Tag Archive | "Morrisania"

Morrisania Mourns Robbery Victim Shot by Police

Clergy works to calm activists as anti-NYPD feelings rage

Rain began falling Saturday night just as Rev. Ruben Austria led a passionate prayer for justice and healing in the aftermath of a botched robbery that left a 20-year-old bodega worker dead from police gunfire.

Huddled in a tight circle at 169th Street and Franklin Avenue, roughly 50 mourners — family members, friends and community activists — turned out Saturday night in honor of Reynaldo Cuevas, the young father from the Dominican Republic accidentally shot by police during a robbery scuffle early Friday morning.

“We want to stand in solidarity with the family and pray that our outrage doesn’t lead to in-rage. That it doesn’t cause us to consume ourselves and tear one each other down,” Austria told the group, with he and fellow clergy starting a chorus of “Hallelujah.”

Rally participants gathered around a makeshift memorial draped with flowers, rosaries and hand-scribbled notes across from Aneurys Daily Grocery in the Morrisania section of the Bronx. Cuevas worked six nights a week at the store, often staying for 16-hour shifts.

Community activists joined cousins of Reynaldo Cuevas in a prayer vigil Saturday night. “We want to stand in solidarity with the family and pray that our outrage doesn’t lead to in-rage,” Rev. Ruben Austria said. (ADAM PEREZ / The Bronx Ink)

The memorial included a few dollar bills, some cigarette butts and a lottery ticket — the type of loot the armed robbers tried to make off with in a backpack before police arrived.

Around 1:50 a.m. Friday, Cuevas, in an “understandable panic to get away from the gunman as fast as possible,” ran outside the bodega to escape the masked robbers and collided with a police officer, according to Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, and the officer accidentally fired his weapon, striking Cuevas in his left shoulder. He died at St. Barnabas Hospital.

“I want to extend my condolences to the Cuevas family for their loss,” Kelly said in a statement Friday. Kelly emphasized the events had transpired in “split seconds.”

Some came to the Saturday night rally simply to mourn the loss of Cuevas, described by relatives as a kind-hearted young man who’d been saving to send money to his 3-year-old daughter, Jamie, in the Dominican Republic.

“He was hard-working and humorous and caring,” said Ashley Rodriguez, 14, a cousin of Cuevas. She said she last saw Cuevas two days before his death, when he helped her get through some issues she was facing with high school. Cuevas was a good listener, she said, and he urged her to stay focused on her studies.

Reynaldo Cuevas, 20, worked nights at the bodega, saving money for his 3-year-old daughter, Jamie, in the Dominican Republic.

“How many parents got to bury their kids? When is this really going to stop?” said Juanita Young, an activist with Families of Stolen Lives and Parents Against Police Brutality. “I am so angry at what just happened here — that young man just trying to make a life for him and his family … When is enough enough?”

The candlelit vigil, announced via a cardboard sign at the memorial site and on a Facebook page for Cuevas created Saturday, also drew activists from the New York Civil Liberties Union and Stop “Stop and Frisk” Freedom Fighters, who oppose the NYPD’s controversial tactic of searching people on the streets over concerns police disproportionately target people of color.

“People are out here not just for this incident, but because I think what everybody feels and knows and understands is there’s been years of police harassing and targeting young black and Latino men,” Austria said.

Ashley Rodriguez said she’s not sure her cousin’s death represents a bigger problem; she just wants to see an investigation into the officer who shot him. For now, she wants that officer suspended.

“It’s uplifting to know that even people that didn’t know him are supporting us because they know this wasn’t right,” said Mary Rodriguez, 24, another cousin of Cuevas who was wearing an anti-“Stop and Frisk” button.

A downpour dispersed the crowd on Saturday, with some activists announcing plans to reschedule a march for Wednesday, and to attend a funeral for Cuevas on Monday.

Saturday’s event was the second emotional vigil honoring Cuevas this weekend. On Friday night, after the news vans and most reporters had left, the crowd erupted into angry shouting at the police, who stood quietly across the street. Austria was there, too, working to calm the small crowd for several hours and prevent the scene from escalating into a violent confrontation with the officers.

