Volume 18 • Issue 28 | Nov. 25 - Dec. 2, 2005

Downtown Express photo by Elisabeth Robert

Volunteers sort gifts at their Park Place headquarters.

No more toys at the Seaport for H.I.V. tots

By Caitlin Eichelberger

Imagine Santa without his workshop.

That is how the staff and volunteers of the Children’s Hope Foundation, a non-profit organization devoted to helping children affected by H.I.V. and AIDS, are operating this year. The foundation’s annual toy and gift drive, which provides as many as 17,000 new, age-appropriate gifts to children and teens in New York City, is without a headquarters this holiday.

In previous years, the thousands of gifts have been housed in vacant restaurant space in the South Street Seaport Mall. For the 2005 season, the organization anticipated using the same space, but the insurance guidelines of General Growth Properties, which acquired former site manager Rouse Properties late last year, proved too stringent for the non-profit.

“From our perspective, they were asking for somewhat unreasonable insurance requirements,” said Scott Cotenoff, executive director of Children’s Hope Foundation, which was unable to meet General Growth’s car insurance requirement. To meet the requirement, the foundation needed to own their own vehicles, which they do not. “All vehicular traffic,” Cotenoff said, “is from independent delivery companies hired by either donors dropping off or social service agencies picking up.”

In the past, Rouse Properties assumed all liability and issued a waiver to the non-profit. “General Growth was not willing to do that,” said Michael Piazzola, the mall’s general manager under both Rouse and General Growth. “We’re sorry it didn’t work, but we had some minimum insurance requirements that they couldn’t meet.” Piazzola, whose current title is senior general manager at General Growth and vice president of the Seaport Market Place, confirmed that there continues to be unused space in the mall.

To Cotenoff, General Growth’s unwillingness demonstrated “An inability to understand that we are a small non-profit functioning primarily with volunteers. Basically they were treating us like we are a big film production company.”

The move is the first apparent change in management decisions since General Growth acquired Rouse.

Children’s Hope is exploring other options. Their current landlord might step up and offer space on another floor but the arrangements have not yet been finalized. In the meantime, Children’s Hope is housing all donated gifts in their office suite at 11 Park Place in Lower Manhattan. “To try and do it and do it right in our office is pretty unworkable,” Cotenoff said. “At this point, it hasn’t had too much of an impact [on the success of the drive] because we have been able to monitor the flow of donations.”

Donations expected this week from the “Today” show, however, will arrive “a palate at a time,” and are certain to overextend the organization’s staff of five, Cotenoff said. If the Children’s Hope does not find an alternative space to store toys soon, the non-profit will not have room for other operations, including a Christmas party for as many as 300 children.

The toy and gift drive is one of eight programs the Children’s Hope Foundation organizes. Other provisions made by the foundation to children who either have H.I.V. or have a family member that does, include new medical equipment, household amenities and emergency funds for food, rent and utilities.


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