The New York Times Neediest Cases
About The Neediest Cases Fund
For more than 100 years, The New York Times has asked readers for contributions to its Neediest Cases Fund, to give direct assistance to troubled children, families and elders. The money is distributed to individuals through the fund’s eight participating New York charitable agencies, often in small amounts targeted to specific needs. This year is the Fund’s 105th annual campaign and runs from Nov. 13 through Feb. 10.
Each profile illustrated by the New York Times is story of those who benefited from the fund and shows the difference that even a modest amount of money can make.
Thanks to a collaboration with the New York Times and GoFundMe, 100% of the amount donated will go directly to support one of these great causes. In addition, The New York Times Company pays all administrative costs of the Neediest Cases Fund so that every gift goes directly to serve the needy.
On Christmas day, 1911, Adolph S. Ochs, publisher of The New York Times, went out for a walk after a big turkey dinner, and encountered a shabbily dressed man on the street. The man said he had just been given Christmas dinner at a Y.M.C.A. but had nowhere to sleep. The publisher looked him over, decided he looked respectable and gave him a few dollars and his card. “If you’re looking for a job,” he said, “come see me tomorrow.”
The encounter left the publisher thinking about charity. Helping a stranger had given him a sense of satisfaction, and he wondered if one man’s feeling might be the basis for a city’s goodwill. The next year, he sent a reporter to several of the city’s private welfare agencies to collect stories about the poor. He had a plan: to publish articles about the Hundred Neediest Cases in New York. The appeal would be made not with a direct request for money but with the facts of their lives. These small chronicles, it turned out, sounded a powerful call.
The campaign began Dec. 15, 1912. Soon other publishers in the United States and abroad adopted the idea that a newspaper could make a general appeal for the needy and thus help established welfare agencies solicit funds. The first year’s contributions totaled $3,630.88. The total now is about $6 million a year, and over the years the Fund has raised more than $282 million.
The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund has been recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a not-for-profit public charity under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Contributions to the Neediest Cases Fund are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law. Federal Identification Number: 13-6066063. A copy of the Neediest Cases Fund's latest annual financial report may be obtained, upon request, from the Fund or from the New York State Attorney General's Charities Bureau, Attn: FOIL Officer, 120 Broadway, New York, New York 10271.
Brooklyn Community Services
The year was 1865. The Civil War had just ended, and homeless, wounded Union soldiers, as well as children orphaned by the war, were living on the streets of Brooklyn. Many of the young boys sold newspapers — the original “newsies.”
A predecessor to Brooklyn Community Services was in its first year of existence. Responding to the need, the organization provided orphaned boys with beds, food and schooling.
The organization’s focus is much the same today. It provides early-childhood and after-school education, youth development, child abuse prevention services, job training and services for people with mental illness and those who are disabled.
It has 25 locations throughout Brooklyn, including the Brooklyn High School for Leadership and Community Service, where at-risk students receive on-the-job training.
Gertrudis Torres received assistance through the Neediest Cases Fund after her husband died and she had trouble paying for her cancer treatment. Credit Elias Williams for The New York Times
Money raised through the Neediest Cases Fund goes to support one-time needs and service development.
Catholic Charities was founded in 1917 primarily to help improve the lives of children suffering from poverty, abuse and neglect. It still focuses on children, while supporting families coping with hunger, homelessness and other hardships.
The organization also works to welcome new immigrants to the United States, including refugees hoping to make New York their home.
Catholic Charities is a federation of around 90 charitable agencies in the New York area, serving up to 400,000 people every year.
Catholic Charities Brooklyn and Queens
Catholic Charities Brooklyn and Queens started in 1899 with a concentration on child welfare, serving families in need, particularly those in immigrant communities. While the organization continues to assist immigrants, it has expanded its mission to include, among other things, aiding those with mental illness and housing homeless people.
Money raised through the Neediest Cases Fund goes largely to emergency relief services, especially housing assistance. The organization provides more than 3,000 units of affordable housing.