“The police have to be held accountable when they use excessive force, but we have to hold ourselves accountable. The community’s got to hold each other accountable because the violence between us is unacceptable just as well,” Austria said. “Nobody gets a pass for doing wrong.”

Staff writers Sadef Kully, Adam Perez and Jan Hendrik Hinzel contributed to this report.

The makeshift memorial included a few dollars, cigarette butts and used lottery tickets–booty found on the suspects after their arrest, said police. (ADAM PEREZ / The Bronx Ink)

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Crime, Featured, Multimedia, Slideshows, Southern BronxComments (0)

Evacuation expert fights to rescue Morrisania

Two days before Hurricane Irene slammed into New York City, evacuation expert Maria Forbes was told by city’s emergency coordinators to prepare for a possible disaster.

The next day, the Bronx mother of three raced around her neighborhood of Morrisania in the Bronx recruiting last-minute volunteers and making sure the emergency shelter at Toscanini Junior High School on Teller Street was stocked with nonperishable foods, flashlights, and batteries.

It was the emergency work that Forbes, 48, trained herself for after terrorists attacked the World Trade Center and Hurricane Katrina wiped out New Orleans. But evacuation training is only part of Forbes’ long list of volunteer duties. She’s a natural rescuer. She’s been sticking her neck out to rescue others since she was a young child, even when she was in need of help herself.

In 2002, a power outage left an entire block near 169th Street in Morrisania, where Forbes lives, without lights. The community’s lack of preparedness during the blackout became a catalyst for her to seek solutions. “I became real, real hungry and real, real thirsty to find something that could address the need for emergency disaster,” said Forbes, jumping from phone call to phone call days after Irene pummeled the East Coast. Her black curls bounced as she hollered to a reluctant vendor over the phone from her tenant organizer office on 168th Street.

But initial attempts to set up a disaster response team were met with refusal from the city’s emergency management office. Forbes kept calling various organizations to ask for grants. “I called back the Office of Emergency Management again and said, ‘I really want to have this program’,” Forbes recalled. “They said no.” Eventually, the intrepid organizer won an initial $500 community grant from Citizens Committee for New York City, a non-profit organization that supports grassroots initiatives. The grant helped her assemble the first batch of 40 volunteers for the 11 weeks of training required for certification.

In the course, Forbes learned how to jump start a generator, bandage wounds, and find “go bags” with clothes, flashlights, and medicine. She learned about hygiene and mental health issues. She finally earned her certificate to become Bronx Chief for the Community Emergency Response Team in 2006.

Forbes was born on Oct. 29, 1962 in Manhattan. Her father, William Smith, had immigrated to New York from Belize 15 years earlier and worked as a merchant seaman. Her mother, Velma Thomas, was a great-granddaughter of slaves from North Carolina. The family moved to Highbridge in the Bronx before Maria was born, and she has always called the Bronx her home. She is the youngest of seven.

Forbes’ older sister, Eileen Avery, who owns a medical billing business in Queens, sees a lot of their mother in Forbes. Their mother, Thomas, was a mental health therapist and foster mother to 28 children while she organized a play street along Plimpton and 172nd Avenues, planned block parties, and managed a private housing development. Following in her mother’s footsteps, the ever-busy Forbes has done it all except she is not a foster mother.

“I’m really proud of her, she took what our mother left and ran with it,” said Avery. “She’s overcome difficult obstacles to be where she is today and she is always helping people in the community and fighting for their entitlement.”

Forbes’s schedule leaves little room for family outings. But the sisters spend Thanksgiving together every year with few visits in between. “Every time I visit, I sit her down, tell her no phone, and close the door,” said Every.

Forbes acknowledges her demanding schedule. But she’s always considered helping others — a life mission even at a young age when her life was precarious. At 13, in 1976, she gave birth to her first son, Lenny Jones, and still had the wherewithal to speak at a mayoral event about resource entitlement and the plight of young mothers. Later, Mayor Abe Beame’s aide wrote to her saying, “It was beautiful to see the poise with which you addressed the audience. We hope you will stay in touch to let us know of your future triumphs.”

