the coronavirus crisis. More than half of the city’s meat, fish, and produce comes through the distribution center. Some eighty-five hundred employees keep the giant market operational. “We’re working non-stop in order for the community to be fed,” Ric Galan, who has been working at the meat market at Hunts Point for around twenty years, says in the video above. Although many New York businesses are closed, or have shifted their operations to allow employees to work from home, food distribution is an essential business, and those who move the food that comes into Hunts Point are still showing up every day. Lately, Galan says, showing up to work feels like going to war.Every night, lines of long-haul trucks full of fruits, vegetables, meat, and fish arrive, from all over the country, at a peninsula in the Bronx. At the Hunts Point Food Distribution Center, that cargo gets several steps closer to the shelves of the city’s supermarkets and bodegas. Workers at Hunts Point unload the trucks, package the food, warehouse it, and ultimately sell it to grocers and restaurants in and around the city, even during
Vince Pacifico, the owner of Vista Food Exchange, which is headquartered at Hunts Point, explains that there are two main delivery systems for food: the first is food service, which includes hotels, restaurants, and cafeterias; the second is retail. When the pandemic struck and restaurants and other large-scale dining institutions closed en masse, Pacifico says, New York’s lockdown “cut the knees off of food service.” Some Hunts Point workers have got sick; others have close family members who have died from the virus. “There’s a lot of pressure on us,” Pacifico says, “and, because of the virus, it’s becoming increasingly harder every day.” Rich Comunale, a salesman and buyer, says that, “without the food distribution coming through here, the New York City and greater New York metropolitan-area food supply would be paralyzed.”
Galan says that he doesn’t expect the people working in his industry to get a lot of public appreciation. “Most of the staff members here are Latinos, African-Americans,” he says. “All of us here, we’re used to having five, six, seven family members at home—it’s a normal thing.” He knows that, in the time of the coronavirus, living in those tight-knit family units brings a heightened level of risk. “It’s so much easier for it to impact us a little bit harder when just one person has to, God forbid, be infected and come home, since they’re an essential worker,” he says. And, as Keeanga Yamahtta-Taylor has written, the disproportionate toll that the coronavirus is taking on the black working class has made the pandemic an “object lesson in racial and class inequality.” Every night at seven o’clock, residents around the city are taking to their rooftops and hanging out their windows to clang pot lids and whoop their thanks to those who are unable to stay inside. Some are very visible: the health-care workers in scrubs, the delivery people zipping past on bikes. Others are working in the early morning on loading docks in the South Bronx, far from view, but no less crucial.