“We’re not just providing a roof over people’s heads,” said Monsignior LoPinto, the organization’s chief executive. “But also a comprehensive service that helps them rebuild their lives and add stability. We cover A to Z.”
Children’s Aid Society
The founding of the Children’s Aid Society, in 1853, is linked to the development of the American child welfare system. At the turn of the 19th century, many immigrant children who had been orphaned were pushed onto New York City’s streets.
Today, the society focuses on early education, health and wellness, family and home, and social and emotional development at more than 50 locations across the five boroughs and in Westchester County, N.Y.
Money raised through the Neediest Cases Fund provides children with sundry items, from prom dresses to textbooks, that help them live normal lives.
Community Service Society
Community Service Society was founded when two nonprofits merged in 1939: the Charity Organization Society, founded in 1882, and the Association for the Improvement of the Condition of the Poor, in 1843.
Community Service Society helps young people make the transition from school to work, ensuring that they have the tools and knowledge to enter the job market and begin a successful career.
The Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies
Founded in 1922, when many of the nonprofits that interacted with government were faith-based organizations, The Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies formed to represent the needs of Protestants at a table that then included Catholics and Jews. At the time, the group focused on child welfare.
Today, the federation, which includes 175 member agencies throughout the city and in Westchester, has members of the Catholic, Jewish and Muslim faiths, as well as secular organizations. The groups provide services that including child abuse prevention, help for former convicts re-entering society and H.I.V./AIDS support.
The federation has also worked with city and state officials on efforts to raise the minimum wage to $15.
“We have one foot in the community with our agencies,” Jennifer Jones Austin, the federation’s chief executive, said. “But then we take those lessons learned to affect system change, so our work extends beyond our nonprofits to all New Yorkers.”
International Rescue Committee
Founded in 1933 at the request of Albert Einstein, the International Rescue Committee’s mission is to restore health, safety, education and economic well-being to people affected by conflict and disaster. It works in 29 cities across the United States and in more than 40 countries, including Syria, where the group provided emergency and humanitarian aid to 1.4 million people who were displaced there in 2015.
Last year, more than 23 million people around the world benefited from the efforts of the committee and its partners. In the United States alone, the group helped resettle 9,961 refugees and provided services to many more, including victims of human trafficking.
UJA-Federation of New York
UJA-Federation of New York was founded in 1917, and for 100 years has responded during major events: helping to settle immigrants, rebuilding Jewish life after the Holocaust, supporting Israel, rescuing and resettling Soviet Jews and helping New York City recover after both Hurricane Sandy and the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.
UJA supports a global network of nearly 100 nonprofits and hundreds of grantees that serve New Yorkers of all backgrounds, as well as Jewish communities worldwide. These partner organizations help address a number of concerns, including poverty.
In 2009, Curtis Byers was a shy 16-year-old with a halo of hair, an aptitude for science and an allergy to school. Seven years later, the halo has been buzzed short, but the love of science remains and he is aiming for a career in veterinary care.
In 2009, the oldest of the three Byers siblings, Daniel, was 17 and a student at Park West High School in Hell’s Kitchen in Manhattan, where he was preparing for a career in cooking. Seven years later, he is a professional cook, with a string of restaurant jobs and catering work on his résumé. His current goal: culinary school (and a way to pay for it).
And from her two-bedroom Harlem apartment, Lynette Byers, now 85, keeps an eye on all three — the boys still at home and Rayshell in her second year at Salem College, an all-women’s university in Winston-Salem, N.C. That is a little too far for Ms. Byers’s complete comfort, even though Rayshell has provided her with an iPhone to keep in touch via text and FaceTime.
“I can text her,” Ms. Byers said, “and if she doesn’t get back to me, I’m right on the phone.”
It was the goals, dreams and hopes of the Byerses that led the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York, one of the eight organizations supported by The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund, to give them $289 seven years ago — $110 for an electric mixer and baking tins for Daniel, $50 for Rayshell’s application fee to an after-school arts program and $129 for a toolbox for Curtis.
Ms. Byers and her sons are not sure where the mixer and toolbox went. “We put it in the bank,” she said. “And it went to good use.”
