How NYC Residential Buildings Are Giving Back for the Holidays—and How You Can, Too

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How much total do you plan to tip the building staff this year?

This season, along with Christmas trees and Hanukkah menorahs, the lobbies of many residential buildings also have empty boxes—to collect donations for New Yorkers in need. 
Real estate management companies have found that organized holiday giving instills a sense of camaraderie and community among their tenants, at a time of year when the need for warm coats and toys is particularly high. 
Manhattan Skyline, for instance, which has 15 rental properties throughout the borough, sponsors a toy drive in its buildings for Volunteers of America. Donations go to children in homeless shelters or group homes; Laurie Zucker, vice chairperson of the company, says that the drive is so popular tenants quickly fill the boxes and have to swap in new ones.

“People like to feel like they’re doing something. It’s good for building a sense of community, especially in the more family-oriented buildings.” After Hurricane Sandy, she says tenants in Skyline buildings collected toiletries and clothing for displaced victims of the storm, and so enjoyed giving back in this way that they decided to donate during the holidays as well.

She notes how simple it is to manage such a drive—after tenants donate, management delivers the boxes to Volunteers for America, where reps wrap the presents and distribute them to kids. “I feel like we hardly have to do anything, and it makes such a difference,” Zucker said. “It’s so easy to find ways to give."​
Related Rentals, which manages 18 buildings in Manhattan, has partnered with New York Cares to sponsor a coat drive in all of its locations. Senior vice president Tami Veikos says that in past years, the response to giving opportunities has been so great that they decided to broaden the initiative—now anyone can drop in to one of Related’s properties to leave behind their gently used coats.
“We’ve actually opened up the drive to the public, so they can come into any one of our locations and donate,” Veikos said. “In the past, we’ve always had a tremendous turnout, so I’m projecting that this will be a huge success as well.”  And real estate brokerage Halstead property has also joined forces with New York Cares to collect coats in 17 of its offices and 250 of its buildings. “Nearly 90 percent of homeless people need a new warm coat each winter,” says Sara Rotter, executive director of sales for downtown offices at Halstead. Given that tremendous need, the firm’s goal is to beat its 2014 record of 6,500 coats donated. 
Setting up your own fundraising drive
But just because your landlord doesn't have a charity drive in place doesn't mean you can't organize one yourself. The first step is to ask permission from your landlord, and once you obtain that—we suggest asking the super or calling the management office—Maggie Bernhard, manager of group volunteer experiences at New York Cares, says the next step is to register a collection on the organization’s website. New York Cares will then send participants all the materials they need to alert their neighbors about the drive. Typically, one resident takes responsibility for organizing; Bernhard recommends devoting a specific week to collection in order to make it more manageable. 
If you can't rally the entire building to do a formal coat drive, you can help out by participating in New York Cares’ Winter Wishes program, which partners with social service agencies, schools, and homeless centers to collect letters from children about what they want for the holidays; volunteers are then asked to answer the wishes. 
Erica Plofsky, manager of community and media relations at New York Cares, says that a remarkable 42,000 gift requests have already been fulfilled this year, but New Yorkers can still contribute in a number of ways. New York Cares offers an impressive range of projects to take part in, including caring for shelter animals, beautifying neighborhoods, and visiting nursing homes. To get involved, individuals must first attend a brief orientation session, but for groups, only one member needs to do so. 
Also, consider volunteering at soup kitchens. Masbia operates three locations in Brooklyn and Queens, as well as distributes groceries, and is seeking volunteers to take on roles for everything from washing dishes to fundraising. In addition, the Food Bank of New York City accepts volunteers to help staff its community kitchens, serve dinners, and sort food donations. 
And working with Habitat for Humanity allows for not only giving back, but getting a head start on fitness resolutions for the new year. Habitat for Humanity NYC’s Winter Warriors program asks volunteers to work on construction sites throughout the chilly months, building new homes and repairing those still damaged by Hurricane Sandy. 
Beyond Hanukkah, Christmas and New Year
It’s important to remember that while there’s a push to give back during the holiday season, there's much work to be done all year round, Plofsky says. “Just because you’re not volunteering on Christmas doesn’t mean you can’t be volunteering in February and March, when New Yorkers still need meals served to them and parks still need to be cleaned up.” She adds that New York Cares places an emphasis on education, and needs volunteers for tutoring and helping students raise their test scores. 
“There are so many ways to get involved and make a difference,” Plofsky said. “Since a lot people’s resolutions are to volunteer more, we encourage them to look at our website for opportunities.”
The season of giving back, after all, doesn't end on December 31st.