Free food deliveries are arriving in Brooklyn, thanks to a DIY digital "neighborhood" - CNN

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New York (CNN) As more and more of the world falls under coronavirus shutdown, many Americans are turning to the internet for daily needs: ordering groceries and household necessities through delivery services like FreshDirect, Amazon, Peapod and even restaurant wholesalers. But not everyone knows how to access those services -- and even the people who do have not always been able to use them, as competing orders crowd delivery times and empty stockrooms.
Dense, frenetic New York City is by far the biggest epicenter of the US coronavirus outbreak , and cases are multiplying fast in the borough of Brooklyn , which with nearly 2.6 million people is bigger than most cities in the world. Here, people have long relied on their neighbors and churches for aid through hard times. They still do. But in the tree-lined neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant, known as Bed-Stuy, where gentrification has rapidly widened the gap between rich and poor, a new form of neighborly help is taking root online. A state-by-state breakdown of US coronavirus cases For the past week, local residents have been using the workplace communications platform Slack to organize free food deliveries for neighbors who've lost their jobs as the coronavirus ravages the US economy, or are too physically vulnerable to walk into a grocery store. Pre-existing conditions like heart disease and diabetes are connected to higher risk of severe or fatal coronavirus infections. Maureen Dantzler, 54, has diabetes and asthma, and has two sons at home with her. She told a neighbor last week that she was worried about the increasingly bare state of her cupboards, yet fearful to be exposed to the virus while shopping. Her neighbor said she knew of a way to get free food deliveries -- and all Dantzler had to do was provide the shopping list. By the end of the day, a young woman was knocking on her door holding bags of groceries -- vegetables, meat, pasta, spaghetti sauce, everything she'd asked for. "I was truly shocked. I was so shocked," says Dantzler. "I said, 'Do I have to pay?' because I was ready to, and she said it had already been paid for. So I just couldn't stop saying thank you, thank you, thank you." Read More Though Dantzler never downloaded Slack nor joined the community, her request had been listed on the #communityneeds channel of Slack group "BedStuyStrong." There, anyone can ask for grocery delivery, and anyone with a little free time can volunteer to do the shopping and delivery. Others on the platform donate money to cover the cost. Fog envelops the Manhattan skyline as the Brooklyn Bridge sits nearly empty of pedestrian traffic on Friday. 'It's not about charity, it's about solidarity' From the street, it's hard to tell which Bed-Stuy households are in need, behind the grand Victorian facades and stately stairways of the neighborhood's iconic brownstones. BedStuyStrong founder Sarah Thankam Matthews, 29, says she felt increasing concern for her elderly neighbors trapped indoors after watching news about the lockdowns in Italy. "I thought about the neighborhood as a whole and thought, this may be a time when we don't get a lot of help from the government," she said. "We're seeing a lot of holes in social safety nets and I just thought we need to organize online just in case there's a lockdown, and we need to think geographically." Trump invokes Defense Production Act to expand production of hospital masks and more To spread the word, Thankam Matthews, a fiction writer, posted simple paper flyers. In less than seven days, nearly 2,000 people in the neighborhood had joined the online community. "What I wanted to do was build a neighborhood hub. I didn't expect it to grow as fast as it did," she says. The group does more than coordinate grocery deliveries -- a plethora of social channels have flowered, offering pictures of pets, connecting home kombucha brewers and bread bakers, and listing calls to make hospital masks, donate insulin, and read books to kids over the phone, among other things. It's essentially a local version of the internet, in the spirit of Craigslist -- the kind of digital connectivity that lets you chat online about sourdough while walking over to your interlocutor's house to leave some starter on the front steps. A recent map of the group's members showed someone on nearly every block within the neighborhood's limits. "It's not about charity, it's about solidarity," says Thankam Matthews. But when it comes to the #communityneeds channel, "there's this underlying understanding that the effort in this channel is focused on folks who either are low-income or just lost their jobs," says Callil Capuozzo, 28. Volunteers respond to all requests, operating on a good-faith basis that the people who ask for help do need it. Capuozzo, who during normal hours works from home as a designer for a cryptocurrency startup, has so far delivered custom grocery orders as well as bulk produce to recipients in housing projects, "millennial Brooklyn...