Interview: Harlem Church And Union Create Community With Block Party Relief Effort In Harlem

On Saturday, August 27, 2022, at the First Corinthian Baptist Church at 116th St. between Frederick Douglass Blvd. & Adam Clayton Powell Jr Blvd., in Harlem, NY. 

District Council 9 donated thousands of groceries, hygiene products, back-to-school supplies and more at their annual Hope for Harlem Event.

The event will be a block party and relief effort to support the local community in Harlem. The Hope for Harlem initiative takes a holistic approach to serving the community, focusing on the mind, body, and soul of Harlem residents with mental health resources, employment opportunities, school supplies, and more.

Recovering from the lingering impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic in Harlem has required community members to step up and look out for one another. This event is a testament to the power of community.

Electeds joined the First Corinthian Baptist Church from the District Council 9, NYC Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities, Office of State Senator Cordell Cleare, Office of Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine, and the Office of Councilwoman Kristin Richardson Jordan.

Interview

We caught up with trailblazers Joseph Azzopardi, BM/ST of District Council 9 and Desiree Elder, from the First Corinthian Baptist Church in Harlem to ask them a few questions:

Harlem World Magazine: The event is a testament to being architects of change. Who are the people you serve in the community of change (are they mostly men, women, families, gay, black, white, straight, single, etc.,)?

Desiree Elder: At FCBC, we consider ourselves to be an ever-evolving community of visionaries, dreamers and doers. That means that we put no parameters around who our community is and who we help or support. We are simply commissioned by God to serve. That means anyone who wants or needs it is welcome. Because our church is in Harlem, many served are in the Greater New York City area. But we have a global reach and constantly look for ways to connect to the world at large.​​

HWM: The event includes First Corinthian Baptist Church, District Council 9, elected officials, volunteers, and others to be great strong stewards of the community. What is the key to being great stewards in the community and collaborating in the community?

Joseph Azzopardi: At District Council 9, we care for our community because when the places we work and live in are stronger and healthier, our members are stronger and healthier too. In a strong community, we are constantly helping and relying on others.

We saw that in action at Hope for Harlem – we helped members of the Harlem community, and we relied on help from our community partners at FCBC to make it happen.


HWM: What is your favorite place in Harlem (food, park, etc.,)?

DE: I have twin daughters so we spend a lot of time at Morningside Park. It never seems to get old. There are several playgrounds, and grassy areas to run around in and we are always meeting new people.

I’m a creature of habit so one of my favorite restaurants is Ponty Bistro. The food is delicious. I never have to wait. And the service is great. I also really love the brunch at Made in Mexico in East Harlem.

HWM: Where did the idea of the Hope For Harlem event come from?

JA: We started Hope for Harlem three years ago during the first summer of the COVID-19 pandemic as a relief event for the public safety, mental health, and economic crises our community was facing.

Today, even as the pandemic has improved, we have realized our community still has many of the same needs and same gaps in getting those needs met, so we are grateful to be able to continue doing this vital work.

DE: Hope for Harlem started as a pandemic relief event in 2019. A group of folks and organizations who wanted to collaborate and find a way to support the community during such a challenging time. Each year it continued to expand and grow and we are so proud of that.

HWM: When did you realize that there was a need for a holistic approach to serving the community, that focused on the mind, body, and soul?

DE: FCBC has always taken the approach of serving all parts of the people. Jesus was very clear about not only sharing the good news but also speaking to address the tangible needs of the people. He teaches us that the key to empowering people who often feel marginalized and disenfranchised is to help free their minds first.

It is why we have spaces like The HOPE Center which focuses on mental health and The Dream Center which offers an array of programs that connect the head to the heart. We cannot help heal our community by bifurcating the people we are called to serve.

HWM: Why do you do the work that you do in the community and not work in corporate America?

DE: I have had corporate jobs. But community work aligns more with who I am. I am a highly artistic and creative individual. (Formerly) running The Dream Center and being an Associate Pastor for the past 10 years have allowed me the space to grow, evolve, and make an impact in ways I could have never imagined. I can most directly see the impact of my work on the community.

HWM: How can our great readers help to bring Hope for Harlem (volunteer, donate, etc.,)?

DE: We are looking to make Hope for Harlem 2023 even better. Perhaps you are a business or organization that wants to partner. We had people who gave in-kind goods, sponsored the event financially, offered up staff as volunteers, and shared about the work they do by having a table at the event.

If you want to be involved, we can find a way to make that happen. You can email hopeforharlem@fcbcnyc.org to set up a time to chat.

First Corinthian Baptist Church

First Corinthian Baptist Church (FCBC), located in Harlem, was first organized in 1933. FCBC is an ever-evolving community of visionaries, dreamers, and doers who are on a mission to live the lives they were created to live; love beyond the limits of prejudices and honor the commission to serve.

FCBC has a strong footprint supporting the Harlem community through initiatives like our food pantry, clothing drives, and annual public-facing events.

FCBC is focused on providing a sanctuary for Harlem’s residents in the forms of the arts, theater, and music, as well as providing resources for leadership development, economic empowerment, and mental health support.

DC 9

District Council 9 is a chapter of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, an organization of painters, decorators, wall coverers, drywall finishers, sign painters, metal polishers, bridge & structural steel painters, civil service painters, lead abatement workers, glaziers & architectural metal glassworkers, paint makers and allied trades.

The International Union of Painters and Allied Trades is dedicated to securing and improving wages, benefits, and overall working conditions for its members.

For more information on DC 9’s continuing efforts to provide pathways to the middle class for New York’s residents visit www.districtcouncil9.net or on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

Photo credit: 1-4) Hope for Harlem.

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