Miracle on 100th Street


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A holiday without presents awaited the needy kids of Manhattan Valley. But our readers changed that glum prospect — and now, the toddlers and preteens will gets hats and scarfs, toys and teddy bears.


Photos



  • Carmen Quinones, president of the tenants association at the Frederick Douglass Houses in Manhattan Valley. Photo courtesy of Carmen Quinones




  • Carmen Quinones (first row at right), shown here with tenants and cops at the Frederick Douglass Houses in Manhattan Valley. Photo courtesy of Carmen Quinones




It was a close call: Christmas — or at least the traditional gift-giving that accompanies it — was almost called off for the children of the Frederick Douglass Houses on the Upper West Side.

The annual holiday party hosted by Carmen Quinones, president of the tenants association at the 18-building housing development, was facing likely cancellation because of a lack of funds.

Now, it’s back on track. The kids of Manhattan Valley will once again be showered with presents and love. And the generosity of the readers of The West Side Spirit and Our Town made it all possible.

“There are angels with big hearts right here in New York, and they all came forward for the children,” Quinones said. “God is good.”

We’re not the business of tooting our own horn. Our mission is to cover news, events and features in our Manhattan communities.

But our reporters and editors take great pride when outcomes and results reap benefits in our readership areas.

This is a story about a story. Specifically, an article — “Gifts of the Magi” — that ran on Nov. 8 in four papers published by Straus News and told of faltering fundraising efforts to stage a joyous little party for 125-plus needy kids whose parents simply can’t afford to buy Christmas gifts.

The event, which takes place at 830 Columbus Avenue off 100th Street on Three Kings Day, a holiday that is hugely popular in the Caribbean and falls this year on Jan. 6, is a life-saver for the residents of Frederick Douglass.

No wonder: Average annual family income in public housing is $24,423. Every single day, residents struggle to get by. After necessary spending for food and shelter, there’s seldom enough left over for gifts.

And that’s where Quinones comes in. A veteran community organizer and resident of the 4,500-apartment complex for 43 years, she’s paid most of the party’s costs out of her own pocket in years past.

Neighbors have branded her a “one-woman Santa Claus.” A mother of three, grandmother of 19 and great-grandmother of four, she loves to purchase and disburse stuffed animals, teddy bears, Cinderella dolls, Disney figures, flashing trucks, educational videos, heart-shaped items.

This year, Quinones wanted to add to the offerings. Frederick Douglass often lacks heat and hot water, so she was determined to buy hats and gloves and scarfs to keep the kids warm on frigid wintry days.

But she needed a little bit of help to pull it off. She had lost her father. She was battered by Hurricane Maria when she went to Puerto Rico to bury him. She barely survived. Her lupus worsened. Related health problems resulted in financial pressures. It was all pretty daunting.

THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS

So Quinones made a Facebook appeal for $2,000 to help underwrite food and gifts. The paper you’re holding in your hands or reading online related her story. And the checks, small and large, soon started flowing.

Cosmin Maiorescu, a Romanian immigrant who has lived on West 17th Street in Chelsea since settling in the U.S. 11 years ago, is unemployed. But that didn’t stop him from wrapping up a $10 bill and mailing it to Quinones.

“I think you are a hero!” he told her in a letter. “Please accept my little help. It’s not that much, but it’s coming from a big heart.”

In an interview, the 35-year-old Maiorescu, a freelance photographer, said he knows what it’s like to not possess much, to not afford much and to receive no presents at holiday time.

But that does not strip a person of the giving spirit.

“If I have to I’ll skip a meal, I’ll skip a meal,” he said. “Your story just moved something inside of me, and whatever I have, I want to give something back. The city has been very good to me, and it’s the right thing to do.”

Before long, I was even hearing from my 90-something mother Barbara Feiden, who wrote in an email, “Your article on the Douglass residents got at least one very modest contribution — from me.”

But it was longtime Upper East Side resident Donna Golkin whose largesse — she wrote a personal check for $1,800 — ultimately tipped the scales.

“The children of Frederick Douglass should know just how special they are – and that they receive what all children SHOULD be receiving at this special time of the year,” she said.

Golkin said she was moved by Quinones’ determination that the kids have a “magical holiday season” and felt fortunate that she, along with others, could help her achieve her goal.

But make no mistake, she added, “This incredible woman is doing the heavy-lifting here on behalf of all these wonderful children.”

“It is an incredible feeling for people to realize that even strangers care about them,” Golkin said. “And I hope that gives Carmen and the parents of the children some comfort.

Indeed it does: “My heart is so full,” Quinones said. “God sent another angel.” Now, she’s off to buy presents for the kids.

invreporter@strausnews.com





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