The road to future triumphs was strewn with roadblocks. Forbes dropped out of 10th grade, because there was no support for mothers at the overcrowded Walton High School. She then took a paid internship at the city’s medical examiner’s office where she identified dead bodies. In 1981, after a traumatic encounter with the body of someone she knew, Forbes left her job and started going full-time to Westside High School in Manhattan. The school took her on college tours and gave her instruction on career options. Forbes, who by then was battling addiction to cocaine, couldn’t pass the GED test required to earn the equivalent of a high school diploma. She beat addiction to cocaine in 1988 with the help of a support group called Narcotics Anonymous.

By 22, she was a single mother of three.

Her election as the president of Clay Avenue Tenants Association in 1990 brought some tranquility to her life until she lost her mother in 1995. Forbes’ mother was the caretaker of her kids.

The responsibility of tending to the children’s needs fell solely on Forbes’s shoulders. In 1990, her unsteady marriage to Timothy Forbes, father of two of her sons, fell apart six months after the wedding. Then her apartment caught fire and she lost almost all of her belongings. She kept cool and took a job first as a methadone addiction counselor at the Bronx-Lebanon Hospital and later as intervention specialist at the Police Athletic League.

The struggles Forbes has had to overcome inform her advocacy. She now devotes much of her time to the emergency preparedness program. At her corner office, pamphlets and flyers about the program lie everywhere. Emergency tool kits, cleaning supplies, and boxes take up most of the space. Two generators can boost power up in case of a blackout. Once a year, she organizes an emergency disaster day event that brings various community service agencies to the neighborhood where residents sign up for programs and services.

On a recent Wednesday, as she walked down to her office, children and neighbors stopped to greet her. “Maria has been a passionate and strong advocate for this community,” said Laura Brown, a long-time tenant at one of the buildings that Forbes manages. “I can’t speak for everyone but most people here love her.”

Hurricane Irene was not as damaging as predicted but Forbes believes you can never over prepare. Since becoming chief of her community emergency response team, she’s seen two blackouts.

“It pays to be prepared,” she said. And that’s what she’s been teaching her tenants and neighbors – how to prepare for an unforeseen disaster.

Posted in Bronx Beats, Bronx Life, Bronx Neighborhoods, Bronx Tales, Featured, Southern BronxComments (1)

An uncertain future for Morrisania’s post office

Inside the two-story post office on 167th Street and Park Avenue, the door slammed every few minutes on a recent Monday morning as customers filtered in and out. Only two of the five customer windows were open, and the lines snaked all the way to the entrance. Nothing unusual there, according to customers in line.

“I’ve been coming here for 47 years,” said Hassan Forrest, who arrived early at the Morrisania post office to pick up his mail. The Metropolitan Transport Authority employee still lives in in the apartment he grew up in on nearby Webster Avenue and has never gotten  around to closing his family’s post office box.

But Forrest and other Morrisania residents may have to transfer their mail to another address if the U.S. Postal Service is allowed to close over 3,500 post offices throughout the nation. The White House proposed these drastic cut backs after the post office became insolvent the end of September. It had reached a borrowing ceiling of $15 billion, and used the last of its cash reserves.

The Morrisania post office, located in a building recognized as National Register of Historic Places in 1988, is one of 17 branches in the Bronx scheduled to close. Neither customers, nor Morrisania’s mail carriers seemed to be aware of the proposed cuts. A staff member who was rushing out of the post office building on her lunch break  cut short a reporter’s questions, saying the place wasn’t closing. The only changes she knew of were the maintenance work recently undertaken in one of the second floor rooms.

“For me it’s not a major issue, but some older people are coming here,” said Forrest, who was on his way to work in his MTA uniform. One retired nurse from the Bronx said she comes to the post office at least three times a week.

Pakala Dingle, 63, said she depends on the post office to pay her rent every month. Money orders cost only $1 compared to $3 or more at the bank.  Dingle wakes up at 6:30 every morning to exercise and walks to the post office to collect her mail for the small business of organic products she started a few years ago after she retired. She also picks up her Social Security checks at the post office.

