The New York Times ran the first of its series of articles, "Invisible Child", on Monday, which follows the life of 12 year old Dasani, who is one of the more than 22,000 homeless children in New York City. The series was written by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Andrea Elliott, who began following Dasani when she was 11 years old and living at the Auburn Family Residence in Brooklyn, one of the most notoriously depressing homeless shelters for families in the city. Dasani and her family, which includes her mother, Chanel, her stepfather, Supreme, and eight siblings, share a congested room at the shelter, while all around their neighborhood relentless gentrification leaves them further behind on the economic food chain. According to Elliott, you could fill every seat in Madison Square Garden with the city's homeless children and still need seats for 4800 more. In a city that is the top metropolis for billionaires, with 96 of the world's richest individuals based here, according to an article last month in The International Business Times, that is a disgraceful statistic.
The Children's Aid Society has been helping children in poverty to succeed and thrive for over 160 years. The C.A.S. is a private charitable organization based here in New York City. It serves over 70,000 children per year, providing foster care, medical and mental health services, and a wide range of educational, recreational and advocacy services through dozens of community centers, a Children's Aid operated charter school in the Bronx, camps and other locations in the New York City area. The organization was founded in 1853 by philanthropist Charles Loring Brace in order to "ensure the physical and emotional well being of children and families and to provide each child with the support and opportunities needed to become a happy, healthy and productive adult". Loring is considered the father of the modern foster care movement and was most renowned for starting the Orphan Train movement of the mid-19th century. He was an outspoken abolitionist who was so deeply moved by Charles Darwin's "Origin of Species" he read it thirteen times. A minister by training, Brace was appalled by the thousands of abandoned, abused and orphaned children on the streets of New York at the time. His legacy, The Children's Aid Society, was rated 4/4 stars by charities rating organization Charity Navigator for a record breaking 12th consecutive year in 2012.
On Sunday, December 8th, over 100 volunteers, organized by the Hogs & Heifers Saloon in the Meatpacking District, rode their motorcycles to the Dunlevy-Milbank Center in Harlem to bring gifts and a holiday meal to approximately 300 children and their families from The Children's Aid Society's Preventive Services Program in the Bronx and Upper Manhattan. The event marked the 14th annual Gary R. Marano Memorial Toy Run for Hogs & Heifers, which carries on a tradition started by the founder of the Raccoon Lodge, Gary Marano, who died in a motorcycle accident in May, 2000. According to long time Raccoon Lodge patron and good friend of Marano's, Michael McGuire, the annual toy run, which would turn 83rd Street and Amsterdam Avenue into a sea of Harley-Davidsons for one day every December, was the thing that Marano liked best about being a bar owner. After a sailing accident in the Bahamas, in which Marano became shipwrecked and lost at sea for four days, he told Michelle Dell, the owner of Hogs & Heifers here in NYC and Las Vegas, that if anything ever happened to him, she had to keep his Christmas toy run alive.
The Children's Aid Society took the place of Marano's original beneficiary, The St. Mary's Children's Hospital, in Queens, back in 2011, because the organization is better equipped to deal with the massive turn out of volunteers and donations each year. Dell also saw the change to The C.A.S. as an opportunity to turn the event into an interactive experience, one where volunteers can engage more with The C.A.S. clients through arts and crafts activities such as Sunday's face painting, stocking decorating, ornament making and raffle. Volunteers also helped the kids pick out a toy, by accompanying them to tables overflowing with donated gifts. Employees from the saloon did the face painting on the kids, and Horny Mike and Ryan Evans of History Channel's reality show, "Counting Cars" flew in on the red eye from Vegas to do airbrush duty on the stockings. Hogs & Heifers reaches out to volunteers through social media and e-mail blasts, asking for donations of toys and gift cards, and they also raise cash which is presented in check form to The C.A.S. According to Dell, Hogs & Heifers raised $18,000 this year, as well as $1200,00 to $1500,00 in gift and metro cards. She presented the check to Alirio Guerrero, the Director of Preventive Services at The Children's Aid Society at the Dunlevy-Milbank Center on Sunday.
Addressing the crowd of volunteers and C.A.S. clients on Sunday, Dell said "As adults we've really messed up this world, and now it's up to the kids. We've done enough damage." Dell herself feels the most powerful aspect of the annual Toys For Tots run is that it breaks down boundaries through the different cultural groups that come together to share the experience and thrill of giving and receiving. Dell has owned Hogs & Heifers for 21 years, and, in her words, has "created a family" of Hogs & Heifers patrons, and she sees it as a mandate to "create events where we give back to our community." Talking about Sunday's event, Dell recounted meeting a woman that day who tearfully told her "C.A.S. swept in and rescued me and helped me get back on my feet." For Dell, that was very humbling to hear. Dell said she realized that "the tables could easily turn for any one of us at any time." "I have a business and a home. Sandy could have easily wiped us out" she said, recalling the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy's destructive path through Manhattan's downtown business districts, where Hogs & Heifers is located. "We need to always remain grateful, and pay it forward."
The Children's Aid Society
150 East 45th Street
New York, NY 10017
212 949 4800
Hogs & Heifers
859 Washington Street
New York, NY 10014
212 929 0655