Syracuse, NY – As temperatures exceeded 90 degrees in Syracuse on Sunday afternoon, a grieving family walked through their West Side community, handing out hot food, cold drinks and a bit of positivity.
Janette Rivera-DeLeon, 57, spent the day with family and friends collecting more than 300 bags of food to distribute to strangers. In an apartment on the second floor, brown paper bags covered all surfaces. A note was stuck on each bag: “In loving memory of Steven Pinet. “
Pinet was 26 when he was shot in the head on his way home from a store in the Eastwood neighborhood in 2016. Rivera-DeLeon said she was using the food distribution as an opportunity to overcome his grief and inform the parents of other victims. They are not alone.
“It’s my way of saying, ‘I’m still standing. You can stay with us. We can show solidarity in a positive way, ”said Rivera-DeLeon.
The group planned to cross the South Side and West Side communities first, stopping wherever they saw people outside. The paper bags were filled with a hot dog or hamburger and fries, and two cars held hundreds of sodas, water bottles, and cans of juice.
After weeks of planning and collecting donated goods, Rivera-DeLeon said she woke up at 6 a.m. on Sunday to start cooking. Others joined her to assemble the bags and load the cars.
In the early afternoon, a dozen people crowded into the apartment, all wearing masks and gloves and working quickly despite the heat, with the two fans on the floor being the only relief.
Elsie DeLeon, 24, Pinet’s sister and an art therapy major at Nazareth College, put her artistic skills to good use by creating balloon animals to accompany food wrappers. Several paintings by Pinet surrounded the rooms where they worked.
“My mom is basically doing this to raise awareness about gun violence,” said Christie Rodriguez, 35, daughter of Rivera-DeLeon, as she walked between the kitchen and the packing area. “She feels good doing that now, you know?” It’s a positive thing, instead of being negative about losing your son.
Rivera-DeLeon said she knew she wanted to do something to commemorate her son’s death shortly after the fifth anniversary of the shooting. Pinet’s shooting is still unresolved, but Rivera-DeLeon said she was hopeful someone would provide information one day.
She also works to cope with the loss by staying in touch with other parents affected by gun violence in Syracuse, including local activist Clifford Ryan of OGs Against Violence.
“For me, I couldn’t rest until my son’s killer was caught. So what you see her do is channel that hurt and pain and anger into something positive, ”Ryan said. Her son was shot dead in 1999 in Syracuse.
Rivera-DeLeon credited Ryan with being by his side and using his experience to help him get through the death of his son. Now she hopes to do the same for others.
“It relieves my pain, I can help someone else,” she said. “They can see that I still have my shoulders back, my chin up and I can’t wait. It’s going to be OK. It’s going to be OK.”
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