Strangers still mistake Ms. Byers for her children’s grandmother, which did not bother her in 2009 and does not bother her now. She took in all three as foster babies — they are genetic siblings — and formally adopted them when she was in her 60s, after her own son had grown.
“I guess they keep me young,” she said.
During a recent interview, it hardly seemed that seven years had passed, except that Ms. Byers’s sons are taller. (Daniel is 6 feet 6 inches, and Curtis is just a few inches shorter.) Daniel gets Rayshell on FaceTime, and the Byerses huddle around on Ms. Byers’s easy chair for a talk that defies both time and distance.
Rayshell talks classes: criminal law, psychology, English, professional writing. “You can tell you’re going to be a lawyer,” her mother teases. “You keep talking.”
Daniel pulls out his personal phone, which is filled with photos of dishes he has created: his own spins on baked chicken, rice and cabbage, shrimp Alfredo, a variety of soul food dishes and lots of Mexican food. “I like spicy,” he said.
Daniel added that he spends at least three hours a day cooking, even on days when he is not working.
And that is fine with Ms. Byers, who is content to let Daniel do the shopping and the cooking, even if he is not as good with the cleaning up. Daniel’s restaurant jobs mean long hours — he sometimes leaves the house at 4 a.m. — and he is trying to save for culinary school. Right now, Ms. Byers said, “It costs too much, and he doesn’t want to go into debt.”
Curtis, then as now, is the quietest, and still does not like to talk about himself unless the subject is his skill at video games. Then he gets very technical in a blur of conversation about the tools he uses, the games he plays and the avatars he employs. “It started when I was young,” he said. “I got into it with the graphics.”
But when talk turns to the future, Curtis grows more serious: “I want to work with animals.” Financing that education is a problem here, too.
The family’s participation in the Neediest Cases campaign looms large in their memories. It goes beyond the money itself.
“It made me realize,” Rayshell said, “that I wanted to be in a position where I could be the one to help.”
Originally published by the New York Times by Steve Kenny on February 7, 2017.
He remembers trying to swerve. He remembers the Jeep slamming into his side door, pushing his car into the safety blocks on the side of the road, saving him from a steep fall down the mountainside.
“And I don’t remember anything else,” he said of that day in September 2010.
Mr. Duran learned later that the other driver had been drunk and that his Jeep had flipped. The four passengers in the Jeep were injured, but the driver, unharmed, pushed his way out of the vehicle and fled. “Leaving me for dead,” Mr. Duran said.
Unconscious, Mr. Duran was taken to a nearby hospital, where he was in a coma for 29 days.
Six years later, seated at a table with his children, Jose and Karina Duran, and speaking through an interpreter, Mr. Duran leaned back in a chair at his son’s school and recalled emerging from the coma with his jaw wired shut. He looked around and thought, “What happened?”
The accident left him with injuries to his neck, spinal cord and knee, as well as a broken jaw, extensive memory loss and nerve damage causing numbness in his face. The crash also knocked out eight teeth, which he has not been able to afford to replace. He spent the next 92 days on bed rest.
Doctors placed metal plates in his neck and left knee, but he is still unable to bend the knee or kneel and has trouble walking. “Since the accident, my closest friend has been pain,” he said.
The sixth of 11 children, Mr. Duran grew up on a farm in Jarabacoa, where his family grew yucca and sweet potatoes, among other crops, until he was 18. With only a sixth-grade education, he left for Santo Domingo, the capital, working as a shoe shiner and a waiter, and held various jobs in a supermarket, a casino and a hospital. He later began a 22-year career in the national police force, working as a homicide investigator in Jarabacoa until his accident.
But his extensive injuries kept him from returning to the national police. Then, in 2012, the 10-year relationship with the mother of his children fell apart. She took the children to live with her, but Mr. Duran eventually had them come live with him.
To get them out of the Dominican Republic, his mother, a permanent resident of the United States who often stayed with her children in New York, referred him for a residential visa. He joined the family in New York in July 2013, fulfilling his mother’s wish to have all of her children together in the United States. She returned to the Dominican Republic after settling him in America, and died six months later.
