For Nick Fiorito and his brother Mike, "the secret to living is giving." After becoming disillusioned with their corporate jobs three years ago, they both quit and decided to pursue a joint career in giving back to New York’s homeless population.
The brothers from Brooklyn created an initiative called Blankets of Hope, a seasonal service project that aims to distribute as many blankets as possible to the homeless in New York City and in cities across the country between November and March. With Monday recorded as the coldest day of the winter season in the city thus far, they are doing everything they can to make sure the freezing weather does not make bad situations worse for those living on the streets.
Mike, 22, said they want to share a sense of warmth — not just physically, but emotionally — with the people they help. When they deliver the blankets, they try to learn the names and stories of as many homeless people as they can.
“Our main intention is to just be a listening ear for them because most of the people haven’t heard their name called in three months. There’s just thousands of people walking by them every single day and what most of them really want is just somebody to listen," he said.
There are more than 61,000 adults and children living in shelters in New York City, according to the Department of Homeless Services, but that number does not include the thousands of people living on the street. In 2018, DHS estimated that 3,675 people in the five boroughs were living on the street.
Nick and Mike said most of the individuals they meet while delivering blankets in New York City believe the shelters are more dangerous than sleeping outside.
“They say when they’ve gone to the shelter system they’ve gotten everything robbed from them; from the shoes on their feet, to their wallet, to their license,” Nick, 26, explained. “One guy was saying he woke up in the shelter and there was just a knife to his throat.”
Mike was somber about the situation, adding, “It’s really unbelievable that every single person has said it’s safer on the streets. It’s colder, but it’s safer.”
This winter, the brothers are trying to raise $50,000 in order to distribute 10,000 blankets. Accompanied with a note of encouragement, such as "We believe in you," they hope the deliveries will motivate the thousands of people on the city’s streets to keep fighting for a brighter future, including a 19-year-old they said is representative of an all-too-common issue.
“His name was David and he was basically homeless his whole life. His parents were both drug addicts, heroin addicts,” Nick said. “It’s so easy to judge a person on the side of the street, but when you hear a story like that you realize you really can’t judge a person until you hear their story.”
As of Tuesday evening, Mike and Nick had raised more than $32,000 and they’ve partnered with 20 schools in 10 cities to help expand the scope of their service. They hope they will be able to develop more partnerships so they can help as many people as possible in New York and beyond.
While they still have a ways to go to meet their goal this year, their work has not gone unnoticed by GoFundMe, the online platform they use to raise money for Blankets of Hope. The company designated the brothers as GoFundMe Heroes, a monthly spotlight that shines a light on people who have made a significant impact on their communities.
As they continue raising money, Nick said that selflessness will always stay at the forefront of their mission.
“When we stop focusing on what we can get and we start focusing on how we can contribute and we shift our mindset from selfishness to selfless, I think everything opens up for us and the world is our oyster.”