The Iglesias family was in trouble. After a number of years running their restaurant, El Corazon de Mexico, they tried to get a break on their lease. And they did their best to keep the business going under pandemic restrictions.
"What are we going to do?” said Cynthia Iglesias, reflecting on her family’s dilemma. “What's going to happen? There's so many questions."
Enter Jonathan Forgash and Queens Together.
"I was angry.” Forgash said. “I was in the business as a chef for years."
Forgash's coalition of restaurant owners and volunteers hooked the Iglesias family with a free attorney. They still ended up losing their Long Island City restaurant. So their focus turned to their other restaurant: La Adelita de Woodside. And the Iglesias family stayed in touch with Queens Together.
Forgash co-founded the nonprofit at the beginning of the pandemic in an effort to help local restaurants. The Astoria resident catered film sets for 25 years.
"They’re so busy. Their heads are down. They’re chopping. They’re cooking. They’re working the register. They don't have the lawyers and the accountants and the PR agents to stay on top of these things,” Forgash said. “A group is needed to get them the information they need now."
It started with grassroots fundraising. That paid for mom and pop restaurants to feed essential workers.
"The restaurants already know how to do this work and it was a way to help them keep the doors open at the beginning of COVID," Forgash said.
A few months later, the Queens Together chefs started cooking for New Yorkers scraping by during the pandemic.
"The people who were out of work, the people who lost family members to COVID," Forgash explained.
Now Forgash's network of 50 restaurants and more than one thousand small donors supply Queens food pantries with dry goods and groceries.
"People were just waiting to be asked or looking to do something and together we helped feed over 200,000 people," Forgash said.
Forgash united the restaurants to advocate for themselves. He also organizes workshops for Queens Together's members to learn about different resources.
La Adelita of Woodside is one of them.
"Without Jonathan, we don't think, we don't know where we would be because when we have to make some tough decision as Long Island City one, he was part of also our decision making," Iglesias said.
For helping to feed Queens' essential workers, residents and small businesses, Jonathan Forgash is our New Yorker of the Week.
To learn more about Queens Together, head to queenstogether.org.