terrified about losing cell phone service. Coleman is not worried about his own phone service being disconnected, but read more

Ramona Ferreyra

Mitchel Houses Organizer

I felt that I had to get them in masks and make sure that they understood in the beginning, especially before the city shut down, that they were vulnerable and exposed.

Looking out for Mitchel Houses’ seniors

by Danielle Cruz

When Coronavirus cases started cropping up in New York, Ramona Ferreyra knew she had to do something to help keep those in her community safe. Ferreyra, 39, who is currently quarantining with her grandmother… read more

Marty Rogers

Neighborhood Advisory Community Garden

Everyone that comes through the garden is like family. The space is a safe haven for those who want to get their minds off what’s going on.

Lifelong Bronxite Brings Residents Together With Community Garden

by Cheyenne R. Ubiera

The coronavirus didn’t compel him to help the community — he’s been doing that all his life. Marty Rogers, 65, is a proud Bronx native who has lived all of his life in Melrose. He’s spent the majority of his life… read more

Pastor Reggie Stutzman

Prodigal Center

When you hear people crying as they get their food, when you hear the gratitude of people, it accentuates that this is why we are here.

Prodigal Center Lending Helping Hands in Hunts Point

by Ariel Pacheco

Every Tuesday begins the same way for Pastor Reggie Stutzman. He arrives at the Prodigal Center in Hunts Point at 9 a.m, two hours before they are set to open. On one particular Tuesday he arrived to find… read more

Aid at Adams House

Photos by Kent M. Wilhelm

The John Adams House Tenant Association, lead by Ronald Topping, distributes masks, food and hand sanitizer to residents. 


Ambar Castillo

Yasmine Chisolm

Danielle Cruz

Fiifi Frimpong

Ariel Pacheco

Parker Quinlan

Ryan Songalia

Kelsie Sandoval

Cheyenne Ubiera

Jesse Vad

Kent M. Wilhelm


Faculty Advisers

Judith Watson

Amy Yensi

Joe Hirsch

Christine McKenna

Web Producer

Danielle Cruz

Project Manager

Parker Quinlan

Visual Producer

Kent M. Wilhelm

Copy Editor

Cheyenne R. Ubiera

Social Media Manager

Yasmine Chisolm