There’s no doubt we are all in for more pain in the weeks and months ahead.
We’ll never quite recover from the lives we’ve lost, and while some of us may recover quickly from the lost work of the past two months, there are bound to be many East Enders who don’t.
There are two ways the recovery from Covid-19 can go for us all. Things can get better. Or things can get worse.
We’ve already seen fomenting rage at the economic shutdown across the country, mostly from people who have not yet seen firsthand the damage this virus can do to a community.
But here in Suffolk County, where more than 1,100 people had died as this issue went to press, we know the damage it has done. Most of us know someone who has died.
But a rage similar to that in the heartland is brewing in some quarters.
When North Fork State Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo called on the U.S. in late April to declare the cover-up of the virus an act of terror on the part of China, we thought it was a joke. It wasn’t.
When church leaders and immigrant advocates worked with Suffolk County to have handmade face covering delivered to farm workers on the East End, we were surprised to receive a press release from two up-west county legislators decrying this decision, saying the masks were being given to “day laborers who congregate in large numbers” and should be given to seniors instead.
We could enumerate many ways in which day laborers are different from farm workers, but there’s only one reason that matters right now: farm workers are essential. They grow the food that all of us eat. They often live together in farm-sponsored housing. They need to be healthy, for their sake, and for all of our sake.
We as a society cannot pit senior citizens against farm workers.
Sewing fiends throughout Suffolk are making masks and giving them away at a rapid clip, and all of us who have the good fortune to have a pair of scissors, an old t-shirt, a needle and thread, a half hour of free time and an internet connection fast enough to stream YouTube can find a way to make our own masks. Many farm workers do not have all of these things.
We can’t let those who would stir up political rancor try to pit us at each other’s throats over whether or not we have the means to cover up our faces. Things are not that desperate here. Yet.
Access to food is rapidly becoming a major issue, and it’s not because of the barren grocery aisles that are gradually refilling. It’s because people who don’t have jobs can no longer afford to buy food. That reality may be quietly hidden if you are in a wealthy enclave on the South Fork, but it is here, just around the corner.
When Island Harvest came to Riverhead April 10 for a drive-through food bank, the line of cars stretched all through Polish Town, like what you’ve been seeing on the TV news. Food banks on both forks have been facing sky-high demand. The need is severe, and for those of us who can give, now is the time.
If you can’t bring yourself to do so out of charity, do it out of self-interest. When ordinary people are hungry every day, things will get worse. We have some suggestions for how to donate, and where to find food if you need it, on page 2 of this issue, and online here.
Many East End restaurants that had been shuttered for nearly two months as we went to press have now burned through their winter credit lines. This was the time of year they were expecting to begin making money again. The Suffolk County Restaurant & Tavern Association estimates that half its members won’t survive this crisis.
We’ve yet to see how restaurants will weather the recovery, but it’s unlikely to be pretty. Even when we can resume our pre-Covid routines, we will likely be wearing facemasks for quite some time. You can’t eat at a restaurant with your mouth covered.
There’s another problem we are already facing, and it may seem simple but it is meaningful. When you’re wearing a face mask, no one can see you smile.
There’s little to smile about at the moment, but here’s a good exercise: Take a couple minutes to think about how you can show affection or support without a smile. Do your eyes smile? Can you say it all with a wave or a nod? These little pieces of validation of each others’ humanity will go a long way toward maintaining our sanity in the weeks and months ahead. They show that we all matter, and that we are all rooting for one another to get through this, even when we are apart.