Everything you can do today to help asylum seekers in NYC

Eric Adams this week limited shelter access to asylum seekers. But if this is really a city of immigrants, that means lending a helping hand when new ones arrive. Here's how.

Everything you can do today to help asylum seekers in NYC
Sunset Park-based Mixteca hands distributes coats and boots last winter. The migrant crisis has only grown worse in recent months. Photo via Mixteca. 

This story was updated on 2/9/24 to add new fundraisers and remove expired efforts

By Dave Colon

Some 90,000 migrants have arrived in New York City since last April — more than the total capacity of Yankee Stadium and Citi Field combined. They started as asylum seekers who crossed the American border only to be bussed up to the city from Texas, and were often lied to about where they were being sent. The influx has sent the city's homeless shelter population skyrocketing past 100,000. The city and state have struggled to find housing for the new arrivals, and Mayor Eric Adams announced this week the city would attempt to get around its long-standing right-to-housing mandate by setting a 60-day limit for adult migrants staying in emergency relief shelters. That makes things even harder for the migrants to adjust to life here as they’re struggling to find work and permanent homes.

If New York is really a city of immigrants, part of making that more than just empty aphorism is lending a helping hand when new ones arrive. And while the larger issues of how to best recalibrate America's immigration policy are largely outside of the purview of most New Yorkers, that doesn’t mean we’re not eager to help.

If you're looking to help the thousands of asylum seekers who've made the trip to New York City, you can do so with stuff you have lying around the apartment, or by pitching in your time and people skills to help them access basic services. We’ve rounded up a few of the better options below:

A Phone and a Month of Service

Make The Road New York, one of the city’s premier immigrant rights organizations, is raising cold hard cash. The group will take donations of any size to pay for things like cash assistance and MetroCards for asylum seekers, and have pegged $85 as a donation big enough to cover a cell phone with one month of service for a newly-arrived immigrant.

Milk, Eggs, Diapers and Other Essentials

Team TLC, which describes itself as a volunteer organization dedicated to providing resources to asylum seekers, is seeking cash donations for its efforts. The group takes any amount of money, and says for example that $5 buys milk and eggs, and $20 buys diapers for refugees in need.

RIF Asylum Support provides needed services like tutorials to show migrants how to apply for work permits and asylum, and emotional support for asylum seekers. Your donation can help the group keep up the good work.

Workforce Training and Adult Education

Mixteca, a Sunset Park-based community organization that began as a way to advocate for Brooklyn’s burgeoning Latin American and Mexican population, is stepping up to help out 8,000 newly-arrived migrants. The group is raising money for its work in order to get refugees food and toiletries, and connect them with services like immigration advocacy, workforce training and adult education.

The clothes you were going to bring to Beacon’s Closet

The New Neighbors Partnership is an organization that matches families in New York City who have older children who’ve outgrown their clothes with refugee families new to the city whose children need seasonally-appropriate clothing. You can sign up to donate hand me down clothing in “excellent” condition (as the organization describes it, if you wouldn’t give the clothes to a friend’s child then don’t include it) twice per year.

The East Side Neighbors Association is asking people to bring gently used clothes and shoes that range from infant to adult sizes to the Bentley Hotel (500 East 62nd Street), which is being used as a family shelter for 600 migrants. If you’ve got toiletries, new underwear, new or gently-used sneakers or clothing, you can drop it off at the hotel’s reception desk on weekdays between 9am and 5pm.

Teal TLC is also asking for clothes to keep migrants warm during the winter. The organization says it needs "COATS COATS COATS" for starters. If you don't have a spare coat, they're also collecting warm clothing like sweatpants and sweatshirts, fleeces and jeans for men, women and children. The group is also taking donations of basics like socks, underwear and bras, as well as toys and toiletries. Donations can be dropped off Mondays through Fridays between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. at the Avenue Church, 3rd floor (1745 First Avenue).

Translation skills

Through New Neighbors Partnership, you can also donate cash, sponsor an asylum family’s wish list or volunteer to help out as a translator, cook a welcome dinner for a newly-arrived family or even help NNP staff with their own professional development.

Your ‘people skills’

Catholic Charities Community Services of New York needs volunteers with people skills to help their asylum seeker support as they help refugees get acclimated to life in the city and access needed services. The CCCS asylum-seeker support site at St. Teresa’s Church (139 Henry Street in Manhattan) needs empathetic, patient volunteers who preferably speak Spanish to greet arriving asylum seekers, help them with intake forms, assist case managers and possibly even watch children while their parents are being helped by staff.

HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, is a longtime fixture in New York City's humanitarian aid scene. The organization is taking volunteers on a rolling basis who can do interpretation, help put together resource guides and mentor asylum seekers on a one-on-one basis among other opportunities. Right now they say they have a high need for people who speak Dari, Pashto, Amharic, Ukranian, Russian, and Spanish, or have a driver's license and vehicle. If that's you, fill out an interest form and await their call.

Old bikes and MetroCards

There are a couple ways to help newly-arrived immigrants get around town. Bike New York is currently raising money for its Bikes for Asylum Seekers program, which spruces up old bikes that are then donated to asylum seekers. Your money goes towards something as small as a bike rack (a $25 donation) or as big as buying an entirely new bike ($500).

On the mass transit side, South Brooklyn Mutual Aid has been running an ongoing MetroCard fundraiser to pay for unlimited MetroCards for refugees who are being assisted by the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church. The church is run by Pastor Juan Carlos Ruiz, who the New Yorker once deemed “the renegade priest helping the undocumented survive the pandemic.” SBMA said the cards are the most-needed items for the migrants, so toss ‘em some bucks.

School days

Migrant children are dealing with their own unique struggles in city schools, but fortunately there are also charitable efforts to help them out. Stand With Students is a four-year-old effort run by New York Cares that's been helping students and schools in neighborhoods dealing with historical inequities and discrimination, and is helping migrant students as well these days. Your donations can students a backpack full of school supplies ($12), college prep courses ($100) or specialized science classes and supplies ($500).

Know others we should include? Email Dave@nygroove.nyc and we’ll update.