Local development collaborative to host two toy drives for Upper Manhattan families this week

For its second consecutive year, the PACT Renaissance Collaborative (PRC) is hosting their holiday toy drive this week, donating a variety of presents and snack gift bags to over 700 families and children living in Harlem, Washington Heights, and across Upper Manhattan. 

The PRC is a collection of not-for-profit and for-profit development partners who were selected by the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) due to their specialization in construction, maintenance and revitalization of affordable housing, according to their website. The team was assembled to form this initiative and implement the essential modifications and improvements that NYCHA had promised to the housed low-income marginalized families, but failed to deliver.

“We’re excited to begin this partnership with the more than 2,900 residents who call these developments home,” said President of Monadnock Development, Kirk Goodrich.

Goodrich, the initiative’s principal developer, leads the collaborative with the strong belief that every New Yorker deserves to live in a place that allows them to feel comfortable, secure, and “proud to call home.” He also recognizes the tension that some residents feel towards NYCHA and, by extension, the PRC. “We hope to earn the trust of every resident by following through on our commitments,” said Goodrich.

Photo courtesy of PRC

Although there is discord between the development residents and the PRC, there are also a few team members who understand these complicated issues as a result of overcoming some of the same challenges as these families. This first-hand knowledge allows the collaborative to navigate their way around situations and ensure that the initiative follows through on their responsibilities.

40-year-old Pierre Downing is one particular member of the PRC who shares these experiences. Downing is the Vice President of Affordable Housing at Monadnock Development and owner of Kalel Holdings LLC. He was raised in a public housing development in Trenton, New Jersey, with a single mother who worked and sacrificed for Downing and his brother. 

“Understanding what it’s like to watch your mother have emotional reactions to not being able to pay an electric bill, or to make the choice to make sure there is certain food on the table so she might not eat that day, so that her two sons would be okay and be fed. I think about those moments,” said Downing. 

When asked to describe his work, the one word Downing offers is “visceral,” as he is confronted with images of his family in the people that he encounters on a daily basis.

These indelible childhood memories aid him in all aspects of his career. Whether he is on the ground interacting with residents, or coordinating with developers to ensure that every apartment is equipped with all the furnishings a family requires, Downing is committed to “building up these families” and “not stifling them.”

Downing heavily emphasizes his concern for the children that will be impacted by these housing developments, noting that restoring old jungle gyms or basketball courts is important to him because he personally understands the incredible impact they have on mothers and fathers who want to play with their children.

Photo courtesy of PRC

He recalls from his childhood, the absence of mothers and fathers playing with their children. “It was a single mother and her children, and the mother was required to go to work, so she could provide for her family.

“And the kids, in some cases, were left to raise themselves,” said Downing. “That’s what I’m thinking through when I am working every single day.”

The PRC seeks to provide as much support as they can, to the children and families that they house. So as the holiday season rolls around, the toy drive is an important part of accomplishing this. 

The toy drive is an effort to provide these marginalized communities with some of the holiday season joy, by bringing them together and participating in the gift-giving tradition.

We give presents at the end of the year to recognize how fortunate we all are, Downing believes. 

Through hosting the drive, he hopes, “families see it, receive it, enjoy it and see how, they too, can give within their community and other residents.”

The toy drive will be taking place from 4:00 – 5:30 p.m.:

Tuesday, Dec. 14

Location: PS 139, 120 West 140th

Thursday, Dec. 16

Location: 99 Fort Washington