Feeding families through the pandemic

By Courtney Luciana, New Haven Independent

NEW HAVEN, Connecticut – The New Haven Alumni chapter of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc. arrived at the Whalley Avenue Stop & Shop to buy groceries for 18 families residing in the Rockview and Westville Manor public-housing complexes.

For the past month, the fraternity has been making these trips as part of a “Feed a Family” initiative to assist the struggling families in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

A $15,000 grant from the Yale Community for New Haven Fund is helping the effort,

Donald McAulay Sr., Connecticut area deputy director and past president of the New Haven Alumni chapter, said the original goal was to address 50 families.

“Although ‘Feed a Family’ was a new initiative for us, to secure additional funding, and to be able to do fundraisers, this might be something we look to do going forward,” McAulay said. “This issue isn’t going away. The area that we chose is a food desert. That’s not going to change by tomorrow. We had an impact and I think that we’ve demonstrated that we can continue to have an impact if we’re able to continue to get funding.”

Alder Honda Smith and director of the family resource center at Katherine Brennan School, Lensley Gay, gave additional support for the mission by finding families in need of assistance for Saturday’s shopping trip and delivery.

Chapter Vice-President Tai Richardson said Rockview and Westville Manor were chosen because the West Rock complexes are often forgotten by the rest of the city.

“It’s kind of set off as an area by itself and a food desert. There’s not a Stop & Shop nearby or a local grocery store,” Richardson said. “There’s smaller convenience stores that don’t necessarily have all of the goods that they need.”

“While we were shopping and setting up for delivery, we’ve had other people come up to us and ask us how they can help,” said Chapter President Derek Tompkins. “It’s not only what we’re doing but how it affects the community positively as a whole. Members of the community want to participate to help others’ lives. We know that the month of August, families were able to put their energy, time, and resources, as limited as they may be, somewhere else and that helped to push their family further along.”

A member of the fraternity for over 35 years, Eddie Sauls, lives in Danbury and drives an hour to New Haven to participate in the effort.

“I’m a teacher in a very urban area in Westchester County, N.Y.,” Sauls said. “I see a lot of the struggle. If I can help, it’s my obligation as a human to help as much as I can.”

Marcus Dickey said he has experienced personally receiving assistance, which has inspired his work in the fraternity.

“There’s times where I needed assistance. I’ve had to reach out to organizations for scholarship money and food stamps. No one has ever done anything like this for me, so the fact that I can do this for somebody else is amazing. I can just pass it on,” Dickey said.

“You can tell the families are very appreciative. Their kids always come out and carry the bags with me, and I feel like that they feel like they’re a part of it too. So, that’s a huge impact on the younger generation.”

Julius Preston has been a part of the fraternity for 33 years. He was inspired to give families hope based on his own personal experiences.

“I lost both of my parents before I was 17, so when I went to college I didn’t really have a lot of assistance other than the brotherhood. This brotherhood internalized to help me have a family. Yes, there were times when I didn’t eat but the brothers helped me,” Preston said. “At this time of the pandemic, when people really need assistance and the government is kind of failing us right now it’s nice to know that there’s in the community that can stand up and help their fellow man, that’s what this program is about.”

Two of the fraternity brothers who shopped together, Jeff Baskin and Billy Augustine, also used to work together as New Haven firefighters. Now that they’ve retired, their mission to serve the city has persevered.

“This project seems to stick out a lot more because of Covid-19 affecting families throughout New Haven. It seems more significant,” Baskin said. “The family that I’ve been shopping for asked for laundry detergent to wash clothes and dish detergent to wash dishes, but they said that they like what we bring.”

“Being a firefighter, for over 20 years, going in and out of houses and helping people you see what’s really going on in the city and in the community,” Augustine said. “There’s a lot of people who need a lot of help. A lot of people have got a lot of pride and won’t say they need the help but we know that they need the help and we’re here to help them.”