In early 2020, Luis Mendez and others were working in Puerto Rico to help with aid for the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Shortly after returning from Puerto Rico, on March 24, 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic occurred. When Gov. Andrew Cuomo called for a statewide shutdown, they decided to use some of the leftover funds from their Puerto Rico aid to begin purchasing food.
Buying over $4,000 worth of rice, beans, pasta, sauce and other non-perishable items, they began to prepare to help. Mendez put out his cell phone number to see if anyone in need of food would reach out. Within four days, the food was all gone.
As more people began reaching out for help, they continued to spread the message throughout the community. Calls from throughout Nassau and Suffolk counties began rolling in, roughly 350 to 400 calls daily.
With the demand came the need for much more assistance. Asking for help and volunteers, the group grew from six to 36 more volunteers. Knowing that they had to purchase more food in larger bulk, Mendez reached out to local businesses. They began to get food donations of rice, beans and other items.
By April, the phone calls continued to increase to 500-600 a day. Needing more food, Mendez created a 1000 lbs challenge. Donate $500 and at the time he was able to buy 500 lbs of either rice or beans or 20 large boxes of pasta. Within 30 days, they were able to get 42 people to contribute.
Through the entirety of the pandemic, Empowering Young Professionals has continued to assist and donate food to Long Islanders.
How did Empowering Young Professionals begin?
Three years ago, we came to our office to build a studio for El Villano radio, a Latino-based social media radio station. After seeing the space, we thought based on our governmental experience, we needed to empower Latinos and others to understand the political system and how that creates challenges for people of color. First, we invited ten kids and decided to give them challenges. We began by asking them who they are, if they had gone to high school or college and then we asked them one simple question. “Do you know who your congressman is?” They had no idea, so I asked them another question. “What is our government system made up of in Nassau County?” Again, they did not know what I meant. They didn’t know that they had a county legislator or executive.
This is when we knew that the community was lacking in leadership. We asked if they would like to create and join an organization, they all said yes. We asked them to come up with names for the organization. One of the first names that came about was Empowering Latinos of Long Island until someone mentioned how important it is for us to be inclusive. Thus, Empowering Young Professionals was created.
What prompted Empowering Young Professionals to begin collecting and donating groceries throughout the pandemic?
We knew that our folks were going to be left out, many of them are undocumented. However, we did not expect to see the African American and white communities that began to reach out to us asking for food. During the first 54 days of the pandemic, the government never reacted to the need for food. New York State did not give out food or begin funding for those first 50 days. The few organizations on Long Island that gave out food to the homeless or needy were overwhelmed. They began rationing food and limiting it to just two bags, over three days, which is not enough. No one was prepared for the pandemic. So, we covered the need that no one else had.
How many families have been impacted by the donations?
We have helped 63,00 people. With the average family being four people, I would say roughly 7,000 families. These families were getting these food donations weekly as long as they continued to call for help.
How can people get involved or donate to Empowering Young Professionals?
We are still feeding people all over Long Island, so we will always accept food donations. Donations can be dropped off at 220 Old Country Road, Garden City. We are not really accepting financial donations at this time for two reasons. First, the need is not as great on Long Island as it was earlier in the pandemic. Second, we still have to return to Puerto Rico to complete our program there. In Puerto Rico, we are working on a school. It is outdoors since they do not have the infrastructural capacity to build a building. We have already completed building a basketball court and are now working towards getting funding to complete a library. For the library, we still need to help and erect the building, which will cost us roughly $40,000 to $50,000.
Locally, we are in serious need of a van. The van will be used for vital transportation of the food as well as for our membership to go and be able to lobby these key issues such as immigration reform in Washington, Albany and Nassau County. It will cost us roughly $16,000, but we are only asking for $12,000. We have a Facebook page, which has a GoFundMe for the van. We have already raised $9,000. We are just looking to complete the goal, so we can continue to help communities throughout Long Island.
To check out Empowering Young Professionals, or donate go to: www.facebook.com/eypli/
To donate towards a van for Empowering Young Professionals go to: https://gofund.me/a652a50a