She Won’t Be the Last
April 2, 2020
We Are In This Together
May 21, 2020

Seventh Floor During "New York Pause"


I live in Washington Heights. I have some great neighbors on my floor. We make a good team and work well together without overstepping boundaries. We take turns inviting each other over for the winter holidays; we make sure to include a neighbor or two who is alone for the holidays or has suffered a recent loss. All of us are in our 60s and 70s. Some of us have been caregivers for our parents. When my 96 year old mother died many summers ago, one of my neighbors invited me over for Christmas dinner to make sure I wasn’t lonely. This was not a one-off. These invitations and cross-invitations have been repeated over the years. Our tables always include a neighbor who might live alone, or is recently widowed, or elderly and afraid to go out alone at night.

When the novel coronavirus struck New York City earlier this year, my neighbors seemed to know that we’d support each other and our community in small but meaningful ways. The neighbor who invited me for many Christmas dinners made a thousand cloth face masks for Housing Works to give to the homeless. She made some extra cloth masks for some of us and hung them on our door knobs. Remember, this was when it was impossible to find disposable face masks in the local shops, and we were thinking about cutting up old tee shirts to tie around our faces.

Then, one day, as I was walking past a tiny convenience store, I saw a disposable face mask taped on their display window. I went in, and voila! They were selling them, 2 in a baggie at $4 a baggie. Pump bottles of Canadian non-Purell hand sanitizer were for sale. A few rolls of toilet paper and Kleenex were in the back. I was ecstatic. This was the mother lode. I bought enough masks to last a few weeks for myself, and bought some of the other pandemic-panic items in case my neighbors needed any of these near-impossible-to-find items.

Let me explain why I was stockpiling for my neighbors. Some of my seventh floor neighbors are in their seventies and do not shop at the local supermarkets here in Washington Heights. They shop online from Fresh Direct and Amazon Prime. Maybe it’s because the nearest supermarket is 5 blocks away and they don’t want to use a big shopping cart. Maybe they just can’t find the products they want. More pertinent, though, some of them have orthopedic issues that may discourage them from doing routine shopping for heavy items. In fact, a recurring topic at our holiday meals was how some of them had moved to the building to age in place.

And so my pandemic care packages on the seventh floor began in mid-March. It started when one neighbor lamented that her Fresh Direct delivery did not include the toilet paper she’d ordered, and she was down to 2 rolls. I offered to give her some of mine, or buy some on my next shopping trip. Since I offered to shop for her, she added that she had no hand sanitizer or bleach. As all of us know, by mid-March, no one could buy Purell hand sanitizer in the chain pharmacies. There was no bleach to be found. A week later, a different neighbor said the same thing about her Fresh Direct delivery: no toilet paper or paper towels. I heard the anxiety in her voice, and said I had some extra rolls of toilet paper. I asked if she wanted one of the extra bottles of hand sanitizer that I’d picked up. She said yes, and did I know where to buy vinyl gloves? I had half a box of vinyl gloves left over from my caregiving days, and gave her some. I liked seeing the smile of relief on her face.

I’m not sure why I derive pleasure from helping some of my friends and neighbors. My feeling is, if some of them are self-isolating during these months because they’re afraid to get infected, and their online order didn’t include items they need, then why not help them if I can?

I had been my parents’ caregiver for 13 years, and understood that kind of anxiety of being involuntarily housebound and needing certain things. I made sure my parents and I never ran out of rock-bottom basics like toilet paper, canned foods, gallons of drinking water and their meds. A few New York blackouts taught me to stockpile battery-generated flashlights and lanterns for our apartment. Stockpiling had become a long-running caregiving habit that stood me in good stead during the pandemic shutdown, for myself and for my neighbors.


Sylvia Wu

Our era of sirens 2020 May 20



the action of delivering letters, packages, or ordered goods.



deal with (a task, problem, or opponent) quickly and efficiently.



make (something needed or wanted) available to someone; provide.



freely transfer the possession of (something) to (someone); hand over to.