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Reflecting on COVID-19 Response

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This has been a challenging and energetic past six months in New York and New Jersey. As the previous epicenters of the COVID-19 outbreak in the US, IRC stepped up time and again as the largest refugee resettlement agency in New York City and New Jersey to advocate for refugees, asylees, asylum-seekers, and immigrant communities as we weathered the storm together.

As families adapted to COVID-19 safety measures, IRC was with them every step of the way, from broadband access to online learning to job training for a new economic environment.

Photo: Jason Carter Rinaldi/IRC.

Here are a few highlights of our work over the past few months:

  • IRC has filled kitchen cabinets by distributing over 350,000 meals to clients in need in collaboration with partners. We worked closely with World Central Kitchen to launch food distribution sites in New York boroughs with high concentrations of IRC clients and immigrant communities. IRC partnered once again with the City of Elizabeth and Union County to coordinate two food distribution sites. For housebound clients, safe contractless delivery systems were developed to ensure households remained food secure. Both New York and New Jersey expanded food access from prepared meals to groceries to give families greater agency over their meals. Dietary restrictions, including halal and vegetarian needs, were supported throughout the project. IRC is looking at adaptations to our food distribution work, especially as the weather cools. 
  • Enriched the educational development of hundreds of newcomers during quarantine through virtual RYSAs in New York and New Jersey and adapting tutoring and community programs to safe, virtual options. Building on years of success, RYSA broke new ground in online learning by coordinating hands on lessons with virtual instruction. In New York, students received learning kits filled with supplies for their six-week RYSA program. In New Jersey, IRC worked in close consultation with the Elizabeth Public School system, which most IRC in New Jersey clients students attend. This collaborative effort meant students were well prepared for this fall, as they used the same platforms and tools during RYSA as they are now using during school. 
  • IRC provided thousands of dollars in COVID grants and loans through IRC’s Center for Economic Opportunity, as well as coordinating client access to emergency resources across New York and New Jersey. IRC received support from New York Community Trust's pandemic relief work and the New Jersey Pandemic Relief Fund to provide financial assistance, food access, and mental health supports to clients throughout the summer.
  • IRC was among the first to offer virtual naturalization services in New York City, working closely with partners to keep dreams of citizenship on track. Both New York and New Jersey are working quickly and diligently to prepare client applications before USCIS fees are raised this fall. The immigration teams are seeking new forms of support to help clients navigate these significant USCIS changes.
  • IRC ensured households had access to broadband and phone service to maintain access to ESL classes, economic empowerment workshops, financial capabilities coaching, and their caseworkers. Digital acccess is critical for public health and continued personal progress across IRC programs. IRC is working closely with partners and supporters to expand digital access and digital literacy infrastructure across programs.
  • IRC continued our mental health programming in New York and New Jersey with anticipated new integrations in our economic empowerment programming this upcoming year. New Jersey's partnership with Rutgers University's Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology proved critical during the onset of COVID-19 for both client resilience and staff community. This collaborative effort will renew again this fall as we all face a new future together, as a community.

For more information on any of these initiatives and programs, please do NewYork [at] rescue.org (subject: IRC%20in%20NY%20%26%20NJ%20COVID-19%20Information) (get in touch)! And to support IRC's resilient, ambitious, and meaningful work, click here.