BY PAUL FINNEGAN
NEW YORK IRISH CENTER
If you’ve ever clinked a glass with an Irish person, more than likely you’ve heard the Gaelic word “Sláinte” as you raised your arm.
Many believe this word is the equivalent of “cheers,” but it actually has a different and deeper meaning: health. When an Irish person says Sláinte to you, they are wishing you the best of health.
The pandemic that has engulfed the world this year has focused us all on physical health, our own and that of others, but we are also keenly aware of another type of health, namely the economic sort.
When the shutdown came so abruptly in March, so too did massive unemployment and loss of income, cutting deeply into the lives of New Yorkers. Government, private enterprise and communities of all types responded quickly, and New York’s Irish were no exception.
With the closing of restaurants and construction sites, sectors where a huge proportion of Irish immigrants have earned their living for centuries, community leaders realized that a wave of requests for economic assistance on the scale of a humanitarian crisis would be coming very soon.
It was also clear that, in the true Irish tradition of charity, there would be a generous response from the community. Per capita, the Irish are one of the leading communities in the world for charitable giving.
New York’s Irish community leaders, representing five well-established New York Irish organizations, knew an efficient process to channel the community’s donations to the needy was required, in other words a clearing house for goodwill, and decided to pool their resources to set up an online platform to accomplish this.
The five organizations, Aisling Irish Community Center (Yonkers), New York Irish Center (Queens), Emerald Isle Immigration Center (Queens and the Bronx), United Irish Counties and the New York Gaelic Athletic Association, rallied around that most Irish of words, and named their collaboration Sláinte 2020.
Within days, a fully functioning website (Slainte2020.org) was launched where donations could be made and applications for aid could be submitted. Over the next three months, over $500,000 was raised and distributed to over 1,000 people, many from Queens, mostly in Woodside, Sunnyside and Astoria.
The Sláinte 2020 committee worked long hours fielding and vetting applications, and distributing funds. Thankfully, as restaurants re-open and construction ramps up again, demand for emergency assistance has decreased significantly in recent weeks and the Sláinte 2020 fund is winding down. Hopefully it will not be needed again.
The story of Sláinte 2020 is one of hope in dark times; how organizations can work together seamlessly for a common good that helps everyone. Sláinte 2020 provided the economic ventilator for a community of immigrants that had no other source of help. I am so very proud of what it achieved and for having been part of it.