Unable to work because of his injuries, Mr. Duran struggled to find his way in a new country. He lived with siblings in Brooklyn for a year but was unable to contribute to the family’s income. So in spring 2014, he found himself homeless with his children in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.
“It was cold,” Jose, now 12, recalled of the two nights they spent sleeping on a park bench.
Mr. Duran added: “Life has kicked me down. But I have to go forward — for them.” He smiled at his children, who sat quietly on each side of him.
Mr. Duran found them a studio at a city shelter on East 178th Street in the Bronx. His request for two rooms — one for his daughter, 10, for privacy — was later granted. The family does not pay rent, but with Mr. Duran unable to work, it struggles to make ends meet. In March 2016, Mr. Duran briefly worked as a cabdriver. However, the car payments and maintenance, coupled with the pain from his knee injury, soon became too much, and he quit the service. Now the family receives $205 a month in food stamps.
Jose, a seventh grader at C.S. 211, a bilingual magnet school in the Bronx, is working to become fluent in English. His sister is already fluent. The after-school program is run by the Children’s Aid Society, one of the eight organizations supported by The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund.
In April, after-school program staff members noticed that Jose was wearing the same ill-fitting clothes every day. The Children’s Aid Society provided the family with $375 in gift cards to Payless, Old Navy and Modell’s Sporting Goods to buy new school clothes and shoes for the children.
Despite the family’s struggles, Mr. Duran said he did not let poverty bother him. He spoke reverently of his father, Pedro Lucia Duran, a forest ranger and village confidant, whom he called “a simple man, an honorable man.”
He added: “There’s no man like my father. He raised 11 children to be serious and honest, and he did it as a poor man.” For that reason, he also does not seek out riches.
“My father always said, ‘In America, the president eats lobster,’” he recalled with a laugh. “‘But in the Dominican Republic, the poor eat lobster.’”
Mr. Duran said he wanted only to raise his own children in the same manner as his father.
While in the United States, he hopes his children can work toward their own dreams. Karina, a fifth grader, enjoys painting and drawing and would like to become a pop star, she said with a shy smile. Jose — who “really can draw,” according to his sister — is fascinated by space, but has no interest in becoming an astronaut. He wants to build the spaceships instead.
“And my American dream?” Mr. Duran said. “My dream is that if I die today, my children will be able to do what they want and to remain humble and polite.”
As for Mr. Duran, 52, he worries that he is a burden on a social assistance system that, after a career in the Dominican Republic, he is unable to contribute to here. He would like to return to his country one day, he said, adding that he was happy there. But he fears that politics, drugs and guns have broken an otherwise beautiful nation.
“America is the best there is,” he said. “I’m thankful to this country for taking me and my children in. But despite all these problems in my country, if I could, I’d still go back.”
Originally published by the New York Times by Emily Palmer on February 6, 2017.
“You might fall if you stand too close,” Ms. Mazloum recalled saying. The girl replied curtly: “It wouldn’t be such a bad thing. I would finally have peace of mind.”
Pregnant, displaced, about to be divorced and without a support system, the world-weary girl was in the grips of a nervous breakdown. Ms. Mazloum recognized the girl’s sense of despair — because she had lived it herself.
Ms. Mazloum, a 40-year-old Syrian mother of five daughters, wrestled with societal expectations her entire life, and after she divorced her husband she was left on her own to raise their girls in a deeply patriarchal environment. A few years into Syria’s civil war, she escaped with her girls to Lebanon, settling in a new land and finding an opportunity to become a leader in a way she had always envisioned for herself since she was a child.
She joined as a volunteer at the Bar Elias community center here for female refugees, one of several similar centers run by the International Rescue Committee, the worldwide aid group based in New York. In the Middle East, the group helps Syrian refugees and vulnerable groups across the region and has been operating in Lebanon since 2012 with 420 people on its staff and 250 volunteers.
The civil war in Syria has forced millions of people from their homes and decimated towns. Nearly five million Syrians have registered as refugees, and most of them have fled to neighboring countries, according to the United Nations. Over one million refugees have ended up in Lebanon.
