New York Times

How a Brooklyn Arts and Food Activist Spends Her Sundays

As a girl growing up in public housing and homeless shelters from the Bronx to Brooklyn, Tiffiney Davis often didn’t have enough to eat. Sometimes a meal was a dry bowl of cereal shared among siblings. So, when the pandemic decimated employment opportunities and food access for many New Yorkers, Ms. Davis, the director and co-founder of the nonprofit Red Hook Art Project, sprang into action.

She used social media and her nonprofit contacts to locate families in need. She called restaurants and supermarkets to ask for donations.

Last July, Hometown BBQ, a James Beard-nominated restaurant in Red Hook, started providing 150 to 200 hot meals to Ms. Davis on a regular basis. Every Sunday, she mobilizes volunteers and distributes the barbecue to residents of Red Hook’s low-income housing development. Other local businesses — including the Red Hook Lobster Pound, Jam’It Bistro and Black Mountain Wine House — and individuals have also pitched in.

“I want to show people that just because you come from so many lacks and challenges, that doesn’t mean you can’t pave the way for yourself and for your community,” said Ms. Davis, 39, whose arts organization has offered creative programming and mentoring to low-income young people since 2009. She lives in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.

SIT IN THE CORNER I wake up around 7, pick up my phone and check my social media. People usually private message me if they need something, whether it’s food or diapers or anything of that nature. And then I’ll text my kids to see if they’re OK. My daughter, she’s 20, she will usually call me around 5 to tell me about something she’s doing or just to talk. She owns a business selling lashes and accessories. My son, he’s a WhatsApp guy. He’s not big into talking on the phone. He’s an artist, designer and illustrator; you have to check out his Instagram. He’s worked on billboards, won a national award, his art is amazing.

Then I’ll make an herb tea with rose petals and lemon balm. And I meditate. I have a little corner in my house, my sacred space that I go to.

BRUNCH OUTSIDE I go to The Dandy Lion in Bay Ridge, near my apartment. I always order the same thing. They know me, they’re like, “French toast with peaches and two coffees.” While I’m waiting for my food, I’ll respond to messages. Some days, depending on what we have in place that week, I’ll post virtual workshops. Due to rent increases, some of our students moved to Brownsville, to the Bronx. This pandemic has shown me that we can serve kids across the world.

Then I’ll eat because your French toast and coffee won’t stay hot. I love food and have no time to waste.

COMMUTE, CONNECTIONS I get on the R train and get off on Fourth Avenue and Ninth Street. And then I walk about 20 minutes. I stop at CTown grocery store in the middle of the NYCHA development and get items for the community refrigerator. That’s out of my own pocket. I partner with #lunchbagbrooklyn. They are the ones who brought the refrigerator into the community.

This woman, Dawn Skeete, she allowed us to put the refrigerator outside of her Caribbean restaurant, Jam’It Bistro. During the pandemic, Susan Povich, from Red Hook Lobster Pound, she approached Dawn and said, “How can I help you?” They are competitors, but she helped Dawn get a grant, to invest in the business and keep it open. These are the things that happened during Covid. Lives were lost, but lives were touched.

COORDINATES Then I deliver art kits to students. After that I go to my friend’s house. We’ll talk about whatever is going on, neighborhood stuff or whatever, and I’ll get back on my laptop. I’ll get a text from Hometown BBQ, letting me know they are downstairs. Sometimes I have other volunteers, five to seven people to help me distribute, like Jacqui Painter from Red Hook Relief. She knows families who do not have gas to cook with.

COMFORT FOOD We meet at the flagpole at the Red Hook NYCHA development around 3 or 4 p.m. There are usually quite a few people in line. Hometown BBQ brings pulled pork sandwiches, a side of cornbread and a dessert. People depend on those meals. On Super Bowl Sunday, they also delivered four trays of wings and four trays of sticky ribs. Some people don’t have resources to get food stamps. They are so happy. Mitch Rosen, my contact at Hometown BBQ, he has been an incredible support to me. When you see people commit to consistently giving back, it’s powerful. I get tears in my eyes just talking about it.

HELPERS Some Sundays, people start posting around 5 p.m. and say they need food. So I reach out to supporters and allies and, by the grace of God, they always come through. I have a family who orders 10 pizza pies and tells people to go pick them up. That’s a family, not the government, that has open eyes to what is needed.

UBER, EAT Around 6 or 7, I’m tired. Usually, I’ll get an Uber. I get out at the corner. I’ll go to the store and get a snack or vegetables. I don’t have time to food shop, so I shop as I go. I walk home and take my shoes off right by the door. I take a shower and then if I bought food, I’ll cook that.

SLEEP IS NOT A PROBLEM After that I meditate. By then it’s usually 11ish, and I’ll turn on Netflix. I’ll watch it or it will watch me. Before I know I’m going to be sleeping, I’ll text my kids and say, “I love you.” And then it ends, and I put my phone away. I can sleep, because I know I got food to people who need it.

Sunday Routine readers can follow Tiffiney Davis on Instagram @Titiffiney_112.


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bourbiza

Bourbiza Mohamed. Writer and Political Discourse Analysis.

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