Holiday Gifts: The Giving Spree

In a millennial city flush with cash – though not entirely without anxiety over its excesses – why not channel some of the irrational spending exuberance of the holiday season to causes that will continue to feel worthy long after the colored lights and Christmas specials have been packed away? Our proposal: Give someone close to you the pleasure of knowing that a donation has been made in his or her name.

While writing a check may sound easier than braving the wilds of midtown on a December weekend, in fact philanthropy requires some equally savvy shopping skills. In the same way that you would never just hand your credit card to a Saks salesperson and say, “I need a gift for my mom,” it makes no sense to give blindly to a charity, no matter how worthy its mission. Besides, it’s much more satisfying to know exactly what your gift has underwritten – be it a week’s worth of groceries for the homebound elderly, legal aid for a child in foster care, or helping sponsor a research laboratory. To simplify matters, we’ve put together a charitable-shopper’s guide to a few of New York’s worthiest causes.

1. Whip up ten hot meals for a homeless New Yorker with a contribution of only $18.90 to the Coalition for the Homeless, an organization that delivers nutritious food to the city’s homeless 365 days a year. Or, for $1,300, help one formerly homeless woman rejoin the workforce through an eight-week job-skills course with follow-up counseling. Contact: Melissa Bergman, 212-964-5900, extension 172.

2. Buy one new piece of medical equipment for the research laboratories at the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation with a donation of $2,500 or more. A gift of $30,000 sponsors a yearlong postdoctoral fellowship in Parkinson’s-related research, and $500,000 covers expenses for a completely renovated and outfitted lab (five are currently needed). Contact: Robin Elliott, 212-923-4700.

3. Take action on behalf of a child in foster care with a $300 contribution to Lawyers for Children, which offers legal services to children in the foster-care system; $100,000 would pay for LFC to provide legal services for every sexually abused child in foster care who requests help this year. Contact: Glenn Metsch-Ampo, 212-966-6420.

4. Contribute to the care of a stray cat or dog with a $200 “Rescued Pet Wellness Package” at the Humane Society of New York. Upon arrival, the animal receives an examination by a veterinarian, neutering, and all inoculations and tests necessary to prepare the pet for adoption. Donors will receive a photo and bio of their sponsored pet. Contact: Susan Richmond, 212-752-4842, extension 232.

5. Underwrite a one-year personal-development program for an underprivileged teenager with a $2,000 donation to New York Youth at Risk. Your gift will enable him or her to complete a program that includes a five-day intensive retreat, as well as unlimited follow-up meetings with an adult volunteer (for six to twelve months). Contact: Kathleen Morris, 212-791-4927.

6. Spring for one week’s worth of groceries for a homebound Holocaust survivor in Brooklyn with a $50 contribution to the UJA Federation; $100 pays for a full day of outpatient care for an Alzheimer’s patient; $500 buys basic necessities for a family of five immigrants arriving in Israel from Ethiopia; $1,000 provides emergency assistance to a battered woman and her children in New York City; $18,000 will provide the services of a geriatric social worker at a local Y or community center. Contact: Norman Eisenberg, 212-980-1000.

7. Offer financial and emotional support to the family members of firefighters killed in the line of duty by giving to the Widows’ and Children’s Fund. The organization gives each surviving family member under the age of 24 a onetime gift of $500. A donation of $65 to $75 will send a fireman’s widow on a trip to see a Broadway play. Contact: Sheila Pettit, 212-545-6962.

8. Send four children living with cancer to Camp Adventure, a weeklong recreational program, by writing a check for $2,800 to the American Cancer Society. While donors giving less than $2,500 can’t designate how their gift is used, it costs $45 to provide one woman in Harlem or Bedford-Stuyvesant with a free mammogram, and $500 to transport a cancer patient to ten treatment sessions. Contact: 800-ACS-2345 or visit

9. Seed the landscape in the borough of your choice with a $15,000 gift to the Parks Council. This will enable it to work with community-based organizations to replant library and school gardens as well as smaller parks and street trees. A $1,000 gift will sponsor the renovation of the public-school garden you designate. Contact: Juliet Page, 212-838-9410, extension 228.

10. Cover the bed and board for one family for one night with a donation of $140 to the Ronald McDonald House, which provides pediatric cancer patients and their families with overnight hospitality, including comfortable rooms, kitchen facilities, and entertainment during prolonged chemotherapy treatments. Contact: Vivian Harris, 212-639-0100.

11. Supply 40 books for one of the New York Public Library’s four research libraries (the Humanities and Social Sciences Library, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, or the Science Industry and Business Library) with a Conservator’s-level membership at the New York Public Library ($1,250). Contact: Kim Fink, 212-903-0670.

12. Buy art supplies for one classroom in Bedford-Stuyvesant with a $25 donation to the Clearpool Education Center. The center partners with public schools in struggling neighborhoods to provide after-school and summer programs. Textbooks and educational supplies for one twenty-student class for a full year cost $1,000; $15,000 helps build a new playground at the Clearpool School; and $1 million is needed to build a new school facility that would expand the organization’s reach, currently from kindergarten through second grade, to include students in grades three through eight. Contact: Michael Kirkbride, 212-528-3193.

13. Underwrite a new refrigerated truck for City Harvest, which picks up excess food from restaurants and grocers and delivers the otherwise wasted meals to soup kitchens, food pantries, homeless shelters, and senior-citizen centers. Each truck costs about $150,000 – and many are needed, as available food currently exceeds freight capacity. Contact: Karen Azeez, 917-351-8700, extension 144.

14. Offer a steady job cleaning the streets of New York to a homeless man or woman through a donation to the Doe Fund. A $50 contribution purchases brooms, dustpans, and shovels for one worker; $5,000 outfits twenty workers with full uniforms; and $10,500 funds the cost of one part-time worker’s salary for a full year. Contact: George McDonald, 212-628-5207.

15. Construct a movable museum with a $1.5 million donation to the American Museum of Natural History. The 34-foot converted Winnebago – equipped with exhibits and multimedia displays – will travel to inner-city schools, libraries, and communities throughout the greater-New York area. It will focus on a natural-history subject chosen by the museum in conjunction with you. Or, for $50,000 to $100,000, send a team of scientists to the Gobi Desert to hunt for dinosaur fossils. Contact: Kristi Eppinger, 212-769-5295.

Holiday Gifts: The Giving Spree