As those who own food carts throughout New York City face unprecedented hardship, Morgan Stanley is partnering with Robin Hood and the Street Vendor Project to bring them economic relief.
About the only thing that rivals the number of Broadway theaters in Times Square, home to our corporate headquarters, is the number of food carts and food trucks, selling everything from tikka masala and Thai noodles to tacos al pastor. For hungry workers and tourists, those who man them provide not only a quick and tasty meal or cup of coffee but a friendly face and a welcome part of city life.
Edith and Angelo Spanoudakis have run their breakfast cart near the 48thth Street and Broadway entrance of the Morgan Stanley building for 25 years, enticing so many customers with their fresh bagels and hot coffee that morning visitors to Morgan Stanley would often have to dodge the line to enter the building.
The employees were more than customers. “We like to hear stories and when somebody is sick in the family we’re always on top of that,” says Edith. “How is your mother? Are your kids OK now?” Over the years, they have saved every holiday card they’ve received in a big box in their home in Holbrook, NY, where they would wake up every morning at 12:30 A.M. to trek to Long Island City and pick up their cart and breakfast supplies.
Then came the pandemic, and with many office buildings shutting down, they and the nearly 20,000 other street vendors in New York City—many of whom are immigrants, people of color and veterans who live in areas hard-hit by the virus—were suddenly without the steady stream of daily customers they depend on to survive.
While some workers returned to their offices in the fall, business has been slow. Indeed, according to a survey conducted in June and September 2020 by Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing + Organizing (WIEGO) in collaboration with the Street Vendor Project, street vendors have reported losing 70%-90% of their earnings during COVID. And while they contribute nearly $293 million to the city’s economy, many aren’t eligible for the kind of emergency relief available to other business owners. Morgan Stanley saw an opportunity—in its own backyard and beyond—and decided to step up.
"Street Vendors are central to New York's cultural and economic identity, but COVID-19 has dealt them a serious blow,” says Wes Moore, the Chief Executive of Robin Hood. "Over the past year, as the pandemic intensified racial and economic disparities, street vendors have been forced to face the crisis alone, finding themselves ineligible for benefits as a result of their immigration status and the very nature of their work," says Moore, whose organization partners with more than 250 other nonprofits to support food, housing, education, legal services, workforce development and more to New Yorkers living in poverty across all five boroughs. “New York City street vendors are at the precipice, with no safety net to catch them. We must do all we can to help them fight to weather this pandemic—now and for the long haul."
Morgan Stanley is leading the effort, providing financial assistance of up to $1,000 each to 2,000 street vendors across New York City in partnership with Robin Hood and the Street Vendor Project. The Street Vendor Project has more than 2,500 active vendor members as part of the Urban Justice Center, a nonprofit that provides legal representation and advocacy for various marginalized groups of New Yorkers.
“New York City street vendors are a central part of the cultural fabric of New York City. Morgan Stanley is committed to supporting those in our community that support us on a daily basis, as they face unprecedented economic hardship,” says James Gorman, Chairman and CEO of Morgan Stanley. “We are proud to work with Robin Hood and the Street Vendor Project to provide economic relief to vendors during a critically difficult time, and encourage others to join us in this important mission.”
MD Alam, who hails from Bangladesh and runs a food cart with his wife Hira on the corner of 6th Avenue and 44th Street, is grateful for the money, which he says will help tide them over until things are back to normal. “A small thing becomes a big thing. When you’re broke, everything helps,” says Alam, who looks forward to the day when his regular customers return and he can serve them again as he once did. “They line up and they don’t even have to order anything,” he says. “I know what they want.”
Click here to donate to the Street Vendor Project.