New York woman loses job, leads pantry feeding thousands

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Sofia Moncayo, who leads a food distribution program through Mosaic West Queens Church in the Sunnyside neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York speaks with a donation recipient, on Monday, Feb. 22, 2021. Moncayo and dozens of volunteers distribute more than 1,000 boxes of food to families twice a week. (AP Photo/Emily Leshner)

NEW YORK – While dozens of New Yorkers lined up outside in the rain, shopping carts at the ready as they waited for free food, Sofia Moncayo led her team in prayer.

“We’re super grateful for these people here. In Jesus’ name we pray,” she said, and the group of women around her clapped, cheered and replied: “Amen.” “Now,” she said, “let’s get to work.”

By then, they had worked almost nonstop for hours. They picked up heavy boxes, separated thousands of items and removed snow from the curb. They were cold, wet and tired. No one would pay them and they didn’t care. They were just happy to be there for someone else that day.

During the coronavirus pandemic, Moncayo has led the food distribution program through Mosaic West Queens Church in the Sunnyside neighborhood. The initiative began in March; Moncayo took charge a month later, as it expanded to serve hundreds of people.

Since then, Moncayo has had her own struggles. She was furloughed from her job at a construction company and remains unemployed. And she also owes five months of rent for the martial arts studio that she owns with her husband in the neighborhood.

But she has continued to lead fundraisers and coordinate dozens of volunteers who distribute more than 1,000 boxes of food to families twice a week.

“I think helping others has to do something to your brain chemically because if we had not being doing everything that we’re doing, I think this would have been a much scarier time,” she said. “Being able to dig in and help others, it really gives you perspective and helps you believe that you’re going to be OK too.”

Most of the food is donated by a neighborhood restaurant and other sources. There’s also been help from the Farmers to Families Food Box Program overseen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.