|New York City Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano swears in Howard P. Milstein, Chairman of New York Blood Center's Board of Trustees, as an Honorary FDNY Battalion Chief, as Milstein's son, Michael, looks on. (Photo courtesy New York City Fire Department.)
It may have escaped the notice of folks from around here, but Howard P. Milstein and his Emigrant Bank seems to be a kind of first responder in charity associated with hurricanes and other disasters.
It was announced last month that he donated $2.3 million to help the more than 2,000 New York City first responders who were severely impacted by Hurricane Sandy in late October.
The funds are being administered by the New York City Police Foundation and Fire Department of New York Foundation and will be distributed in time for the holidays, which was the intent of Milstein's gift.
Naturally enough, this impressed the recipients and those who will directly distribute the funds.
New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said, "This is another outstanding expression of support for our first responders by (Milstein) who has always been there for them.”
Susan Birnbaum, New York City Police Foundation President and CEO, said, "We are especially grateful to Howard Milstein for his extraordinary generosity."
New York City Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano said, "Howard Milstein has once again proven himself to be a true friend to all first responders.”
One thing about Milstein, when he gives, which is often, he gives on the spot.
"The FDNY Foundation is honored that Howard Milstein has graciously offered financial assistance to members of the Department who have lost so much during the storm," said FDNY Foundation Executive Director Jean O'Shea. "Most important of all, this generous gift is expeditiously arriving to our Firefighters, EMTs and Paramedics; so that they receive the funds at a time when they need them most."
As mentioned above, this is not the first time Milstein has been generous in times of disaster.
In response to the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Milstein, through his EmigrantDirect, the Internet banking division of Emigrant Savings Bank, took the unprecedented step of giving each and every one of their customers in the most affected counties and parishes in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, a gift of $1,000 per household.
The funds were deposited directly into customers' bank accounts and were available for immediate withdrawal.
Milstein explained the gesture of giving to one and all of his customers at the time of the crisis. "We recognize that to some of our customers, $1,000 will offer a meaningful amount of support,” Milstein said. “To others more fortunate, in the wake of the disaster, we would encourage those customers to donate these funds to others in their communities less able to rebuild on their own."
Before Katrina, Milstein was instrumental in helping the New York City Police Foundation establish a counseling program with Columbia University for police officers affected by 9/11.
After September 11th, he opened his hotels and buildings in Manhattan to FDNY members engaged in the difficult rescue and recovery work.
Closer to home, the Niagara Falls Reporter has partnered with Milstein’s Niagara Falls Redevelopment for countless programs that include fund raising and promotional efforts ranging from organizations like the Community Missions and Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center to local block clubs, business associations and innumerable charity events.
Milstein also donates the entire administrative costs of the Federal Law Enforcement Foundation, whose chairman is Anthony Bergamo, the CEO of Niagara Falls Redevelopment.
This worthy charity, which is run on a model where 100 percent of donations go directly to intended recipients – in this case the families of fallen law enforcement officers - achieves its goal because Milstein pays all administrative costs for the 25-year-old organization.
Of course, some will say, Milstein is rich. Charity like this is not excessive for a billionaire.
But consider the frequency and the thoughtfulness of the gifts. He doesn't need to do it. No one would chide him if he did not do it.
Few have so much that millions mean nothing.
After the worst storm New York City has ever experienced, Milstein gave $2.3 million, an extraordinary gift, so that first responders could repair the homes they lost that night, when, as Fire Commissioner Cassano said, “they selflessly put the needs of others before their own and bravely responded to perform rescues in flooded neighborhoods and from burning homes."
Milstein returned the compliment. He put their needs ahead of his own.
And while he does not live here, Milstein is nevertheless a part of the fabric of Niagara Falls. He is one of our own.
And when one of us does a gesture of great goodness, it behooves us to take note of it and, for the human family, to take a moment to both recognize him and above all, to humbly thank him.