New York is in the front line of the Covid-19 battle and the New York area Irish community is right in the middle of it.
By Frank Brady
New York has long been favorably known as the Big Apple, Gotham, the City that Never Sleeps and the Crossroads of the World, but right now it has the dangerous distinction of being the Epicenter of COVID 19 in the United States.
The nightly television news bulletins and headlines in the daily papers grimly report that nearly forty percent of the fatalities and documented cases are in New York, with the infestation in the city being on a par with the worst areas of Madrid and Lombardy.
The mandated shutdown to contain the virus has turned New York City, a jostling teeming metropolis and vibrant neighborhoods into deserted oases with about as much mercantile activity as you see on a Christmas morning. The unemployment statistics are truly stunning, reaching levels not seen since the Great Depression.
The shutdown inevitably has huge economic and social costs for much of the population, but the Irish community has been particularly hard hit due to them being heavily involved in the construction, hospitality and services industries.
Granted, job losses may be somewhat mitigated by the unemployment benefits and the stimulus checks, but there are many in the Irish community who will have no safety net, and no family support in these straitened times. The most vulnerable will probably be young Irish apartment dwellers with little savings, no sports, no social life, no health insurance, rent to be paid and nobody to fall back on.
Historically, the Irish have always been to the forefront when a helping hand is required by those down on their luck or those less fortunate.
Indeed, benevolence seemed to be an integral part of Irish immigrant DNA more than a century and a half ago when so many fled persecution and poverty to eke out a better living in the U.S. As soon as some of the new arrivals were economically comfortable, they began looking out for those experiencing hardship.
That led to the setting up of the various County Associations, with benevolent activities their primary mission. According to the Irish-American paper of the day, the objective of these associations was “to render as far as practical financial and moral aid to the people of their native county in an effort to improve their condition, and to afford assistance in deserving cases and to their families in New York.” Though we live in radically different times from the early beneficent efforts of our predecessors, the words of French writer Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr still ring true namely: “the more things change the more they stay the same."
Right now we are on the cusp of the greatest wave of hardship and time of economic upheaval that the Irish community has ever experienced in the U.S. So it is against this backdrop that Slainte 2020 was launched on April 17th.
It plans to harness the collective reach of well-known and long-standing Irish Organizations to maximize fundraising to assist individuals adversely impacted by the COVID crisis.
The partnership consists of six long established Irish not-for-profit organizations that have solid reputations, good track records, and are well-known and respected and trusted in the Irish community.
It is hoped that this initiative will be generously supported by the large network of civic and social organizations with close ties to the Irish community. The partnership consists of the: Emerald Isle Immigration Center, New York GAA, Tara Circle, United Irish Counties Association, Aisling Irish Community Center and the New York Irish Center.
The partnership is acutely aware of the scope and size of the task at hand and noted that “no one organization can do it alone, but by joining forces and working together we hope to make a meaningful difference in the lives of those in our community who need assistance. We want to keep our communities together and support them by alleviating some of the stress and anxiety during this time of uncertainty and upheaval.
Paul Finnegan, Director of New York Irish Center, noted: “that with almost a complete shutdown of the New York region’s economy, we can expect the number of people experiencing hardship to grow rapidly in the weeks ahead as their savings will be depleted, and specifically those in the construction and hospitality trades.'
Further he added that Slainte 2020 is a way of harnessing the good will of the community and distributing aid efficiently to those who need it.
According to Michael O’Reilly, Vice President of UICA, “the United Irish Counties Association is proud to work closely with the other organizations in this very worthwhile endeavor, and being able to help where it is needed most, at the individual and family level.
"This continues the long history of the Irish in New York always stepping up when needed," said the Cavan native. Cyril Hughes, the President of Tara Circle Inc., was quickly on board with Slainte 2020, and stated: “Tara Circle is appreciative of this fundraising effort and is pleased to be able to back it. We need to support one and other and make sure the basic needs of our community are met during this trying time. Tara Circle knows that Slainte 2020 will distribute all donations quickly and efficiently."
Naturally, the New York GAA whole-heartedly embraced the Slainte initiative as its reach extends into the tri-state area and it has seen first-hand what the shutdown has done to many of its players and supporters.
Joan Henchy, chairperson, stated that “the New York GAA family, the Senior, Minor, Ladies and Gaelic for Girls Boards collectively felt that collaboration with other community groups to form Slainte was vital.
"We are now in a stronger position to offer financial support to our members and the broader Irish and Irish-American communities by assisting them with food, rent and utilities etc.” Joan is the first ever female chairperson of the NY GAA.
Siobhan Dennehy, Director of the Emerald Isle Immigration Center, strongly supports the collaborative efforts of the community-minded organizations, stating that “our organizations working together as part of Slainte 2020 represented a unified collaboration for the community. In partnering we can maximize our effectiveness to reach more individuals who need our support at this trying time."
At the core of Slainte is the pooling of efforts and resources to fight an exponentially exploding problem, and that was aptly emphasized by Sandra Feeney-Charles, Executive Director of the Aisling Irish Community Center, with the Irish proverb, “Ni neart go cur le cheile” - translated to there is no strength without unity.
Sandra further added that “We want to reach out to anybody willing to help support Slainte because there will be lots of hardship.”
As regards hardship, those eligible for assistance will include individuals and families living in the tri-state area who can demonstrate genuine financial hardship caused by COVID 19, and those who have limited, or no access, to other sources of aid.
Obviously the success of Slainte depends totally on donations received.
From my perspective as a member of the New York GAA and the Leitrim GFC, and the Leitrim Society, and by association the United Irish Counties, I urge you to support Slainte.
In the GAA we are always concerned about raising money to put or keep a team on the field. Folks, let’s forget about a team on the field, and instead put food on the table, pay the rent, a utility bill etc. for someone who badly needs it.
In societies and associations, we build up reserves for the rainy day, well the rainy day is here, what are we waiting for? In the Irish community we are very good at soliciting journal ads from especially bars, restaurants, construction companies and small businesses, and they have responded generously without fail.
Well those businesses are all closed, and consequently their employees are out of work. Now is the time to give back some of that money so we can help those waitresses, bartenders, construction workers etc. sitting at home with a bare pantry and an empty fridge.
There are lots of us unscathed economically by this pandemic, or as they would say in the hills of North Leitrim, “there’s no loss on me” - except that I miss Eileen’s Country Kitchen and Rory Dolan’s.
OK, I may have burned the bottom out of a few pots and cracked a few plates. So folks those of you who can dip into your pockets, please do so, and make sure that Slainte 2020 helps those, who through no fault of their own, are experiencing hardship.
That has always being the Irish way. A little philanthropy is a wonderful elixir in trying and testing times. I would be greatly remiss if I did not acknowledge the prodigious efforts of Caitriona Clarke, not only in conceptualizing this initiative, but also in liaising with all the concerned parties so that a coherent and transparent organization emerged.
I should mention that all partners in Slainte 2020 have put their money where their heart is. They have all donated substantial checks. The Slainte 2020 Steering Committee consists of: Caitriona Clarke (Chairperson, Aisling Irish Community Center), Siobhan Dennehy (Director, Emerald Isle Immigration Center), Sandra Feeney-Charles (Executive Director, Aisling Irish Community Center), Paul Finnegan (Director, New York Irish Center), Shane Humphries (Attorney-at-Law), Cyril Hughes ( President, Tara Circle Inc.) and Michael O’Reilly (First VP United Irish Counties Association).
The address is: Slainte 2020, 990 McLean Avenue, Yonkers, NY 10704. For on line donations visit: www.Slainte2020.org or for information visit: info@Slainte2020.org.