Like many others, Dingle and Forrest believe the Internet has affected the postal system, along with competition from other private mailing services. On a two-block radius around the post office, at least six stores sold stamps and two shops offered cheap money orders.

President Obama’s plan, which was announced earlier last month, did not include its initial promise that mailing costs would stay the same. On  Oct. 18, the postal service announced that stamps would cost 45 cents, a one-cent increase, starting next January. The plan also suggested that post offices could offer non-postal products and cut out Saturday deliveries as a way to reduce debt.

Jimi Perez, a postal union delegate, criticized Obama’s proposals as ineffective. Even though Obama is willing to pay back the postal service $6.9 billion for having overpaid a federal retirement fund for years, Perez complained that the federal government owes the workers still more. “In its plan, Obama proposed to reimburse only $20 billion out of the $80 billion USPS has overpaid,” he said.

The closest post office to Morrisania is on Westchester and St. Ann’s Avenue, about 20 minutes away on the BX41 and BX55 buses. “If this post office closes, the old and disabled people that come here everyday will have to commute to a much further place,” said Perez, 59, who said anyone working for postal service  was threatened by the budget cut. “And how will they come to pick up their mail? In a taxi?”

View Is your Bronx post office threatened by the U.S. Postal Service budget cuts? in a larger map


Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Featured, Money, MultimediaComments (0)

Fighting breast cancer in Morrisania

Ana Brito talks to staffers at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. clinic health fair. (MOHAMMED ADEMO/The Bronk Ink)

A woman living in the Morrisania section of the South Bronx has a 50 percent higher risk of dying from cancer than women in the rest of the New York City and a 15 percent higher rate than the rest of the Bronx. Regular screenings and early detection can significantly lower the number of breast cancer related deaths. That was the message of the annual Breast Cancer Awareness and Health Fair held Oct. 1 at the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Health Center.

The health fair drew around 200 children and parents to the parking lot on Franklin Avenue, where they received health information, food, and music. The goal was to reach the whole family, organizers said. “We are here to make sure that the community knows what we offer and children receive recommended vaccinations,” said Sandra Tramble, a medical records clerk at the clinic.

The health center is part of the Bronx-Lebanon Hospital’s BronxCare network system. Staffers from across the clinic’s various departments welcomed visitors with a smile and a small gift to take home. They handed out backpacks, books, socks, shirts, and notebooks to children. Parents received information on vaccinations and sexually transmitted diseases along with free condoms and nutrition guides. Volunteers gave out fried chicken, French fries, and beverages to visitors as they made their way through the exit door.

On the third floor of the clinic, a team of 10 volunteers and four doctors performed an initial breast examination. According to the New York City Department of Health, breast cancer kills over 1,200 people in the city every year but 23 percent of women 40 and older have not had a recent mammogram. In Morrisania, where one in three people live below poverty line, the number is even higher.

For some of the clinic’s staff, the fight against cancer is a very personal one. “I lost my aunt to cancer,” said Valencia Johnson, a patient care technician. “It is an unfair disease that doesn’t discriminate along cultural or economic lines.”

Seven of the 21 people who came to the breast cancer awareness event were referred to a hospital because doctors found potential problems during a physical exam.

Mariam Brown, who has worked at the Center for over 10 years, said she’s known patients who died from breast cancer and those that survived. “I had patients who came back saying, good thing we came to you early,” said Brown. “I enjoy talking to patients about breast cancer because I feel like I am doing something about it.”

As part of its national Breast Cancer Awareness month activities, the clinic is offering initial breast cancer screenings throughout October. A community health survey released in 2006 shows nearly one in three adults in Morrisania are uninsured or underinsured. Angela Aguasvivas, a social work assistant at the clinic, said many of the clinic’s patients are undocumented.

To offset the medical cost for qualified uninsured and underinsured patients, the clinic offers a program called ” community healthcare benefits”. Eligibility and discounts are based on annual income and household size. Those who don’t qualify for these benefits are referred to other clinics for free mammograms.

