'Wellness Checks' Become Lifeline For NYC Families Amid Pandemic

Posted on April 30, 2020 by Catholic Charities Admin  |  Share

Catholic Charities has called 3,500 families a day since March to see what they need during the COVID-19 crisis. Here's what they learned. (​​(Rafaelina Tineo/Catholic Charities Community Services​.)​​​)

Catholic Charities has called 3,500 families a day since March to see what they need during the COVID-19 crisis. Here's what they learned. 

This article originally appears on

By Anna Quinn, Patch Staff 

WASHINGTON HEIGHTS, NY — The first time Catholic Charities' Alianza Youth Services called up the 3,500 families they serve on March 23 to see how they were doing during the coronavirus pandemic, only about 700 said they were worried about finding enough to eat. Just a week later, that number jumped to more than 2,000.

"About 60 or 70 percent of the need was about [our food] pantry," Eddie Silverio, director of Alianza, which is in eight schools in Manhattan and the Bronx. "The need is there."

The number of families was about 10 times the typical number of people that Alianza's Mosaic Beacon Food Pantry in the Bronx, which is open once every two weeks, sees on a busy day, Silverio said.  So, the nonprofit quickly sprung into action to open pop-up pantries and has since handed out about 1,300 bags of food in Washington Heights and the Bronx. 

(Rafaelina Tineo/Catholic Charities Community Services.)

The lines — which at one pop-up in Washington Heights snaked three blocks long — have been filled with people who Alianza doesn't normally see at the pantry, but have lost their jobs or are financially strained because of the pandemic, Silverio said.

And, although the busiest, food service is just one of the ways people are struggling to get by.
Alianza's 3,500 daily calls to families have revealed the unique challenges the coronavirus pandemic is putting on families, and the ways their needs have changed over the course of the last few weeks. From food, to WiFi help, to at-home learning and even questions about funerals, nonprofits checking in on families have become lifelines during the coronavirus crisis, Silverio said.

"I think we've basically have become the triage for our community when it comes to COVID-19," he said. "We are the ones translating for them what is happening. Every day we find something out."

(Rafaelina Tineo/Catholic Charities Community Services.)

One of the biggest ways Alianza and other nonprofits in Washington Heights are helping, Silverio said, is by simply helping their largely Latino and immigrant community navigate the varied, and often complicated list of resources set up for the pandemic. That includes helping families who need internet access for at-home learning find WiFi companies offering deals, navigating forms for unemployment or connecting people with legal services, Silverio said. 

The nonprofit has also been able to fill in gaps where city and state resources have lagged, like the distribution of devices for remote learning. Alianza handed out 110 tablets meant for a summer program to students who hadn't yet received them from the Department of Education, Silverio said. The families Alianza's staff call almost every day have started to rely on their wellness checks, even if just for the added peace of mind.

"I had one parent call because she didn't get a call one day, because we hadn't spoken to her," Silverio said. "She said, 'Excuse me, something came up.'" Silverio said the emotional toll of the pandemic has become obvious through the calls and other programs, like a webinar Alianza held for students about anxiety and stress. 


"Every student exposed what they were going through," Silverio said, explaining many students knew someone who had gotten the virus or were quarantining with sick family members. "Those are the things that we are addressing — it's really to support our families at every level."

The wellness calls are in addition to the services Alianza has been providing each day, such as after-school programming at a childcare center for essential workers or virtual after-school activities for the students they serve. The added demand has meant that most of Alianza's part-time staff has started working full-time to help as many families as they can. The staff, many working remotely, have even started doing wellness checks on each other.

"It's about supporting one another and you have to support yourself," Silverio said. "It's a lot of work — all the nonprofits in Washington Heights are doing their part.