Some New Yorkers are going above and beyond to help the city's less fortunate in this season of giving.
Soup kitchens and food pantries citywide are facing funding cutbacks while demand increases, as there was a 10 percent uptick in need for their services this year, according to the New York City Coalition Against Hunger. On top of that, one in five city children are hungry or at risk of hunger, as are 10 percent of the city's seniors, the coalition said.
Still, there are those working to pick up the slack:
When people need information about government benefits and services, they come to Bethene Trexel.
For 14 years, Trexel has volunteered to help New Yorkers sort out their Medicare, food stamp, health and other public benefits with the Community Service Society of New York, guiding citizens through the winding maze of applying for assistance and other programs.
A lifelong volunteer, Trexel, 66, suffers from multiple sclerosis and struggles to walk. She said the instinct to help others was passed down from her parents. Trexel first became involved in volunteering for CSSNY 25 years ago, after her first child was born, and since then has managed a nonprofit for more than two decades, volunteered at her church, helped with 4-H and, when she could, used her vast knowledge of public benefits to assist friends, family and anyone who needs help.
Trexel, who first moved to the city 41 years ago to get a graduate degree in education, said: "To help someone figure out these benefits, it can make a world of difference if that's the only thing keeping them from starving."
In 2007, Denice Rich rescued her first stray cat. As she was already caring for five other cats and three dogs she had rescued, her "pet family" was big enough.
She took the abandoned feline to an office of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Once there, she found her calling.
Since then, Rich has made a name as someone who can do it all for the ASCPA: When she's not busy running her real estate firm, Rich transports animals coming into the city; helps organize and run events, commercials and media appearances with the animals; handles various tasks at ASPCA offices; and does behavior modification with some of the hardest-to-manage dogs and cats. "You get so much unconditional love from the animals," said Rich, 62.
Vega, a community liaison for the Segundo Ruiz Belvis Diagnostic and Treatment Center, volunteers on the NYPD 40th Precinct community council, the St. Luke's Parish Community Council and its hospitality ministry, and with the Isis Community Circle; is chairwoman of Bronxworks' Betances Community Center; and helps organize the African Diaspora Film Festival.
"Years ago, I had a massive brain stroke. I almost lost my life. But after it happened, I knew I was given a second chance," she said. "I started small and promised myself that the same way my community showed me their support, I was going to show the same support to the community."
With Christmas just weeks away, Vega has been organizing an event with Lincoln Medical Center to get toys to children of families who can't afford them on their own. And that's after she secured a turkey giveaway with Bronxworks, coordinated a book bag giveaway and hosted a fundraiser for the Betances center.