“But no one is turned away,” said Aguasvivas.

Posted in Bronx Beats, Bronx Life, Health, Southern BronxComments (0)

Last Post Office In Morrisania Under Threat, Bronx Times

The United States Postal Service is considering closing the last post office in Morrisania, reports The Bronx Times.

The post office, located at 167th Street between Washington and Webster avenues, is one of 33 in the city being considered for closure. Half of the offices under threat are in the Bronx.

Morrisania residents would have to walk 10 blocks to the next nearest office on 174th Street and Third Avenue if the closure goes through.

Posted in NewswireComments (0)

With his new school, a Bronx pediatrician looks for another way to keep kids healthy

There are two Richard Izquierdos that Bronx locals recognize. One man, Richard Izquierdo Arroyo, made headlines last year when he was charged with embezzling more than $100,000 from a non-profit low-income housing organization. The other, Richard Izquierdo, known as the “Doc,” is a man who walks with a cane and often plays with his iPhone. He is a pediatrician who founded two health centers in the borough and is now hoping to heal a new generation with The Dr. Richard Izquierdo Health & Science Charter School that opened this fall.

With that resume, Izquierdo–the doctor–doesn’t worry that Bronx residents will confuse him with the other Izquierdo.

Richard Izquierdo was nicknamed Doc because he’s been a pediatrician in the Bronx since 1962, with now-famous patients like U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Richard Carmona, Bronx Borough President Rubén Díaz Jr., and Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

Trained at the University of Madrid Medical School and the University of Lausanne Medical School in Switzerland, Izquierdo founded a Hunts Point-based bilingual public health center, Urban Health Plan (UHP), now run by his daughter, Paloma Hernandez, and his private clinic, Multi Medic Physician Services, run by his son, Richard. He has chaired the local Community Board and has won many recognition awards from Bronx organizations.

He recently turned 81 and still goes to friends’ homes to perform minor procedures like applying butterfly closures or giving injections, but what he’s most excited about is his new job as chairman of the Dr. Richard Izquierdo Health & Science Charter School in Morrisania. “I live from dream to dream, mountaintop to mountaintop,” said Izquierdo. “I’m a salesman. I sell dreams and then make them come true.”

After the Board of Education denied two requests to open the school because the health and science theme had to be more integrated into the curriculum, Izquierdo teamed up with John Xavier, who wanted to start his own health care school. Xavier gave up that plan and is now the principal of the school, which received a start-up grant from the Walton Family Foundation.

“The school wouldn’t be what it is without him,” said Xavier. “It’s a long, complicated name for a school but every word in that name is essential to what we’re doing. The more I know Izquierdo, the more important it is to me that this school becomes his legacy.”

The 100 sixth grade students (according to Izquierdo, there were a few more enrolled at the beginning that ended up not showing up or moved out) are each given an iPad (which they keep at the school), chess and fencing classes, and instruction on capoeira, the Brazilian no-contact martial art. Starting in January, the students will have to build a science project of vertical plants to study how photosynthesis works, which Izquierdo hopes will help educate them to care about their environment. In keeping with the medical theme, students must wear scrubs (“I don’t do things in a small way,” said Izquierdo). Their science classes run for 90 minutes as opposed to the typical 45 so the students can have an accelerated science instruction that will more readily prepare them to pursue further education or find employment. They will be certified as Emergency Medical Technicians by the time they graduate and, if the school is successful in its mission, their chances of landing a job will be higher than most in the Bronx, which has a daunting 12.5 percent unemployment rate, the highest in the New York metropolitan area.

Not long after school started, Izquierdo chatted with 11-year old Shailoh Cervantes, a student who addressed the school at orientation and who hopes to become a doctor one day. Izquierdo reminded Cervantes of what he said during orientation:

“There are three important things: One, that we were going to give you an education so that you could make a living,” said Izquierdo. ”The second was to be proud of who you are, of your name; and the last one was to make this place a better world to live in and to help other people. Do you remember that?”

“Yeah, I remember that,” said Cervantes. “I think that what you said should help us throughout our lives so that we can have a better life. My dream is to become a famous doctor, that people would remember my name for helping a lot of other people.”

