It all began with a grammar schoolteacher in Hunts Point, the South Bronx.
Her name: Annette Van Ness.
Her school: PS 48.
A single mother, Annette worked hard to provide for her children. She started her teaching career late in life. She was an ESL teacher.
Many of the children whom she taught lived at the nearby Seneca House shelter.
One was a young girl who would come to school improperly dressed for the cold temperatures.
Annette asked her daughter Virginia to bring in some clothes and toys for the girl. Along with her five sisters, the girl shared a single doll.
On Christmas Eve, 1995, Virginia and several friends delivered toys, gloves, scarves, and hats to the Seneca shelter. The following year, a few more friends lent a hand. Every year, Virginia made it her mission to provide holiday gifts for all the Seneca House families.
Born and raised in the Bronx, Virginia had also experienced homelessness when she was young. On Mother’s Day, in 1967, the home she shared with her four siblings and their mother was lost in one of the Bronx fires.
Last month, Virginia reached out to us at LSSNY to ask if she could continue her tradition of providing Christmas gifts for Seneca House. We had assumed oversight of the shelter in July. We were delighted to say yes.
Now, nearly 30 years later, Virginia has realized her dream of donating holiday gifts for the whole shelter. Everyone gets a gift — whether that means gloves or scarves or hats or toys or a gift card to purchase a dinner. “Every year I say it’s too much but I do it and will continue to do it until I can’t — in honor of my mother,” she says.
Our Executive Director for Residential Services, Rachel Bleecker, asked Virginia to join our holiday celebration where we give out toys to the children. Virginia respectfully declined.
Says Rachel, “Virginia replied that she loves to share what she does with others to encourage them to get involved but that she respects the dignity of our families and prefers to remain their Angel behind the scenes. A truly beautiful human being who understands what giving is really all about.”
We are grateful to this new friend of LSSNY and the families at Seneca House.