Helping Our Youngest New Neighbors

Columnist calls for all New Yorkers to get behind Open Hearts Initiative to donate supplies that will help babies of asylum seekers. If you want to lend a helping hand, the latest drive runs only through April 5.

| 01 Apr 2024 | 04:07

Having lived in New York for 35 years, I have always believed that my city is a generous and welcoming place, one ultimately made stronger by our diversity. Over centuries, New York has provided the space for those who have been marginalized to settle and flourish, from the African Americans during the Great Migration who birthed the Harlem Renaissance; to the LGBTQ+ civil rights advocates who lived boldly, freely, and unapologetically; to waves of immigrants from around the world.

That’s one of the reasons I got involved as a volunteer with the Open Hearts Initiative, a new nonprofit started during the pandemic to help neighbors help neighbors who are struggling with homelessness. OHI advises and provides support for groups of neighbors who want to get to know and offer their skills to individuals and families staying in local homeless shelters while fighting for a world without homelessness. This can look like giving water bottles and granola bars to people experiencing street homelessness on the sidewalks and subways, writing messages of welcome in handmade cards or even in chalk on the sidewalks, and contacting our elected representatives about issues that matter!

Over the last two years, we have welcomed nearly 200,000 people seeking asylum from around the world. I know their presence has stressed some of our collective resources, but they have also given us the opportunity to step up and live out our values as New Yorkers. Recently, I learned about an even more special category of vulnerable people that need our compassion, the newborns and toddlers who either migrated as young children with their families or were born after their family arrived in New York. I call them the Newest New New Yorkers!

According to one estimate, at least 300 asylum-seekers have had babies while receiving assistance from New York City Health +Hospitals. These cuties are using 2.1 million baby wipes, 400,000 diapers, and almost 100,000 bottles of food/formula. For those of you who are parents, the average cost for powdered formula for babies who are formula-fed exclusively is $400 to $800 a month! It’s critical that new parents have the supplies they need to take care of their children so that they are properly fed, clothed, and cared for during this pivotal period in their growth and development. As neighbors, we have an opportunity to help our “newest” New Yorkers get off to a good start.

Recently, Midtown East and Lower East Side Assemblymember Harvey Epstein has teamed up with Manhattan State Senator Liz Kreuger and Open Hearts Initiative to start a Baby Supplies Drive for the youngest neighbors at a shelter serving asylum-seekers. Donations are being accepted of new undershirts (sizes 0-4T), socks, strollers, car seats, diapers, wipes, bottles, blankets, carriers, and, of course, baby formula. Until the end of March, during the week from 11 am through 4 pm, you can drop off donations at Assemblymember Epstein’s District Office at 107 Avenue B, or, even easier, you can make an online donation to the Amazon Wish List site that’s been set up at or a monetary donation at (the donation will be made to the Open Hearts Initiative, who will use the money to fulfill outstanding needs).

While it’s important to keep these littlest ones in formula and other supplies, it’s well worth knowing that in January 2024, according to data shared by the New York City Comptroller, there were 53,331 individuals in families with children within the asylum-seeker population being sheltered by the city. This was 78% of all of the asylum-seekers being sheltered by the City. And as of August 2023, about 19,000 asylum-seeking students enrolled in NYC public schools. Throughout the child’s growth, there are vital ways for community members to offer support. If you have a child in public schools, you might reach out to your parent coordinator or staff and reach out to asylum-seekers who have recently. joined your school community. You might partner with one of the 200+ migrant shelters across the City to offer an arts-and-crafts class or a storytime. You might collect seasonal items that migrants aren’t likely to have or afford, like sports equipment for the summer or backpacks when it’s time to go back to school in the fall. The possibilities are endless, and you can involve your own kids to model kindness and compassion across generations.

It’s in all of our interests that our youngest are well cared for, because they represent the future of our neighborhoods and city. Let’s make it brighter.

Christopher Murray is a social worker and writer who is a member of the Midtown chapter of the Open Hearts Initiative.

Bennett Reinhardt

Advocacy Coordinator and Neighborhood Organizer

Open Hearts Initiative