NEW YORK — Every holiday season since 1911, The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund has published short profiles of everyday New Yorkers who have fallen on hard times through poverty, addiction, disease or simple bad luck. The Times has solicited contributions from readers to help the needy through selected charitable agencies.
Even a casual glance out the office window of Michael Golden, who administers The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund, reveals a city that has changed almost beyond recognition in the 102 years since publisher Adolph Ochs informally began the Fund by offering a beggar a job at the newspaper.
"But that fund still holds a dear place in our hearts, because this is a city of contrasts, of magnificent opportunities and some very difficult living," said Golden.
Golden says the range of people helped by the Fund has broadened over recent decades to include people who are either in the middle class or striving to be there.
"…and who have suddenly hit something in their lives that means they’ve got a severe problem that could derail them from the track their life has been on," he said.
Manpriya Samar, for example, was within reach of her college degree when she developed acute appendicitis that nearly killed her. With no health insurance, medical bills soon overwhelmed her. The Community Service Society, one of seven agencies supported by the Neediest Cases Fund, helped her pay off her creditors and start fresh.
After some success as one of New York’s Hip-Hop pioneers, "LA Sunshine" went through many years of suicidal depression, drug abuse and loneliness, yet was building a life for himself in the youth development field. Suddenly, he was caught in what he terms an “avalanche” of legal troubles, including a $35,000 bill for unpaid child support.
Sunshine fell far behind in his rent, but was saved from homelessness by the Children’s Aid Society. He is grateful for the help, although he says he gets "flak" within the Hip Hop community, which prides itself on its "do it yourself" bravado.
"Because why would I put myself out there and be so candid and transparent as far as me being in the situation that I am in. I refuse to let anything make me stumble again. Me finally coming from that dark space that I’ve been in, I’m going to keep tripping but I am going to keep getting up. That’s what you’re supposed to when you fall. So I was very relieved," said "LA Sunshine.
When her daughter became unable to care for her children due to mental illness, Mable Moody retired early to care for her grandchildren, hoping to get a part-time job. But a job was hard to find and soon, when funding for Milibank, a local after-school program was cut, Moody found herself in dire straits and humbled.
"I needed extra money for food, clothing that they need, and light bills. So one day I went into Milbank and talked to the assistant director and told her my story. And therefore what she did was apply for New York Times funding for people that’s in need. But… it’s not very easy for me. I don’t like handouts. I like to be self-sufficient," said Moody.
The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund has collected nearly a quarter of a billion dollars over its 102-year life. When asked why he and so many New Yorkers love the Fund, Michael Golden said simply, "It just makes you feel good."