Bronx fire survivors say new City Hall meal provider adds insult to injury
March 11, 2022
Bronx tenants left homeless by the Twin Parks fire in January say they received substandard food from a new meal supplier chosen by the mayor after former supplier World Central Kitchen, run by celebrity chef José Andrés, focused on relief in Ukraine.
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“The food is atrocious. I mean, I don’t even call it food, I call it dog food,” said Joseph Brannigan, 61, a retired nurse who was rescued by firefighters during the fire on January 9 and now lives in a nearby hotel with other neighbors.
Others in the building say the new meal providers don’t respect their diverse cultural and religious backgrounds. The 17 people killed in the fire received a traditional Islamic burial in mid-January.
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Tenants say the food is no longer properly labeled, so it’s hard to tell what’s halal or vegetarian, and wrappers are strewn on the floor.
“We didn’t know how or when it got here, what’s in it, if it’s refrigerated,” said Ariadna Phillips of South Bronx Mutual Aid, which is helping fire victims.
The organization City Hall has chosen to step into meal delivery is headed by disbarred attorney Arelia Taveras, who earlier this year secured personal support from Mayor Eric Adams for a restaurant that is battling the State Liquor Authority.
A vigil for the victims of the Twin Parks Towers fire. January 11, 2022/Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY
Food from the NYS Latino Restaurant, Bar & Lounge Association in Taveras began arriving Saturday, “unlabeled, unbranded, in U-Haul boxes with no date of preparation” or notice as to whether it’s halal, left heaped in the hotel lobbies where the tenants stay, Phillips said.
She noted that unlabeled food is a potential hazard, especially for renters like Brannigan, who has strict dietary restrictions stemming from her cancer diagnosis and treatment.
“I’m going to look at the box and not know what’s in the food,” Brannigan told THE CITY. “I can’t eat this.” He said he was sometimes hungry.
On Wednesday, the association dropped off a meal he described as “a long brown thing” at the Webster Avenue hotel where he is staying. “It looked like that creature, and it looked disgusting and it smelled horrible. I wouldn’t even eat it.”
Brannigan said the experience was day and night compared to World Central Kitchen dining.
“They were a wonderful organization. They brought utensils every day, the food was delicious, it was wholesome, it was wholesome,” and every day the food was labeled as vegetarian or halal, he said. .
“I was sad when they left,” he added.
Count the taste
Ivette Davila-Richards, spokeswoman for the mayor, said the NYS Latino Restaurant, Bar & Lounge Association was one of the organizations originally contracted by World Central Kitchen to deliver food in January and February, and insisted that all food had been labeled as halal or vegetarian for the various residents of the building.
City Hall disputed that any food was left on the ground and blamed any unlabeled food on other organizations leaving food.
The change in food distribution began when World Central Kitchen’s work with the city ended on February 28 and the group focused on Europe, leaving hotel tenants with no one to deliver hot meals to them. Meanwhile. It was then grassroots groups like Ghetto Gastro, Gambian Youth Organization and South Bronx Mutual Aid that voluntarily delivered food, Phillips said.
She pushed back against the town hall’s claim that unlabeled food had been left behind by other organisations.
“Those excess meals were absolutely theirs,” Phillips said. “We informed the tenants of the contents of the meals, the time and the date of delivery. We removed the excess meals. We stopped [our own] delivery when they claimed they were starting service. »
The group began sounding the alarm at the Bronx Borough President’s office last week, first about the service gap when World Kitchen pulled out, then about the unlabeled meals that appeared a few days later.
In an email to the office on March 3, South Bronx Mutual Aid urged BP to bring in a new supplier as soon as possible and said the group and others had stepped up in the meantime.
Three days later, the group again wrote to Borough President Vanessa Gibson’s office, this time about unlabeled meals that mysteriously started popping up on Saturday. They turned out to belong to the NYS Latino Restaurant, Bar & Lounge Association.
Gibson’s office did not return a request for comment.
Funding for the meals comes from the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York, a nonprofit entity within City Hall that facilitates public-private partnerships for charitable purposes.
“The Mayor’s Fund assesses the amount of meals eaten daily to determine whether the number should be increased or decreased,” Davila-Richards said.
The food complaints come as tenants of Twin Parks also slam the city for so far distributing only a small fraction of the money collected on their behalf, Documented NY reported.
The mayor’s fund reportedly raised $2.5 million for fire survivors, but has only distributed 10% so far.
“The Mayor’s Fund has millions of undistributed money for the families of Bronx firefighters, but we don’t know where that money is going,” Phillips told Documented. “The fund has no accountability and has no transparency.”
friends in high places
According to social media posts by Taveras, the kitchens of restaurants in the Bronx and Manhattan supply the food the Association delivers.
“We are privileged to partner with Mayor Adams in his ongoing relief efforts to support grieving families from the Bronx Fire,” she said in a statement about the partnership released by City Hall last week. .
Taveras is a longtime restaurant consultant who also supports Adams, donating $1,350 to his mayoral campaign, according to campaign fundraising records.
In her consulting work, she often assists restaurants dealing with the State Liquor Authority, which regulates the licenses required to sell and serve alcohol. However, she does not represent them as a lawyer. She was disbarred in 2007 after being convicted of stealing money from customers to pay for a gambling addictionaccording to state records and news reports.
She then sued the Atlantic City casinos for $20 million, unsuccessfully, claiming they should have prevented her from entering.
In January, Taveras helped enlist Adams’ support on behalf of Boca Restaurant and Lounge in Fordham, as the restaurant faced $100,000 fines for multiple violations of COVID restrictions in place last spring, according to ALS.
At a hearing on January 19, the restaurant’s attorneys appeared at the hearing in Albany with a signed letter of support from the mayor, who said he wanted the restaurant to remain open.
Asked by SLA officials if the mayor was aware of the serious charges against the restaurant, including allegedly putting false information on the restaurant’s liquor license, the lawyers said he was.
“I understand that the mayor is aware of this procedure and that he is aware” of the character of restaurateur Emanuel Carela, said a lawyer who did not identify himself during the hearing.
It included a heated exchange on WebExwhere Taveras told SLA officials they were punishing a local business and said she personally got the mayor’s support for Boca.
The fines remain unpaid pending a future hearing.
Taveras did not respond to calls seeking comment, and an email sent to the address on the NYS Latino Restaurant, Bar & Lounge Association website bounced back.
A spokesperson for SLA did not respond to a call and email seeking comment and more information. The mayor’s spokesman, Davila-Richards, declined to comment on the SLA hearing.
Carela told THE CITY in a Thursday phone interview that he first got to know Adams through a security company he owned before getting into the security industry. restoration. He was then put in touch with the mayor through Taveras, he said. He also had a letter of support from the local precinct chief, according to video of the hearing.
“I got everyone’s support, I’m a good player,” he told THE CITY, adding that the ALS accusations were unfair. “I’ve done amazing things there.”
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