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River Fund celebrates 30 years of giving back

The River Fund celebrated 30 years of charitable nonprofit work with its Thanksgiving turkey distribution in Richmond Hill.
It may have been just another week of giving back for Swami Durga Das, founder and CEO of the River Fund Food Pantry, which served over 2,000 families in Queens on Saturday. With several blocks of people lined up for food, a milestone was celebrated for the organization’s ongoing fight against poverty.
“It’s really all about caring for our fellow New Yorkers and how we balance their lives out and make it a little bit more palatable to live through poverty,” said Das. “Two-thousand people shouldn’t be in line getting groceries, but they are.”
Starting with 12 dozen cookies, the nonprofit was founded in 1991 to focus primarily on the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Years later, the River Fund shifted their focus to tackle the epidemic of poverty.
Today, the River Fund serves about two-million pounds of food a month, feeding about 3,000 households a week. With mobile and home-delivery programs, along with a Benefits Access Center, the nonprofit has served as a vital lifeline for the Southeast Queens community.
Das was honored with multiple proclamations and awards from elected officials, including the offices of Councilwoman Adrienne Adams, councilwoman-elect Lynn Schulman, Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar, and the Mayor’s Community Affairs Unit.
“He serves my constituents day in and day out,” said Rajkumar. “He’s been an incredible partner.”
Schulman and Rajkumar praised the ongoing work of the nonprofit, adding that the pandemic exacerbated the cycle of poverty. To their point, the River Fund quadrupled its numbers during the middle of the pandemic. More recently, Das says that the need has gone up even further.
“In the last six months, we thought it would come down or balance out,” said Das. “It’s been just the opposite.”
The organization also promotes the importance of education, and offers scholarship, mentoring, behavioral and tutoring programs.
“You want to know a family and see what they’re going through, and you want to make sure that each person in the family is cared for in some way,” said Das. “That’s how you change poverty.”

Restaurant Revitalization Fund helps Forest Hills businesses

Millions went to food businesses in Forest Hills as part of the $28.6 billion federal relief fund for eateries, the Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF).
The RRF is run by the Small Business Administration (SBA), and has been supplying grants to food businesses from May 3 to July 14.
However, critics argue that the program was significantly underfunded. About 370,000 businesses nationwide applied for $75 billion. Less than one-third (roughly 105,000 out of the 370,000) of the applicants were approved.
In New York alone, more than 27,000 businesses applied for $9.63 billion. However, only one-third (9,800 out of the 27,000) were able to be funded.
As the SBA initially stated in a press release, the RRF is primarily focused on supporting “socially and economically disadvantaged individuals, as well as women and veterans.”
Businesses that qualified as disadvantaged were able to receive approvals for their applications three weeks ahead of businesses that didn’t. Those who didn’t qualify could still apply at the same time, but their applications wouldn’t be processed or prioritized.
In response, some restaurant owners sued, claiming that they were being discriminated against. Eventually, the SBA was forced to alter the plan after several judges sided with the business that sued.
Following the lawsuits the SBA had to freeze or revoke payments for about 3,000 applicants who had already been notified about their application approval.
The SBA commented that although they can’t speak on the specifics of the litigation, they will continue to help small businesses. According to SBA data, (in total) 34% of the funds were granted to businesses owned by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals, 44% went to businesses owned by women, and 5.7% to veteran-owned businesses.
Independent businesses are eligible to receive up to $5 million, whereas restaurant groups are eligible for up to $10 million. Some of these already well-funded restaurant groups are being granted millions.
A great number of businesses in Forest Hills, both large and small, received grants.
The average grant for Forest Hills’ food businesses was $203,705, with the individual grants ranging from approximately $2,900 to $1.2 million. Dee’s Italian restaurant (107-23 Metropolitan Avenue) received Forest Hills’ biggest grant, roughly $1.2 million.
The grants can be used for payroll costs, sick leave, business mortgage, business rent payments, business debt service, business utility and maintenance payments, construction for outdoor seating, business supplies, and business food and beverage expenses.
Regrettably, there are still hundreds of thousands of food businesses that have been denied needed money. Congress is currently considering refunding the RRF, introducing the Restaurant Revitalization Fund Replenishment Act of 2021. This would give the RRF a $60 billion replenishment and afford rejected restaurants another chance at funding.

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