06/13/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

430,000 Lives Touched, Six Stories to Tell

Unless you're just waking up from a Rip Van Winkle-like snooze, you don't need me to tell you that times are tough. We've all been hurt. But poor New Yorkers have really been hurt. Unemployment has doubled here in the past 12 months. A full 40 percent of African-American men don't have jobs. Demand for emergency food has skyrocketed by 30 percent; last year more than 1.3 million New Yorkers went to a soup kitchen or a food pantry.

Robin Hood exists to help them and all our neighbors -- about 430,000 people a year -- who need assistance. Robin Hood searches out and supports more than 200 of the most effective poverty-fighting organizations in New York City. They make sure that children like Cheyanne have hot, nutritious meals; that families like Frank's have warm, safe homes; that babies like Giovanni have life-saving medical care. At you'll meet them and others who need our help more this year than last year, more today than yesterday.

Robin Hood Shelters from Robin Hood on Vimeo.

I'm a New Yorker born and bred, and I love this city. But the stark contrast between rich and poor here is something I've never gotten used to. And I hope I never will. Within the space of a few blocks, you can see couples eating in the finest restaurants in the world and homeless men and women with all their belongings in a shopping cart.

While street homelessness is the most visible sign of poverty, the hidden facts can break your heart even more: the fact that 9,300 homeless families sleep in shelters every night, the fact that 55 percent of babies born in New York City are born into poverty.

Once you find out that 1.9 million of our neighbors live below the poverty line (about $26,000 a year for a family of four), you never look at the city the same way again. Make no mistake, these are the true victims of the crisis. Economists observe that those at the bottom of the economic ladder suffer the longest in a recession.

I have the privilege of working with an incredibly talented bunch of people, the leaders of some of the strongest nonprofits in the city. They don't fit the do-gooder profile you might expect. Some are lawyers, some are teachers, some are nuns. Some grew up in the neighborhoods they serve; others wound up in New York through happenstance. Despite running schools and programs that are chronically underfunded, they radiate zeal for their missions.

If the theme of 2009 is doing more with less, then our grantees wrote the book. Whether you work for a corporation, a government agency or another nonprofit, their entrepreneurial spirit is an inspiration.

And while I fear we've only begun to witness the full force of this downturn, I am also strongly encouraged by what can be accomplished against the odds, as well as the groundswell of support shown by New Yorkers from all walks of life.