The International Rescue Committee, one of the eight organizations supported by The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund, helped 58,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon last year. It provides emergency services such as training for women, education to children and efforts to prevent children from entering the work force or begging on the streets. Refugees receive psychological support, legal advice and financial assistance.
One of the organization’s first programs here was focused on women’s empowerment and protection, which draws on the experience of people, like Ms. Mazloum, who have overcome many challenges.
When refugees arrive in Lebanon, amid an unwelcoming environment of surging xenophobia and discrimination, they often feel a sense of remoteness and alienation, driving many to stay in their tents at resettlement camps. Those who are divorced are stigmatized, making some of them more susceptible to sexual harassment and exploitation. The tent settlements, scattered across the country, offer little privacy and no traditional support system or financial resources.
“They come to this country with nothing to their name,” said Zaman Ali Hassan, a program manager with the International Rescue Committee.
The Lebanese women who help the group’s community centers are sometimes met with reluctance when they try to persuade vulnerable women to join the program. But Ms. Mazloum has an ability to break through the obstacles, discussing her own experience as a way to strike up a friendship with refugees and then gradually become a confidante. With an amiable smile and a dependable confidence, she regularly visits the informal tent settlements throughout the Bekaa region to identify Syrian women and girls who are most at risk.
“Rawda is the link between the refugees and the center,” Mr. Hassan said. “Without our outreach volunteers, none of this would be possible.”
At the center, the women can take language, conflict-resolution and computer classes, as well as participate in knitting, yoga and Zumba. There are also programs for adolescent girls on sexual health and healthy relationships, and for women who married young and are now widows and for divorced pregnant girls, who are often stigmatized and sexually harassed. Programs for gender-based violence remain the least funded of all refugee programs, Mr. Hassan said.
The women reach the shelter with various needs, but they show, one way or another, the scars of intense war. Ms. Mazloum’s dreadful memories tend to come in waves at night: The blast of an explosion ripping through her neighbors’ building and her three young daughters covered in white dust, and stumbling out of a bombed-out building. The panicked faces of neighbors fleeing their town, Homs, passing by bodies scattered in the streets, and the cold, damp basements they huddled in as they waited out the shelling. The thick stench of blood and dust that triggered her daughter’s first asthma attack and almost killed her. And, finally, the piercing pain that came out of nowhere and shot through her as she crossed the border into Lebanon.
“As soon as I crossed the border, I felt like my Syrian identity had been erased,” Ms. Mazloum said. “This label will follow us everywhere, and it makes our life very difficult.”
Immediately after moving into an informal tent settlement in Bekaa, she started thinking about her next step. She did not want to sit around and wait for the next aid carton to come. She encountered problems receiving donations because most organizations give a priority to widows, and a woman who cannot produce a partner’s death certificate is often left to fend for herself, even if she faces her own challenges as a single mother.
Ms. Mazloum protected her two eldest daughters from marrying until they were over 21 and encouraged her young daughters to learn arts like drawing and photography.
As an outreach volunteer, Ms. Mazloum serves many functions, including easing young women into their new lives, providing information about health care, introducing them to mental health treatment and giving vulnerable women the confidence they need to seek help.
“It’s true I live in a tent now, but this country has given me opportunities I never thought I’d have,” Ms. Mazloum said. “I had many ambitions as a child that I didn’t even dare utter in front of my parents, and now I feel proud I’m playing such a crucial role in my community.”
Originally published by the New York Times by Hania Mourtada on February 4, 2017.
Packing her cart with fresh peppers, canned tuna, pretzels and cake, she said the food pantry here on Long Island was the first where she felt like any other grocery shopper. It was welcome relief from the long lines and piles of unorganized food at other food banks.
“You don’t feel destroyed just walking in,” Ms. Gentile, 45, said. “Renee greets you when you come in, and you can pick out what you want, what you need. You’re not just handed something.”
Renee Harris, the food pantry coordinator, said she knew from experience the importance of creating a welcoming environment. When her husband lost his job in 2009, she found herself shopping at food banks for the first time in her life.
