‘More Than Ever': Pandemic Not Stopping South Jersey Woman from Helping People With Opioid Addiction

Kristen Rivera says people struggling with addiction issues in Camden and Philadelphia "need more help than ever before"

Kristen Rivera standing on the sidewalk
Kristen Rivera

Kristen Rivera is defiant. Despite the threat of infection from the novel coronavirus, the South Jersey woman is still hitting the streets of Camden and Philadelphia to help the homeless and those struggling from opioid addiction.

She knows what you're thinking: that's crazy. But, she doesn't care.

“This is a time when they need us the most. There’s no better time to go out now and show them that we value them,” Rivera, 35, of Bellmawr, New Jersey, told NBC10 in an interview Thursday.

A few times a week, Rivera and her husband load up their pick-up truck and make stops in Camden and Kensington, the Philadelphia neighborhood at the epicenter of the opioid crisis. While sporting protective gear to protect themselves against exposure to the coronavirus, the couple hands out sandwiches, clothes, the opioid reversal drug Narcan and other supplies to people who need them.

She documents her experiences on her Facebook group.

Often, Rivera gets help from people in her community who may not be able to join her, but can donate food or other goods. Recently, she launched a fundraiser to help with the increased need.

“Some of the food pantries don’t have as much people on staff because of the coronavirus risks…and lots of people are hoarding supplies at supermarkets. That means there’s even less for people. The other day, a man told me he hadn’t eaten in a day and a half," she said.

Supplies for people in Camden and Philly during the coronavirus pandemic

Rivera believes she reaches hundreds of people each week. She began visiting the areas after she and her family suffered a tragedy.  

“My brother, Kenny, died November 2018. He overdosed. He showed me through his death, I have so much to give. Even if it’s my time, or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich," she said.

Many of the people she reaches depend on her. But Rivera said it’s she who sometimes gets inspired by those she’s trying to help.

“Right as the coronavirus pandemic was starting to hit Philly, I remember I was giving out donuts near McPherson Square. This man, who’s homeless, handed me a roll of toilet paper. He told me, ‘just give it out.’ This man had nothing to his name, but he gave what he had to help others,” Rivera said.

Rivera said she hasn’t seen that man since.

“He told me he was leaving the area to get help. I hope he is,” she said.

The toilet paper a homeless man from Kensington gave to Rivera, during coronavirus outbreak

Rivera is aware of the health risks involved in going out during a time when the public is urged to do the opposite, as a contagious disease continues to spread.

“We wear masks and gloves. We tell them to keep their distance and be safe. And when we come back home, we wash our car and clothes, and then shower,” she said.

While the coronavirus continues to hold its tight grip on the area, Rivera said she’s not stopping her mission anytime soon.

“I guess I feel a responsibility…partly because of my brother…and as a human being, I think we should all give more to others," she said.

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