Christmas Eve coat drive warms homeless, HIV-positive New Yorkers

Alan Perez, a volunteer for 17 years in the homeless community and four years with GMHC finds a coat for himself. The Gay Men’s Health Crisis worked with New York Cares to give out winter coats to those who need it the most for Christmas. (Photo by Todd Maisel)

Christmas can be a cold and uncaring time for many in the gay, lesbian and homeless community, especially those living with HIV and without the means to keep themselves warm in the winter.

The Gay Men’s Health Crisis and New York Cares got together again on Dec. 24 for the 31st annual coat drive to help bring a little warmth to those in need for the holidays.

More than 150 homeless men and women receive a new or slightly used coat for the winter. Many had suffered discrimination for their lifestyles, or were living with from HIV or AIDS, so a new coat to keep them warm was essential to staying healthy, organizers said.

New York Cares collected nearly 100,000 coats to be distributed to homeless and poor individuals, many to schools in depressed communities and others to nonprofit partners, including GMHC. Officials say they believe it is only a fraction of the coats needed to help poor families and individuals.

David Harvey, a client of GMHC for 10 years, tried on a new coat, to replace the one he had that had a defective zipper and rip.

“Anything they can do to help the gay communities and the people living with HIV is a plus,” Harvey said as he poured over a stack of coats.  “This is a three-fold disease, that affects people mentally, spiritually and physically. This is a very good agency and they have been very supportive. I come here for counseling, lunch, and help with housing and now at least I have a coat for Christmas.”

The Gay Men’s Health Crisis worked with New York Cares to give out winter coats to those who need it the most for Christmas. Here, David Harvey, a client of GMHC for 10 years, tried on a new coat, to replace the one he had that had a defective zipper and rip. (Photo by Todd Maisel)

Alan Perez, a volunteer for 17 years in the homeless community and four years with GMHC, sifted through the piles of coats for himself.

“Getting a coat means a lot and unfortunately a lot of people don’t have coats and it’s getting cold out,” Perez said.  “This is a great thing that GMHC and NY Cares is doing for us. It’s tough to afford a coat, especially during holidays. Holidays are special – I deal with a lot of homeless who don’t have coats and I send them to NY Cares for coats. I get holiday dinners for the homeless and the coats help a lot too.”

Lawrence Siben, a client in the job training program at GMHC, said he was honored to receive a coat on Christmas eve.

“I’m grateful I can enjoy something like this and share the loving kindness of everyone here,” Siben said as he slipped a coat on. “I’m working with job placement specialist and learning Excel and Powerpoint skills in the GMHC lab. And a coat really helps.”

Here, Lawrence Siben, client in the job training program at GMHC, said he was honored to receive a coat on Christmas eve. (Photo by Todd Maisel)

Will Way, a client since February, said he has been struggling with HIV and just getting by in New York City.

“Getting a coat means a lot,” said Way as he perused the stacks of coats. “When I was in fourth grade in California it was the height of the AIDS epidemic and we showed our support. It was a hard time –a lot of sadness and misunderstanding and pain. Now that I’m HIV positive since 2001, it is wonderful to know that the fight that we had and put up even back then helps us today. GMHC is here for us, the coat is just one of those things and I’m grateful to have it as I’ve  been struggling of late and having the coat to be warm in the winter is such a great help.”

Will Way, a client since February, said he has been struggling with HIV and just getting by in New York City, said the coat helps a lot. (Photo by Todd Maisel)

Rose Wilford was living in a woman’s shelter before getting assistance from GMHC.

“It’s just looking really nice; it’s made for me,” Wilford said as she spun around showing off the bright yellow wool coat she received. “I appreciate all the blessings that are so important. I  left everything at the woman’s shelter because it was an abusive situation, so today I got a coat and God is the reason for the season and the coat right now.”

Rose Wilford was living in a woman’s shelter before getting assistance from GMHC, checks out her new coat. (Photo by Todd Maisel)

Gary Bagley, executive director of NY Cares, called it a “moving day” to help those who can’t afford to buy a coat.

“There are tables of coats and we invite clients to pick out the coat that fits and feels good,” Bagley said. “ It’s incredibly moving to see and all of us during this holiday season take for granted that we have so many choices in life. How many of us shopped for a coat?  It’s a time in life that people are struggling to make ends meet so they can come in and pick a coat, donated by generous New Yorkers or from text a gift program – they  have one less this to worry about this season.”

GMHC Kelsey Louie, CEO of GMHC said that as the world’s first HIV/AIDS service organization, they are proud to work with NY Cares to host the coat drive to help clients and homeless.

“Thousands of coats will go to vulnerable New Yorkers and this is a great way to show generosity in this season of giving,” Louie said.

Through December 31, people can donate new or gently used coats at 300 locations throughout New York, including at local police precincts and hundreds of New York Auto dealerships and Penn Station. For more information, go to newyorkcares.org/coats for exact locations and times of collection sites. People may make tax-deductible donations of contributions to NY Cares.

A client of GMHC checks out his new coat in the mirror. (Photo by Todd Maisel)

Todd Maisel