Local residents will soon be getting into the spirit of giving. Lifting Up Westchester (LUW), a nonprofit agency which provides homeless and poverty services to individuals throughout Westchester County, has commenced its second annual Holiday LIFT campaign, which kicks off on November 4. The campaign offers multiple opportunities for the community to spread holiday cheer and lift the spirits of Westchester’s men, women and children in need.
Holiday LIFT activities will include distributing warm coats and winter clothing, providing 2,000 holiday meals from the LUW soup kitchen, filling and distributing 500 holiday food bags, and wrapping and delivering hundreds of gifts. It will take an army of volunteers to get it done.
“It’s heartwarming to see the community come together during the holiday season to make sure that everyone has a special meal, receives a small gift or has warm clothing for winter,” explained Anahaita Kotval, executive director. “It’s particularly touching to see people of diverse religious and ethnic traditions helping our clients celebrate holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas or making a special effort to share their own heritage and traditions with our clients.
THE DIVERSITY OF GIVING
Bringing Good Luck and Fortune to Men at Open Arms
New Rochelle resident Chi Chen of the New York Tzu Chi Foundation “discovered” LUW in 2015 when LUW’s Open Arms Men’s Shelter was undergoing renovation and help was needed for food preparation for its clients. The timing was ideal as it coincided with the Chinese (Lunar) New Year.
Chi and his organization decided to share some of their holiday traditions with the homeless men at Open Arms by treating them to a special Chinese meal and a Lion Dance which is normally performed during the first few days of the Chinese New Year. The dance chases away evil spirits with loud sounds such as beating drums, clashing cymbals, and resounding gongs and the lion’s tail sweeps away the bad fortune and unpleasantness of the previous year, a symbol they felt was especially apropos for shelter residents, all of whom have faced enormous challenges.
Chi’s group concluded the evening by handing out a gift of a blanket made with recycled plastic bottles and a red envelope containing a good fortune coin to bring luck and prosperity for the coming year. “We wanted to treat each person at Open Arms as we would treat our own family members – no matter what ethnicity, race, religion. We support each other to help ease the pain of hard times as everyone encounters a variety of obstacles in our human existence.” Chi explains.
Eight Nights of Hanukkah, One for a Brighter Future
Four years ago, when Scarsdale residents Jen Premisler and her husband, Eric, were looking for a place for their sons to donate gifts for the holidays she found LUW through a Google search. The family had started a tradition in which their sons would forgo receiving a Hanukkah gift one night in order to give a gift to someone in need. Her Google search revealed Lifting Up Westchester’s holiday wish list for the hundreds of homeless and economically disadvantaged children in their Brighter Futures After-School Mentoring Program.
Premisler shared the list with a few other moms in town and what started as a small email chain went viral. Together they were able to secure many of the gifts on the list. Since then, she has engaged the help of social media, White Pains friends, Lauren and Michael Kraver and Girl Scout Troop #2790 and the result has been a huge outpouring of support from families in Westchester, New Jersey and Long Island. Last year, they provided more than 180 gifts and gift cards for the Brighter Futures children.
“As much as this is about Lifting Up Westchester and the kids who benefit from the holiday gift drive, for us it was, and continues to be, about ensuring that our kids understand not everyone is as fortunate as they are during the holidays, and even all year long,” Premisler says. “Teaching our children and exposing them early to moral responsibilities and compassion is imperative. We talk to them about ‘looking for the helpers,’ the famous Mr. Rogers quote about how, in times of need, look for the helpers. We want our kids to be those helpers.”
Indian Orthodox Women Warming Westchester Souls, One Individual at a Time
Ammu Paulose has been a supporter of LUW for nearly 20 years, when she joined her Indian Orthodox church, St. Mary’s in serving meals at Grace’s Kitchen, LUW’s soup kitchen in the heart of White Plains. Paulose went on to organize clothing drives for the agency, and her volunteering didn’t stop there.
For the past three years, Paulose and her friends have been packing holiday food bags which include a grocery store gift card. She believes that’s important because many of the families who receive their holiday food bags are vegetarian or prefer something other than turkey or ham for their holiday meals. Receiving a gift card gives them the dignity of purchasing their family’s favorite holiday foods so that they can uphold important cultural traditions.
“We have a joyous time making these bags around Thanksgiving,” Paulose explains. “Members from our women’s auxiliary, the Marth Mariam Vanitha Samajam (MMVS), love shopping for and packing the bags. It’s important to be sensitive to the fact that not everyone celebrates the same holiday” or celebrates it in the same way.
The MMVS volunteers bring their purchases to the church, pack the bags together and then deliver them to LUW’s main office. The entire process is inspiring and uplifting to each and every woman involved, according to Paulose. “We believe in helping local charitable organizations and local people. Our parish is in White Plains and Lifting Up Westchester is in our back yard. How can we not help our own neighbors?” she says.
Aiding the Servant of His Brother, a Muslim Tradition of Giving
Nosh Khurram has always believed in the importance of community service, as the Quran preaches that service to mankind is the essence of Islam. Nosh has been involved with LUW for two years after identifying the organization in a search to find a social services nonprofit to align with. Through a unique online snack drive campaign implemented through Launchgood, she and her husband, Syed, requested family and friends, and other Facebook and Instagram social media followers to send in donations. Their first campaign netted $500 worth of donations and the subsequent one around $650, all of which went to providing snacks for the kids at the LUW’s Brighter Futures afterschool mentoring program.
“It is very important for us to give back to our community and beyond. As Muslims, it is at the core of our belief system to give from what we have no matter how little it is. At Nosh Kay, my online accessories boutique, a percentage of our profits go to an international nonprofit; we wanted to extend the efforts to the community we live in.”
HOW TO GET INVOLVED WITH LUW HOLIDAY LIFT
Below are some other ways that the community can help LUW provide 2,000 holiday meals, fill 500 holiday food bags and provide gifts for hundreds of children and families in need:
- Organize a food drive and involve your neighborhood, school, religious organization or community group. Foods needed most are turkeys, hams, instant mashed potatoes, gravy mix, stuffing, canned vegetables, canned cranberries, cake and brownie mixes.
- Donate the free turkeys that many grocery stores give away at Thanksgiving or Christmas.
- Donate $10-$25 grocery store gift cards for food bags given to vegetarians and families who traditionally eat something other than turkey and ham for their holiday meals.
- Donate NEW gloves, hats and scarves for residents of the Open Arms Men’s Shelter and Samaritan House Women’s Shelter.
- Donate sports balls, board games and multi-cultural dolls for the children and teenagers in the Brighter Futures Youth Programs.
- Donate money online at www.liftingupwestchester.org or help fill in any gaps or last-minute needs
For specific date and timing information on Holiday LIFT activities, please contact the Community Outreach Department via email at email@example.com or call (914) 949-3098 ext. 9735 or visit https://www.liftingupwestchester.org/holiday-lift/
About Lifting Up Westchester
Lifting Up Westchester (www.liftingupwestchester.org) is a 501 (c)(3) organization whose mission is to restore hope to Westchester County’s men, women and children in need by providing them with food, shelter and support- lifting them to greater self-sufficiency with dignity and respect. It is one of the largest social services agencies in Westchester County and has been fulfilling its mission since 1979 through the operation of eight community-based programs. The agency serves 4,500 men, women and children each year providing 140,000 meals to the hungry and 28,000 nights of shelter to the homeless. For more information, visit www.liftingupwestchester.org or contact Chris Schwartz at firstname.lastname@example.org.