Hit Those Closets: Your Neighbors Need Coats

Aniyah Jones, 9, searches through a pile of coats at the East Harlem Asthma Center of Excellence. New York Cares, which organizes an annual citywide coat drive, is facing a shortage of coat donations in a winter with below-average temperatures. (Joanna Plucinska/NY City Lens)

Aniyah Jones, 9, searches through a pile of coats at the East Harlem Asthma Center of Excellence. New York Cares, which organizes an annual citywide coat drive, is facing a shortage of coat donations in a winter with below-average temperatures. (Joanna Plucinska/NY City Lens)

Despite record-low temperatures this year, New Yorkers are donating fewer coats for people who need them.

New York Cares, which runs an annual citywide coat drive, has struggled to collect enough coats to fill all the needs of New York’s poor. Agencies this year applied for 106,000 coats, but so far, only 46,000 have been collected, down significantly from last year. Yet, in a year where temperatures in the city dropped as low as five degrees, the coats are more necessary than ever.

Gary Bagley, the executive director of New York Cares, is disappointed in the lack of donations. He speculates that the slowdown this year has to do with the spike in donations last year. After Hurricane Sandy, New York Cares received more than 123,000 coats — almost 40,000 more than they usually expect to get. But now, “People would say, ‘I gave you one last year, I don’t have one to give you this year,’” Bagley said.

Not all of the coats collected have made it to NYCares’ Central distribution warehouse on West 31st, though, slowing down the donation process significantly. Coats must first be sorted at the warehouse before they can be distributed to the agencies in need. While NYCares picks up coats from police precincts, it’s the responsibility of every other drop-off location to bring in the coats themselves. NYCares tries to encourage stores to drop off coats as soon as they can, in order to meet the shortage. “We will send out reminder emails and encouragement emails,” Bagley said.

Those emails haven’t necessarily worked. Mylandria Maldonado is an assistant manager at a Storage Post in Ridgewood, Queens. Her store is a designated drop-off location for New York Cares. She says that the drop-off box there is overflowing, with new coats coming in on a regular basis. She estimates that more than 300 coats have been donated in the past few months, but they have yet to be taken to New York Cares.

Other sites are on top of it. Maria Kiropoulos, the owner of Tees to Tiaras in Whitestone, Queens, says that her site has dropped off a collection of coats in late December. That doesn’t mean the donations have slowed down, though. “This month has really sparked,” Kiropoulos said. “We have about eight or nine bags downstairs.” She plans on making another drop-off soon.

This year’s shortage of give-away coats at the distribution center has repercussions for people like Tiss Jones, 30. She lost her seasonal position at NYC Parks and Recreation and could no longer afford to buy a coat for her 9-year-old daughter, Aniyah. At the end of last year, she was turned away from the free coat drive at the East Harlem Asthma Center of Excellence — there simply weren’t enough coats to go around. “We wanted to get a small coat, but they told me to come back in January,” Jones said.

Jones was not the only one. Marta Reyes runs the coat distribution program at the Asthma Center. Its program has been up and running since Nov. 18 and has given out approximately 2,200 coats — a number that barely meets the demand, Reyes said. People in need of coats have come from all corners of New York City — from Staten Island, Brooklyn and even the Bronx — but there simply aren’t enough for all of them. Regardless of the distance traveled, Reyes says volunteers have had to turn some people away. “Those were sad days,” Reyes said. “We always would tell them to come back the following week or we would encourage them to try another center.”

Reyes is concerned about the impact this will have on the health of those turned away, especially the homeless. Without a coat, the risk of hypothermia and serious respiratory illness is palpable. “Your body temperature can drop in a matter of minutes,” Reyes said. She hopes that more coats come in both to her center and throughout the rest of the city soon.

She suspects that the shortage has to do with a lack of outreach by New York Cares. She worries that New Yorkers simply don’t know about the need. “They weren’t able to get the advertisement slots they did last year so a lot of people didn’t know,” Reyes said.

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