The school received a grant from the Charter School Center, a non-profit organization that helps start charter schools, to hire an award-winning documentary filmmaker, Antonio Ferrera, to record the students as they develop throughout the year. The administration’s hope is that the school can then look back and observe their work objectively and learn from their mistakes. “Nobody’s paying attention to the South Bronx but Izquierdo is making sure there’s a new generation of children that are paying attention to it,” said Ferrera.

Izquierdo wants to develop programs in first aid and health literacy, and try out different curricula to see if an increase in exercise classes will result in higher performance and weight loss. He wants to battle the Bronx’s obesity problem (47 percent of kids are overweight) starting with these students.

“We let the students know what’s expected of them and what they can expect from us,” said Izquierdo. “I call it the CPR of relationships: Consistent, Predictable and Reliable. Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation. CPR.”

Izquierdo has a strip of white mustache cut in a way that appears to pay homage to his Puerto Rican heritage–a perfectly straight and trimmed line. Though his family is Puerto Rican, Izquierdo was raised in New York City. At 14, he used to sneak into the city’s hottest night clubs because he already had a little bit of this mustache–just enough that he would get away with it–and so he got to know many Latin legends like Noro Morales and Machito. His phrases are interspersed with Spanish sayings like, “Dios los cría y ellos se juntan” (“God creates them and they unite”) and he loves typical Puerto Rican dishes such as rice and beans and plantains. He claims that his salsa moves are still so good that a couple of months before the Urban Health Plan’s annual Christmas party, “The young ladies would say, ‘I want to be on your card.’ ”

“He’s not just always been a medical doctor,” said Jessie Harris, a Bronx Community Board member and book distributor who has known him for 25 years. “He’s also a community doctor. He’s been one man I’ve known whose had goals and reached them–medically, socially and academically.”

Izquierdo’s medical legacy lives on: his daughter and son have taken over the management of the health care businesses he started and he hopes the Health & Science Charter School will help young Bronxites follow in his steps. But Izquierdo is already working on his next dream as a “community doctor.” He’s planning to buy what used to be his father’s bodega and convert it into a green grocery store with health education classes and a salad bar offering hearty meals.

It’s all part of his longevity strategy, he said: “I’m bribing God because if I’m busy with projects, he can’t take me away.”

Posted in Bronx Beats, Bronx Life, Bronx Neighborhoods, Education, Front Page, Southern BronxComments (0)

Mexican immigrants celebrate the Virgin Mary

El Día de la Virgen de Guadalupe from Irasema Romero on Vimeo.

Posted in Bronx Beats, Bronx Life, Bronx Neighborhoods, Culture, Front Page, Multimedia, Southern BronxComments (0)

Honduran king of Italian ices

Alfredo Thiebaud painting the floor in the basement of his Bronx-based factory. Photo: Alexander Besant

Never tired, Alfredo Thiebaud painting the floor in the basement of his Bronx-based Italian ice factory. Photo: Alexander Besant

Alfredo Thiebaud cannot sit still. His legs shake and his eyes constantly scan the hallway in front of his door looking for something else to do besides sitting around answering questions about his life. He exudes all the restlessness of a new business owner, except that he is not one. He has been at it for years.

Thiebaud has run the Bronx-based Delicioso Coco Helado since he founded the company in 1978 when he was just 39. Now 70, he is still just as involved in the day-to-day management of the company that makes Italian ices, a sugary fruit purée like sorbet, as he was when it first began 32 years ago.

“He’s always been hands on and very protective of his products,” said Sophia Thiebaud, Alfredo’s daughter and vice president of operations at Delicioso. “He’s 70 years old and still works seven days a week, more than 10 hours a day.”

Alfredo Thiebaud is short and stocky with the thick fingers of a manual laborer. He wears jeans that are covered in paint and dust that look as if he has just renovated a house. He says few words, and whenever he is asked about his personal life, he quickly moves the conversation back to his business. Though he says he is not supposed to eat sugar because of hyperglycemia, Thiebaud sits at his desk snacking on raisin bran (which, according to his daughter, he believes does not contain sugar) and fruit-flavored yogurt.

