How NYC buildings get residents in the holiday spirit

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While many New Yorkers might prefer to maintain a low-key (or even non-existent) relationship with their neighbors, that attitude can shift come holiday season—especially at the close of a year that has had some dramatic ups and downs. This month, buildings throughout the city are encouraging their residents to join forces and get into the festive spirit through charitable giving and holiday celebrations, and some have devised particularly unique ways to make a positive impact. 

Giving back

One holiday tradition is coat and food drives, with collection boxes appearing in building lobbies throughout the boroughs. John Wollberg, executive vice president and managing director at Halstead Property, says that Halstead coordinates with its residential buildings to encourage residents to think charitably. The company's philanthropic arm, Halstead Helping Hands, has partnered with New York Cares to hold coat drives; last year, Halstead residents donated over 4,000 coats. "Once the cold weather hits, everyone kind of gets it," he says. "We get such great feedback from residents." 

There are also hunger relief organizations like the Food Bank for New York City, the largest group of its kind in New York and serving 63 million meals annually through its network. The nonprofit accepts both food and monetary donations, says Carol Schneider, associate director of media relations, who explains that while canned goods are always welcome, donating online is the best route for residences looking to help hungry New Yorkers. The organization will match donations up to $500,000 through the end of the month, so this is a great time to fundraise with neighbors. 

"A lot of people want to do food drives and we truly appreciate them, but we also have to use trucks, gas, and personnel [to accept food]. Donating online is so much more cost effective," Schneider says. 

Another option for neighbors—or individuals—is to volunteer in person at one of the Food Bank's soup kitchens, pantries, or warehouses; Schneider notes that the organization needs 800 volunteers every week to help prepare, serve, and deliver food. 

Elsewhere, busy New Yorkers have found quick and easy ways to do their part. Instrata Lifestyle Residences, for example, which manages properties in Manhattan and Brooklyn, helped tenants make a difference remotely, through a Thanksgiving social media contest called #Instratagiving. Residents submitted photos of what they were most thankful for, and for each image, Instrata donated a meal to the Food Bank. 

In SoHo, one homeowner is opening his townhouses to the public to raise money for the fight against breast cancer. Tech investor Arthur Becker owns two homes at 40 and 50 Sullivan Street, and until January 8th, New Yorkers can drop in to view an interior design showcase. The event is coordinated by Holiday House NYC, which was founded by breast cancer survivor Iris Danker; the organization has staged design presentations at properties throughout the city. Tickets cost $40, with proceeds going to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. 

Some brokers, too, are finding ways to give this year. Melissa Cohn, who heads her own mortgage loan firm, says she was inspired to donate to Win, a nonprofit shelter provider that helps thousands of homeless women find housing each year.

"I provide mortgages to people who are living in New York City splendor, and recognizing that there are women without a roof over their head, let alone a mortgage to buy something amazing, makes me compelled, especially at this holiday time of year, to contribute," Cohn explains. 

Bringing residents together through holiday celebrations 

Many New Yorkers are transplants, and may not have family nearby with whom to spend the holidays. To that end, some buildings go beyond the usual lobby Christmas tree and Chanukah menorah and throw holiday parties to give residents and staff a chance to get together.

John Wollberg says that his entire building comes together in the lobby for a holiday potluck; everyone brings their favorite cookie recipe, and children do holiday crafts. "It's the one time where I see the whole community get together and foster some good relationships," he says. "You meet new neighbors, and get to know everyone you see in the elevators but hadn't spoken to before." 

His family also has an annual tradition that could be the answer for New Yorkers suffering from holiday season loneliness: Wollberg hosts a dinner at his apartment and invites all his building staff. "We didn't want to necessarily just hand them a check or hand them cash. We have the party and they leave with a gift. It's unique, and people tell us nobody's ever done this in the building before," he says. 

Gathering a group to volunteer is another feel-good alternative to the traditional Christmas dinner; Curbed has a list of NYC organizations seeking holiday season volunteers here

Finally, it's important to keep in mind that the outpouring of charity during the holidays is often followed by a comparatively quiet January and February. "Hunger does not take a holiday," Schneider points out. "In those cold months of January and February, though, the issue is not as at the top of everybody's minds, so we really appreciate the volunteers coming and assisting us then."