By Jessica Easthope
Every month for the last nine years, Carlos Apestegui packs up his truck in Queens and delivers meals to day laborers.
“They are coming from South America most of the time and of course Mexico, they have no job, no permanent, steady job, stand on the corners outside on the street so a contractor can approach them and pick them up,” Carlos said.
The Hispanic community in New York City has been hit hard by not only COVID-19 but the virus’ effects on the economy. According to a study by the Center for an Urban Future, more than half of New York City’s undocumented immigrants are now out of work.
That’s why Carlos’ work with day laborers, often New York City’s lowest earners, is so needed – especially on days when the cold is biting.
Carlos is a parishioner at Queen of Angels Church in Sunnyside, Queens and he works there too, but before his permanent job at the church, Carlos knew what it was like it wait on line, outside for work.
“We’re Christian so we should help these guys and also remember I was part of them so I know how they feel,” he said.
The pain of not knowing how he would support his family as a day laborer has stayed with him. Giving out these meals means visiting his old life and old friends who are still struggling.
“That’s a big problem now because not many people want strange people working in their houses because they are working in houses,” Carlos said.
On Saturday, Carlos came with two other volunteers and Father Nestor Martinez. As a Colombian, Father Nestor’s passion is working with the immigrant community in Queens. But as a new priest, ordained during the pandemic, interacting with them has been hard.
“In church we say we are the Body of Christ and especially right now when we have a lot of suffering to be with those who have less we can really show the face of Christ to them and let them know they’re not alone that we are suffering with them,” said Father Nestor.
This outreach allows him to live out his mission.
“This is the real ministry, the real pastoral we have to be with the people, when we are with them we can feel where the church really is, the church is not the building, the church is outside,” said Father Nestor.
In addition to the hot coffee and food the workers are given, Father Nestor handed out rosary beads, hoping they know God is with them as they wait.