When N.Y. Needed Hospital Space, Film Location Scouts Pitched In

Jennifer Lyne, a location scout for film and television, knows New York in an unusually granular way. Always on the lookout for the perfect spot, she is constantly schmoozing with property managers, gathering contact information and snapping photos.

That is how she was able to find a period-perfect restaurant bar for the television series “Boardwalk Empire” and the alley where Harrison Ford’s detective investigates a murder in the movie “Random Hearts.”

So late last month, when the coronavirus was gaining momentum and the Greater New York Hospital Association convened a task force to locate buildings for hospital overflow, Ms. Lyne, as well as other film scouts, volunteered.

“We all love the city,” Ms. Lyne said. “I knew they would step up.”

Battle-tested by the AIDS crisis, the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 and Hurricane Sandy, New Yorkers are once again pitching in, delivering meals to hospital workers or shopping for older neighbors. More than 12,300 people have volunteered through the Covid-19 relief campaign of New York Cares, an organization that matches those offering help with those in need.

But as the cultural and financial capital of the world, New York is home to people with niche talents and expertise, from fashion designers to tech wizards. They want to help, too. And they are getting creative.

Take Laura Anderson Barbata, a Mexican-born artist who lives in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Her performance art often involves making costumes by hand. As the pandemic spread and she felt the “urgent need” to help out, she said, she eyed a heap of blue-and-white printed fabric left over from a recent project.

Soon she had taught herself to make masks and was donating them to fellow tenants of her apartment building, to a cleaning crew working in a Bronx public school and to homeless shelters, including one in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where there were masks for residents, but not staffers.

“The air of the staff completely changed when we were able to give them masks,” said Elizabeth Fasanya, the director of the shelter, operated by Project Renewal. “The color prints lift people’s moods.”

Samantha Casolari, an Italian-born photographer who lives in Williamsburg, found a different way to channel her artistry: an online sale of photographs to benefit embattled Elmhurst Hospital Center. The fund-raiser, Pictures for Elmhurst, raised nearly $1.4 million to buy ventilators, surgical masks, goggles and disposable scrubs.

Ms. Casolari and a small team, which included the photographer Jody Rogac, first asked photographers they knew to donate digital files so that prints could be made and sold for $150 each. After Pictures for Elmhurst gained momentum, they approached world-famous photographers, like Martin Parr and Rineke Dijkstra.

“Of course everyone said yes,” Ms. Rogac said.

Antwuan Sargent, an art critic and author of “The New Black Vanguard: Photography between Art and Fashion,” purchased prints by Tyler Mitchell, the first black artist to have a photograph on the cover of Vogue, and four others. He learned of the fund-raiser on Instagram. “I looked through and thought, I want that, I want that, I want that,” Mr. Sargent said.

The items that Lisa Kobs-Berrios and her husband, David Berrios, are selling in their own fund-raiser are not nearly as highbrow. But with backgrounds in marketing and luxury accessories, the couple has been able to raise thousands for hungry children.

Mrs. Kobs-Berrios and Mr. Berrios were hit with inspiration while taking their toddler, Rio, on walks through Morningside Heights in Manhattan. They often stop to watch fire trucks, which he adores. His parents noticed the signs on the rear of the trucks that said, “Keep back 200 feet.”

That gave them the idea of having hats printed with “Keep Back 6 Feet” to encourage social distancing. They decided to sell them and donate the proceeds to the nonprofit No Kid Hungry.

So far, the fund-raiser’s proceeds will cover 20,000 meals.

Over at Cornell Tech on Roosevelt Island, a group of students, suddenly with time on their hands and a desire to contribute, decided to offer remote tech support to older neighbors.

Sadik Antwi-Boampong, one of the students coordinating the effort, talked a couple through a Medicare application by chatting with them on Google Hangout.

Georganna Galateau, 73, desperately wanted to catch up with a younger friend in Rome but found herself mystified when her friend suggested a popular app. “She said WhatsApp and I said, ‘What’s that?’”

Rony Krell, 28, a health technology graduate student, spoke to Ms. Galateau on her landline and explained how to download and use the app on her cellphone. When Ms. Galateau couldn’t manage it on her own, they scheduled a second call, and Mr. Krell stayed on the line while Ms. Galateau and her friend in Rome, who hadn’t seen each other in 10 years, were reunited.

“It meant so much to my heart,” Ms. Galateau said.

Jennifer Lyne, the location scout who participated in the hospital task force, was at first daunted by the idea of joining a group of architects, engineers and other experts in designing and building health care facilities.

But it’s one thing to be involved in a yearslong effort to build a facility that will last decades; it’s another to quickly find a site, obtain permission to use it temporarily and get it up and running. This was basically her job in film and television.

And with the coronavirus, speed was crucial.

When someone floated the idea of placing patients on a couple of empty floors in the old Victory Memorial Hospital in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, Susan Pazos, a fellow scout, was able to immediately upload photos of the building because she had already been there checking it out for the television series “FBI.”

“That was a great feeling,” Ms. Lyne said.

In the end, hospitals in New York were able to handle more Covid-19 patients than originally expected, and the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center and U.S.N.S. Comfort picked up the slack. The task force’s findings are being written up in case the information is needed during a second wave of the virus. The report will also be shared with other cities that may have to ramp up hospital capacity the way New York did.

It was, as Ms. Lyne called it, “the ultimate scout.”

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