By MIKE LEE
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, DC 37’s essential workers stood tall in serving the public under the most difficult situations the city has ever faced. Communities throughout New York City suffered, both from the unprecedented health crisis and the economic dislocation that it created.
Two-thirds of the union’s 150,000 workers were deemed essential and went to work in-person every day. Some paid the ultimate price for their sacrifice.
Our essential workers were not our only heroes, however. Other DC 37 members went above and beyond in taking the time to help at-risk communities; volunteering to help those most in need. Their contributions were vital in keeping people whole.
A prime example has been the work of Local 2627 member Elias Barreto. Barreto, a 20-year veteran of the Department of Transportation in Internet Technologies, stepped forward with others to help his community. He volunteered his services for 14 months.
While serving as Deputy Director of Application Development, he was able to focus his energies two-fold, both on his important work at the Department of Transportation and helping communities in desperate need of help during the pandemic.
“I volunteered since I was a kid because my aunt and uncle are pastors at Sunset Park Community Church in Brooklyn, and that’s kind of what we did.” Barreto said.
He would help out feeding those in need on Thanksgiving and was involved in backpack giveaways during Christmas.
Eventually the church joined with Holding Hands Ministry and Acts Church in Park Slope to create a support center for the community, providing services such as showers and haircuts for the homeless and providing food and other support.
When COVID struck in early March of last year, the need for help grew tremendously, said Barreto.
During the early weeks of the lockdown, Barreto called his aunt to check in. After being told of the conditions at the community center, and discussions with his girlfriend, he decided to stop by the following day.
“I was on my way to the distribution center–the food pantry. From two blocks away, I saw this big line of people and I’m like, oh wow. It went for blocks then around the corner,” he said.
Discovering that the church was short of drivers and having a car, Barreto volunteered to deliver food to people who were in quarantine, or afraid to come to the center, doing this three times a month on weekends. During this time, he also participated in a food delivery program that the city had, where he would work with the Taxi and Limousine Commission to do the same. Any leftover food from there he arranged to be donated to the church for further distribution to those in need.
Later, as a member of the motorcycle team Hustle Kingz, Barreto got involved in delivering food to first responders at FDNY firehouses. “The motorcycle community gets involved in these situations. I found out my childhood friend Jose Rosario was spearheading the efforts of the team. He reached out and said we’re making food deliveries, providing home cooked meals and asked who could participate.”
Helping his girlfriend with the cooking, Barreto went with other members of the motorcycle team to firehouses, delivering meals to EMTs during the height of the pandemic.
“It was an honor to serve them,” he said. “They were just so grateful and we got to speak to them. I did a lot during this time period, but I really give a lot of respect to those guys.”
During an appearance on a Hometown Heroes segment on the ESPN Radio show Golic and Wingo last year, the team was given a $5,000 grant from the radio hosts, which they used to help the organizations they worked with and to file the paperwork to make the team a charitable organization.
Afterward, he volunteered at the Ocean Breeze vaccination center on Staten Island, working 12-hour shifts doing various tasks, including checking vaccination eligibility, helping out with registration and assisting in maintaining the flow of people coming into the center, as well as translating for Spanish-speaking visitors.
Barreto, who was vaccinated in April, is grateful for the opportunity to help others during the crisis.
“I feel very grateful that I was able to give back and that I didn’t get sick in the process, obviously, because it’s a gamble. You don’t really know despite how healthy you think you are. I’ve seen some really strong people who weren’t able to beat this.”
“I learned to be grateful for the small things, because being on lockdown, I’m in my house, with a pool in the back, at first you think you have it bad because you can’t go anywhere. Know what I mean? But, interacting with people and hearing the stories of eight in a house or apartment and they can’t social distance. One or two of them not making it, you learn to appreciate, in the worst of times, the good things that you have, because you have seen how bad things could really be,” Barreto said.
“Elias Barreto is what is best about Local 2627 members. Our members keep New York “WORKING!,” said Laura Morand, President of NYC Electronic Data Processing Personnel Local 2627.