“I felt the employees watching me — like I might try to steal something,” Ms. Harris said. “And I ran out of the store crying.”
Then one day she stopped by the Rina Shkolnik Kosher Food Pantry. When her family got back on its feet a few years later, Ms. Harris started working there, hoping to replicate her experience for the 350 families who shop at the pantry each month. Emulating a traditional grocery store, the food bank is organized by food groups. Shoppers carry items home in marked bags donated by nearby shops.
Ms. Gentile receives $182 a month in food stamps to feed herself, a 20-year-old son, Malliki Outlaw, and a 19-year-old daughter, Nevaeh Outlaw, who both have mental illnesses, she said. Once a month, she fills her cart with food from the pantry, a program of the Marion & Aaron Gural J.C.C., a beneficiary of UJA-Federation of New York, one of the eight organizations supported by The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund.
Having groceries in the refrigerator has made a difference in a home filled with difficulty, she said.
At 19, Ms. Gentile and her young son were living with her parents, who she said had forced her to get an abortion when she became pregnant again as a condition for staying under their roof. She later moved out and became pregnant again while in an abusive relationship, she said, and gave birth to Malliki. Months later, she found out she was expecting twins. Two months along, she miscarried one of them. She named the surviving twin Nevaeh — heaven spelled backward.
Abuse marks Ms. Gentile’s body. A white scar runs along her hand — the lasting effect of being stabbed by a sharp piece of plastic. She has also endured mental trauma. Ms. Gentile said she had lost count of the number of times her children had been hospitalized or institutionalized, because of the harm they were causing their mother and themselves. But she said the trouble had started after their father died in 2002.
Ms. Gentile takes care of both children, who still live at home. Her son has bipolar disorder, and her daughter has anxiety, depression and mild intellectual disabilities. She said that medication and therapy had helped manage their symptoms, and that they had not been hospitalized since 2009.
But Ms. Gentile’s own health problems, including depression, high blood pressure and arthritis, exacerbated by years of abuse, have worsened.
She had an operation to remove her ovaries because of a precancerous cyst. Doctors have told her that she needs to have gallstones removed and both knees replaced, but she cannot afford the operations and fears leaving her children for the duration of the recovery without another caregiver. Injections would ease the pain in her arthritic knees, but her insurance does not cover the cost.
Ms. Gentile, who worked as a medical office assistant and coordinator for a physical therapy clinic, stopped working in 2008 and started receiving Supplemental Security Income a year later. The family now subsists on a cumulative $1,434 in Supplemental Security Income. The family’s benefits had previously been cut by $733 when her son’s Supplemental Security benefits were terminated in April, because proper documentation was not submitted. The benefits were reinstated this month but reduced by $30.
In 2009 she moved from Queens Village to Far Rockaway in Queens. She sleeps on a makeshift bed and gives her children the two bedrooms. After a public housing subsidy, she pays $410 a month for rent.
Marion & Aaron Gural J.C.C. provided Ms. Gentile and her children with $630 from the Neediest Cases Fund to cover her December 2015 rent and $650 to help with rent again in September.
At the food pantry, Ms. Gentile walked to the front to check out. Ms. Harris warmly pointed out a bag of grapes, adding it and a few other items to Ms. Gentile’s cart. She reminded her to return in a few weeks for a Thanksgiving turkey.
As Ms. Gentile left, grocery bags in both hands, she was smiling.
Originally published by the New York Times by Emily Palmer on February 4, 2017.
I see my article up here and realized how putting everything away for the girls after paying the bills and i can't afford to give them a Christmas this year. They have wrote me their list and tired to be as economical as possible. I haven't slept in days. I've done all I can to put some money away. How much do these girls have to lose? First their dad has abandoned them, their 9yr old sister died in front of them and their mom isn't doing so well. Realistically I probably won't see another Christmas with them and any occasion I come across to make them smile I grab it. Thank you for the amazing article you wrote us. Thank you to those that were able to help. God bless.... Happy Holidays Yvette Teixeira 01/17/2016 article