At the first opportunity, he jumps out of his seat and suggests that his daughter Sophia would probably be more suited to answer questions. He calls for her and quickly disappears into the basement of the factory with painting equipment in hand.

Thiebaud grew up in Tela, Honduras, a sleepy port town that grew prosperous through the export of tropical fruits. Thiebaud’s grandfather was French, and came to Honduras to work as a manager of the then-burgeoning railway system that carried agricultural products from the interior to the coast for export. His father worked as an executive in the United Fruit Company, an American firm that controlled large expanses of agricultural land and key industries in Latin American and Caribbean countries that became known as “banana republics.”

In 1960, when Thiebaud was 21, his uncle, a merchant marine living in Queens, helped his nephew immigrate to the United States, a country his family believed, would offer him more economic opportunities than Honduras. “My uncle gave me the papers to come to this country,” he said. “It was easier back then. They needed workers.” Thiebaud arrived in New York and began work at a storm-window manufacturing business in Mount Vernon for a dollar an hour. After four years at the factory, he left to work as a welder and finally a carpenter for a trade union.

With savings from his previous jobs, Thiebaud started Delicioso Coco Helado in 1978, selling homemade Italian ices from a pushcart in the Bronx. Thiebaud said that though New York City was full of Hispanics, their food, especially the ices that Thiebaud enjoyed as a child, was still not readily available.

As his sales grew, he hired a few more vendors, eventually quitting the vending business to focus exclusively on producing.  “We started in the Bronx and little by little, we grew,” said Thiebaud. “Then our vendors started going to Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens.” Delicioso Coco Helado is now one of the largest employers in the neighborhood with more than 30 seasonal employees producing the icy treat. Thiebaud also supplies over 200 independent vendors who are ubiquitous on street corners around the New York City during the summer.

Delicioso vendors begin arriving at the factory around nine in the morning to pick up their merchandise for the day. The vendors, mostly from Latin America, line up quietly as they receive their supply of the frozen fruit purée in tubs. In the evening, vendors return with any unsold product to store in the Delicioso’s warehouse until the next morning.

Vendors are responsible for their individual permits and are free to go wherever they want in the city to sell the product. Thiebaud will not supply a vendor who does not have a permit. The politics of permits can be a tough business in New York, as Thiebaud knows. In the early 1990s, Thiebaud briefly had his own permit suspended by the city for illegally supplying vendors with permits instead of having to get them through City Hall. Though he was never accused of selling the permits, he acknowledged that he did give them to vendors who sold his products. “I used to give it to the vendor to sell the products,” he said. “I gave them permits to create jobs. I never took advantage and sold the permits.”

Many of the vendors are Latin Americans who come year after year to New York to work for the summer and then return home for the winter. When his vendors leave for the season, Thiebaud continues to work in his factory, fixing the carts and doing yearly maintenance.

“In the winter I have to fix the pushcarts or do repairs,” said Thiebaud. “There is always something to do.”

According to his daughter Sophia, Thiebaud gives away thousands of dollars in products ever year to support local charities and churches. “He definitely believes in giving back,” Thiebaud’s daughter said. “He loves the Bronx and wants to do whatever he can to improve it.”

Despite chances to relocate during periods of unrest in the neighborhood or to move to less expensive facilities, Thiebaud has always refused. “When everyone else was leaving the Bronx he stayed,” said Sophia Thiebaud. “He knew the Bronx would come back.”

While at work painting the basement of the factory later that day, Thiebaud suddenly seemed more at ease talking. He lamented the unstable political situation in Honduras and was happy that former left-wing President Manuel Zelaya had been ousted in a recent coup. “Honduras didn’t need another Chavez.” He also expressed doubt about President Barack Obama and about the changes taking place under his administration. When asked if he would retire, he stopped working for a moment and answered earnestly. “Of course I am not going to retire. What would I do every day?”

Posted in Bronx Life, Food, Food and Beyond, Special ReportsComments (1)

Page 2 of 3123