BY GABRIELE HOLTERMANN
In partnership with the New York Mets Foundation and River Fund New York, New York Cares hosted an outdoor coat and food distribution event for seniors handing out 1,200 coats at the River Fund New York in Richmond Hill on Feb. 10.
The New York Mets Foundation donated $100,000 to the New York Cares Coat Drive, which is in its 32nd year. The donation helped the organization purchase 5,000 coats for vulnerable residents across Queens.
Braving below-freezing temperatures, seniors started lining up early in the morning, with the queue stretching down several blocks from the River Fund New York location on Lefferts Boulevard.
Raphael Cordero came from Washington Heights in the Bronx with some friends to pick up a coat and food. He appreciated that the organizations came together to help out New Yorkers in need.
“Right here are nice people. They are dedicated to us,” Cordero said. “It doesn’t matter the weather, cold or hot; they are here.”
Palettes of food and cardboard boxes filled with men and women’s coats of all sizes were stacked on the sidewalk on Lefferts Boulevard, documenting the need for bare essentials. Seniors, some with canes or walkers, made their way down the line where a large number of volunteers waited for them.
Gary Bagley, the executive director of New York Cares, the largest nonprofit volunteer network in New York City, expressed his gratitude to the Mets Foundation and generous New Yorkers. Because of their donations, the organization was able to purchase 55,000 jackets this year and distribute them throughout the city with the help of nonprofit partners. However, he said more still needs to be done.
“We are also aware that it is a drop in the bucket of what needs to be done,” he said. “We are proud of how much has been done. We are daunted by how much more there is to do.”
But Bagley also viewed the event as a reason to celebrate because of the number of volunteers who had joined to hand out 1,200 coats and food.
“We are celebrating the fact that volunteers are showing up, standing out in the cold, distributing the coats, and making sure that their fellow New Yorkers have what they need to get through the coming months,” he said.
He urged New Yorkers to keep up their energy despite pandemic fatigue and said, “We need to keep up our energy so that the reopening of New York City won’t just get us back to normal, which wasn’t good enough. But that it will get us back to better than we were before this.”
Evelyn Jackson, who has been a volunteer with New York Cares for about a year, normally volunteers at food kitchens in Manhattan. Today, the Queens resident decided to help out her neighborhood and praised New York Cares for making it easy for people to sign up. She encouraged New Yorkers to lend their time to a good cause.
“Volunteering and helping other people makes you feel good. It might seem like this can be hard, but this actually helps,” she said. “Psychologically, it helps you to know that people need you and you are able to give. Just having that human interaction and connection which is so important, now more than ever.”
Alyssa DeFranco, a Cohen Foundation team member and representative for the Mets, considered the coat drive an excellent opportunity for the Mets to give back to the community and show the Cohen Foundation’s longtime support of River Fund.
“They deserve the support not only when it’s cold, not just during the pandemic, but all year round,” she said.
Swami Durga Das, founder and executive director of River Fund New York, explained that his organization received a $500,000 food grant from the Steven & Alexandra Cohen Foundation to support the most vulnerable New Yorkers. But he also clarified that this was not going to end hunger in New York City, which has worsened since the pandemic began. His organization distributed 150,000 pounds of food a week before COVID-19; now, they hand out 450,000 pounds of food a week.
“COVID is only highlighting and emphasizing the depth of the struggle we are all in,” Das said. “When COVID is over, and when we have vaccines, this line will still be here. This line was here before, and it will be here later. Unfortunately, there will be more people who are on the line.”