Although Governor Cuomo just extended $4.5 million to New York food pantries in time for the holidays, guess what else happened just in time for the holidays? 1.8 million New Yorkers saw their food stamp benefits slashed on November 1st. If yesterday's Ask A Native New Yorker column about helping the homeless has you inspired to do more, we've compiled a roundup of ways to volunteer your support to those in need.
City Harvest helps more than one million people each year by acquiring over 126,000 lbs. of "affordable nutritious food, such as fresh produce" each day. This food rescue organization works in all five boroughs, collecting resources from restaurants, Greenmarkets, wholesalers, grocers, farmers, and manufactures. The food is in turn distributed to organizations such as soup kitchens, food pantries, senior centers, day cares, etc. In short, they have a lot of work to do.
To aid in City Harvest's mission to feed some of the 2,850,000 "food insecure" New Yorkers, you can donate food (preferably canned fruit and vegetables, canned proteins, macaroni and cheese, and cereal) to your closest drop-off location. You can also set up your own food drive—all you need is a box, a place to set it up, and one of City Harvest's digital tool kits. If you prefer to donate money, City Harvest can accommodate that, too.
Food Bank for New York City also focuses on food distribution and supplies grub to a network of over 1,000 community programs, providing about 400,000 free meals a day to New Yorkers. For every $1 donated to Food Bank NYC, 5 meals may be afforded to community members in need of nourishment. You can donate here. But if you're seriously drowning in jars of peanut butter or boxes of crackers, you can donate food to the closest food-accepting community program. There are also plenty of holiday volunteer opportunities hosted by Food Bank NYC, including dinner preparation in Harlem, Souper Saturdays in Park Slope, and food sorting in Hunts Point.
New York Cares Coat Drive has had New Yorkers' backs for 25 years. 90% of New York City's homeless population will rely on a donated coat this winter; so if you have a gently worn, warm coat you don't need anymore, consider giving it to someone who does. New York Cares' coat drive will accept your coats until February 7th at 280 drop-off locations in all five boroughs. The coats go to the Salvation Army, churches, advocacy organizations, and other distribution centers. Don't forget: Winter Is Coming.
The Henry Street Settlement is a not-for-profit social service agency in LES founded in 1893 that serves 50,000 individuals each year. They provide a range of social services, including primary and mental health care, legal and financial counseling, job contacts, arts programs, and more toward helping in-need individuals become self-sufficient. The Henry Street Settlement promises that 89 cents of every dollar donated goes directly toward helping clients. You can donate here to help a New Yorker get back on their feet.
Citymeals-on-Wheels provides nearly 2 million meals to over 17,000 elderly New Yorkers each year. But what does that have to do with you? You can brighten the day of a homebound elderly New Yorker, who is perhaps lonely and waiting waiting waiting for her grandson to call, by hand-delivering them a nutritious meal. Many elderly folk cannot shop or cook for themselves. Citymeals wants you to volunteer to bring wholesome food or polite, engaging conversation to an elderly person who would like to stay connected to the outside world.
Citymeals-on-wheels also offers volunteering opportunities on Christmas, which would really super brighten someone's day who may otherwise spend it alone. Why not get together with some friends, dress up in the spirit of the holidays, and spread some cheer to some of our valued elderly community members?
The Hope Program "helps New Yorkers transcend the root causes of poverty by preparing them to find, keep and grow careers." It offers vocational, educational, and social services, and specifically training in math, computer skills, customer service, and more. With New York City's unemployment rate at 10% (40% for men and women with histories of incarceration), helping those in need find long-term employment must be a citywide priority. You can donate to The Hope Program. Or, you can volunteer by tutoring adults who are preparing to take the GED, helping adults practice interviewing skills, and keying The Hope Program in to job opportunities you hear about.
The Bowery Mission has served homeless and hungry New Yorkers since 1879. By donating, you can be one of the many who have helped the Bowery Mission "provide more than 376,700 meals, 35,400 bags of groceries, 79,900 nights of shelter and 57,400 articles of clothing, as well as showers, haircuts, 606 professional doctor’s appointments and 106 eye examinations at our in-house clinic." Damn.
If you want to help someone out face-to-face, the Bowery Mission's most popular volunteer opportunity is their meal service. You can help to prepare, serve, and clean up meals that the Mission provides to poor and homeless men, women, and children—as long as you register in advance!
If none of these charity opportunities really strikes your fancy, there's a whole DATABASE for people like you who want to help but don't know where to put your special skills! Bloomberg's NYCservice.org, launched in 2009, connects big-hearted New Yorkers to service opportunities. So, get out there this holiday season and help make life a little easier for somebody who has it rough.
And if you know of any other good holiday volunteering opportunities, please share them in the comments!