Christmas approaches this year as the city heads for yet another lockdown, and the holiday season could not be more different from the years past – even Dyker Lights are not shining as bright, in an attempt to keep the virus from spreading.
For many families this year, the budgets are tighter than ever. With unemployment rates in Brooklyn in the high teens, some Brooklyn families might not be able to afford the traditional Christmas Day festivities. Christmas Spirit, however, is going strong in Brooklyn, as organizations are collecting gifts, holding events, and aiming to spread holiday cheer to children in need.
If you can help brighten the season, here are some ways to participate:
Bed-Stuy Gateway Business Improvement District
Bed-Stuy’s Business Improvement District (BID) partnered with Vulcan Society, an organization of Black firefighters, to host a toy drive for underprivileged kids throughout New York City with Assemblywoman Stefani Zinerman. The toy drive will run from 11 am to 3 pm every weekend through Dec 20, and everyone who brings a toy will qualify for a socially distanced picture with both Mr. and Mrs. Claus.
Park Slope 5th Ave Business Improvement District
In a little red mailbox at the front gate of The Old Stone House and Washington Park, a historic site and park conservatory, Park Slope 5th Ave BID will collect letters to Santa Claus up until Christmas Eve. After the letters are dropped off, the BID will deliver them to Santa Claus.
Bay Ridge 5th Ave Business Improvement District
In Bay Ridge, Pam Pazarecki, owner of P.C. Bar and Grill, other local bars and restaurants, and the Bay Ridge 5th Ave BID, ran the “Count on Us Toy Drive,” which ended on Dec 9. The toy drive collected new, unwrapped gifts for children 0-16, said Pazarecki, and also accepted gift cards. Although the toy drive has officially ended, said Pazareck, and she has already begun to distribute the collected items to the 14 donation organizations the toy drive worked with, if anyone still wishes to donate to the toy drive, they can drop off items at Bean Post Pub in Bay Ridge.
North Brooklyn Mutual Aid
In partnership with Paulie Gee’s Slice Shop, North Brooklyn Mutual Aid (NBKMA) is collecting new, unwrapped toys in addition to monetary donations for their holiday toy drive, said Shana Kimball, NBMA Team Lead. NBKMA will collect toys until Dec 20 at Paulie Gee’s Slice Shop, Noble & Franklin Street at 110 Franklin Street. The toys will then will distribute them to families in need in North Brooklyn.
The organization will also distribute warm meals on Christmas Day, said Natalie Green, Coordinator for NBKMA.
South Brooklyn Mutual Aid
The South Brooklyn Mutual Aid (SBKMA) will run “The People’s Winter Market,” a free community store in Sunset Park from Dec 19-23. At the Winter Market, parents who sign up for the Market will have the opportunity to pick out toys for their children and wrap them at a gift wrapping station. “For Covid-19 safety reasons,” reads an Instagram post by SBMA, “we are encouraging parents to leave their kids at home. Our ideal situation is that a parent comes in, picks toys for their family, and we wrap them on site.”
The Winter’s Market will not ask for “proof” of identification for children, says The Winter Market’s website. “In communities like ours, we know parents are often forced to bring their children in order to show “proof” that they need or warrant social services. We don’t and instead want to offer dignity to parents to be able to provide gifts for their children without ever having to share that SBKMA was involved,” it added. The Winter Market will also distribute free winter clothing in the back of the Market for parents to grab.
To find locations to donate toys or clothing and top local stores to buy from, visit The Winter Market’s donation page.
Brooklyn Toys for Tots
Toys for Tots has set up a number Drop off Sites throughout Brooklyn. Although Toys for Tots’ last collection day ended on Dec 14, donors can still contact the organization if they want to either drop off toys or have a worker pick them up. Toy distribution will begin on Dec 16 and continue until Dec 21.
Operation Christmas Smiles
77078 New Utrecht Avenue Brooklyn, NY 11214
Operation Christmas Smiles, a Christmas Day party held by Reaching-Out Community Services Inc., provides presents to over 1,000 children who are registered with the group’s food program.
Typically, Operation Christmas Smiles conducts an indoor event, which consists of a “Meet and Greets with Santa” event, face painting, and a magic show. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Operation Christmas Smiles will not hold an indoor event, although they will distribute toys through an outdoor event.
Donations can be made on the Reaching-Out Community Services website, and
Catholic Charities Brooklyn and Queens’ Toy Shop Distribution, St. Vincent Ferrer Church, 925 East 37th Street, Brooklyn, NY 11210
Catholic Charities Brooklyn and Queens (CCBQ) is hosting a “Toy Shop Distribution” event to help low-income families pick out Christmas gifts for their children. The event will take place on Dec 22 from 9 am to 5 pm and is also free as long as adults register beforehand. One registration can count for up to 10 children, according to the CCBQ’s Eventbrite page. The event is only open to adults; children are not allowed. To receive gifts, participants must wear a mask and social distance. Registration is open to only one adult per family, and each adult must bring valid identification for themselves and hard copies of birth certificates for each of their children.
New York Cares’ Winter Wishes Program
Every year, teenagers and children from New York Cares Winter Wishes Program’s partner organizations throughout New York City send their Christmas wish to the Program. The Program then matches each wish to a “wish granter,” who afterward buys their assigned gift and sends it back to the agency for distribution.
This year, the Program will focus its initiatives on family shelters, public housing facilities, and Title I public schools in neighborhoods most significantly impacted by COVID-19, like East New York, said Erica Lockwood, Director of Marketing and Communications at New York Cares.
Due to COVID-19, the Program will conduct a smaller gift-giving to comply with social distancing restrictions.
However, every “wished” gift request has been matched to the Program’s 23 corporate sponsors, said Lockwood. “We had nearly 5,000 gift requests” in East New York, Lockwood said. Many of these requests were from local schools. After a “wish” has been made, New York Cares does their best to match the request and fill it for what the children need, said Lockwood.
“Whether that’s clothes, games, or supportive electronic equipment,” as long as it is within the $40 price range,” said Lockwood. “It depends on what the various needs of that community is,” Lockwood added. Although there is a constant need for item requests, this year “there is an overwhelming need” which is “constantly increasing,” said Lockwood. “We’ve never seen unemployment rates like this since the Great Depression. There is such an overwhelming need, specifically in schools and areas most impacted by the pandemic,” said Lockwood.
All of the Winter Wishes Program’s gift requests have been filled this year, but New York Cares still needs winter coats, said, Lockwood. To find out more about how and where to donate winter coats, visit the New York Cares Coat Drive 2020 website. Additional information on the community outreach can be found there as well.
New York Cares can never fully meet the needs of the communities they serve, said Lockwood. However, New York Cares’ Winter Wishes Program and the 2020 Coat Drive are two of the ways “those with the greatest needs, specifically at the time of the pandemic, are supported,” said Lockwood.