Acts of Kindness Part 2: Compassion, Resourcefulness, Generosity and Commitment

05.27.20 | Susan Duncan

We continue with our heart-warming stories of friends and colleagues in our profession who are engaged in selfless acts of kindness, putting their love for philanthropy and volunteerism to work during this challenging time for many people and families. If you or others you know are involved in acts of kindness specific to the coronavirus pandemic or if COVID is changing the nature of the work you are doing for charitable causes, please get in touch with me at sduncan@rainmakingoasis.com.

Our first post in this series featured stories on Aleisha Gravit, Trish Lilley, Matt Parfitt and Roy Sexton. Our next issue will feature Savannah Alden, Jan Anne Dubin and Despina Kartson. And now for this week’s very inspiring story!

Stacy Rotner, Director of Corporate Responsibility, Sidley Austin LLP

Stacy lives in New York City and has long been interested in philanthropy and volunteering. In 2009, she took on an eight-month pro bono externship while practicing as an associate in the investment management group at Sidley. Once she returned to the firm, she expressed her passion for philanthropy and through research, connections to others and support from firm leadership, she developed Sidley’s first social responsibility position and program that she has now run for 10 years.

After Hurricane Sandy, Stacy was galvanized into action when she realized how unprepared everyone was for the crisis that followed. People were in desperate need, so she started an initiative with Roy Niederhoffer, a friend who is a hedge fund manager, to seek donations of non-perishable foods which they bagged and sent out by truckloads to the Rockaways. Stacy oversaw the donation of pallets of food by a big box store (who she calls a “silent angel” as they do much good but don’t want any PR for it) and Fairway. A synagogue donated their sanctuary so the team could bag the food. Fairway later donated their entire parking lot on a busy Sunday, for volunteers to bag food on a separate date.

When COVID began to take hold, Roy, who has an undergraduate degree in neuroscience and was following the news and trends on the virus, projected that something big was going to happen and people would be trapped indoors. He was right, and Stacy had been listening. So on April 4th, during that evening’s daily applause for healthcare workers, she launched GratiFoodNYC to show gratitude to and share appreciation for front-line health care workers caught up in the COVID-19 crisis. Inspired by a friend who is physician in the ER at Columbia Presbyterian who told stories of deteriorating conditions for the workers, Stacy felt she couldn’t stand by and do nothing, so she launched this grassroots initiative to raise funds to help provide meals to frontline healthcare workers in the ICU and emergency departments of New York City hospitals.

One month later, her mission and success had morphed into supporting thousands of people. Stacy initially sought to raise $6,000 in the hopes of being able to provide 70 front-line health-care workers at three hospitals a meal once a week. Within a day, she had surpassed her goal and raised $10,000 and within four weeks she had raised $65,000 from family, friends, colleagues, complete strangers, neighbors in her building and people from Madrid, Tel Aviv and Taiwan. To date, GratiFoodNYC has donated and delivered nearly 6,000 meals as of May 22 across 12 New York City hospitals in Manhattan, Queens and the Bronx. One company contacted Stacy to donate $30,000 that represented their waived their food stipends to employees who enthusiastically supported the donation. She has purchased meals from various restaurants and caterers including Melba’s, FieldTrip, By the Way Bakery, Sophie’s Cuban Cuisine, Shake Shack and other businesses. This initiative has not only helped frontline health care workers but also kept businesses open that otherwise might have had to close since GratiFoodNYC purchases most of the food that it donates.

CEOs, friends and friends of friends also reached out with different donations that Stacy helped connect to the hospitals. CEO’s of Siggi’s and also Hint beverage company contacted Stacy to donate product to hospitals; Mindy Richenstein, Founder of Supplies for Success, donated art supply kits for the children of frontline healthcare workers through Stacy’s introductions to the hospitals; and Jackie Stone, a friend of a friend, reached out to Stacy and donated 1,500 masks which were distributed through Stacy’s network to a hospital in the Bronx. As Stacy says, “the virus has led to viral generosity.”

Stories of the effects of the pandemic continued to personally move and motivate Stacy. For example, the story of the health worker who spends around $100 a week of her own money to place daffodils on the bodies of those who die. And, the recent headline about U.S. unemployment hitting Depression Era levels. On weekly calls with the Robin Hood Foundation, Stacy learned in early May that over 1.2 million New Yorkers have lost jobs since February and one third of the food pantries had to be closed due to COVID. That put pressure on the open food pantries which can be observed by the lines of people waiting for food that stream around blocks in the city. Hence, Stacy’s next area of focus and urgency was born.

GratiFoodNYC will continue to deliver meals to frontline healthcare workers through the end of May, but it will now take on an even larger, long-term and far-reaching mission: helping to feed the individuals, families and children who are going hungry in New York. After successfully feeding the frontline healthcare workers, it became impossible to ignore the devastating knowledge that fellow New Yorkers – families and children – were going without food. Between the more than one million New York City residents facing unemployment and a third of food pantries closed due to COVID, pantries that remained open were seeing 40-50% increases in demand with food lines extending for blocks.

In mid-May, GratiFoodNYC officially partnered with New York Common Pantry, a well-respected non-profit organization that provides food for food insecure individuals in New York City. Even during the COVID pandemic, this emergency and supplemental food provider, which includes a soup kitchen, two choice food pantries, in East Harlem and the South Bronx, and over 100 food distribution locations, has remained open every day serving lunch and providing grocery packages. GratiFoodNYC continues to garner media attention and has recently been featured in the New York Post, CNBC and Thrillist.

Stacy is quick to express deep appreciation to Sidley – to the lawyers and staff who have donated and supported her and to the firm’s leadership that has enthusiastically endorsed her work on this massive undertaking. While she is still full-filling all her responsibilities in her “day job,” she is very grateful for the kindness of those in her firm’s community all of whom have given generously without any desire for recognition.
Anyone interested in helping to support Stacy’s efforts through donations or volunteering, or through press coverage should contact Stacy at srotner@sidley.com.

They can also donate directly to GratiFoodNYC. Stacy has been a resource for others with ideas and who are looking for ways to help by directing them to teams in need. Eventually, Stacy would to love spark a national movement to feed America but for now, she is staying focused on New York.

RainMaking Oasis provides consulting, training and coaching services to law firms and lawyers in the areas of business development and growth strategy, innovation, client retention and expansion, succession planning and leadership and personal effectiveness skills. Please contact Susan Duncan at sduncan@rainmakingoasis.com.