By Barrett Seaman—
Often overlooked in considering where the most needs are during the holiday season are the caregivers of children who would otherwise be in foster care. And often, these caregivers are grandmothers. State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins recognized that six years ago and launched an effort to collect gifts for these selfless but often cash-strapped providers at Christmastime.
“I call it the Angel Project,” says Stewart-Cousins, “because I am asking people to do a little something for someone they do not even know, who they probably will never meet, but whose life will be changed by their generosity.”
This year, gifts went to 162 grandparents, in part because of the generosity and hands-on work done by a group of local rivertowns citizens, including an Ardsley Girl Scout Brownie Troop and the Rivertowns Rotary Club, representing the villages of Hastings, Ardsley, Dobbs Ferry and Irvington.
This was the first year Rivertowns Rotary has given to the project. “The holidays can be hard for those in need,” said the organizations president, Ellen Sledge, who owns Penny Lick Ice Cream in Hastings. “Add a pandemic and the difficulties and loneliness magnify.”
In Ardsley, the troop leaders of Brownie Troop 1679 were looking for a way their girls could earn their philanthropy badge in a meaningful way. Co-leader Marisa Goldberg had heard about Stewart-Cousins annual “Angel” campaign and suggested it to her partner, Danielle De Lauro. ”We were looking for causes that are overlooked—something that was very local,” says De Lauro. “We wanted to help them understand what philanthropy was all about.”
The Brownies collected money and bought a gift card for one of the grandmothers, Elsie. They threw in packages of nuts and chocolates left over from a previous drive, and each girl made up a card. Unfortunately, because of COVID, the girls were not able to meet personally with Elsie, but their troop leaders were.
In a normal year, Senator Stewart-Cousins would have thrown a luncheon for both donors and recipients, but COVID precluded that, so that only a few representatives got to meet in person. Relying on local service groups, Family Service Society of Yonkers, Family Ties of Westchester, New Rochelle Housing Authority, Westchester County Department of Social Services, and the YWCA of Yonkers, the Senator’s staff were able to identify worthy grandparents. To ensure gift delivery was safe, the “Angels” were asked to send gifts to Stewart-Cousins’ office, where her staff wrapped the presents, which the agencies then picked up and delivered.