Teak Benches Used by Homeless Donated to Kips Bay Men's Shelter

By Amy Zimmer on June 23, 2011 6:55am 

By Amy Zimmer

DNAinfo News Editor

MANHATTAN — When the Plymouth Tower renovated its two residential plazas, it decided to get rid of its four teak benches, in part because they had become a popular sleepover spot for homeless.

Now, by a happy coincidence, two of the smooth wooden benches are set to be installed at a garden for a homeless men's shelter in Kips Bay, officials from the 30-story co-op on First Avenue between 92nd to 93rd streets said.

"The fact that things can find a new life is terrific," said Tara Reddi, a board of director at the 340 East 93rd Street Corp. "Everything is being recycled, finding a new home, rather than going into a dumpster. I'm really happy."

Of the benches, which are nearly six-feet-long, Reddi said, "Unfortunately, they can accommodate what I would call overnight guests."

"It's a fact of life," she continued. "You can't prevent anyone from sleeping in a place, but it's been a real issue partly just to keep the plaza clean."

Reddi tried to give away the benches on Craigslist, but was unsuccessful.

She then mentioned it to Sarah Gallagher, who posted it on her Upper Green Side blog about environmental happenings in the area.

By sheer luck, Carol Ann Rinzler, of the Turtle Bay Association, happened to read that posting and knew that the shelter needed two benches.

Residents have been helping the Department of Homeless Services beautify the garden at the former Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital, which has planted rosebushes, perennials, zucchini, peppers, tomatoes and, for a time, experimented with watermelons.

"It was a moment of serendipity," Rinzler said. "It was one of those things that was absolutely lovely. Why spend $300 to $400, or maybe more, when these two benches are available?"

The newly designed spaces favor single seating instead, Reddi said.

The building's 1,600-square-foot plaza near its entrance on East 93rd Street was renovated four years ago, and its 600-square-foot garden along 92nd Street took five years of working with City Planning and was finished this spring, Reddi said.

The homeless shelter is expected pick up the benches on Thursday, said Community Board 6 Chair Mark Thompson, who helped broker the exchange.

"Homeless Services is grateful to the residents of East 93rd Street for their donation of benches to improve the space for the men at the shelter and the quality of the garden’s appearance for the community as a whole," said a spokeswoman for the Department of Homeless Services, which runs the shelter and garden at First Avenue and East 30th Street.

"The men of 30th Street enjoy beneficial recreational activity planting vegetables and flowers in a small garden outside the shelter along First Avenue."

Because of various rules, people can't give money to the shelter but can donate items, so Thompson circulated the garden's wish list. He, for instance, plans to get fertilizer for it and hopes other will help with hoses, rakes, shrubs, perennials, annuals, seeds, gardening tools and other items.

"The shelter's garden is not living up to its potential," Thompson said. "It's overgrown. It's not like it's dirty, it just hasn't been loved in a while. So we said, 'Let's work together to beautify it.'"

Even though the community has wanted DHS to move the shelter — and the city has had various plans to do so over more than two decades — residents have been helping the facility, including by donating items and by getting magazine subscriptions for it.

"We want to support the men," Thompson said.

Thompson also found a home for two other benches and two Central Park-style lampposts the co-op wanted to get rid of. The benches and lampposts had been sitting in storage.

Those will be going to the National Dance Institute, which is moving from SoHo on Broadway near Houston to the former P.S. 90 building in Harlem at 217 W. 147th St.

"There are people who are doing things like this all the time," Gallagher said of the exchange. "But people don't know about it. Hearing about it fosters more of it and reminds us we are a giant assemblage of villages, if you will."

Already Gallagher is making more connections. She has been Community Board 8 prepare for this Sunday's e-waste recycling event on First Avenue between 92nd and 93rd streets and noticed they were going to get rid of a serviceable laptop. A few hours after finding that out, she talked to a woman in a nearby housing project, who was looking for a computer but couldn't afford one.

"We should be helping each other out like this," Gallagher said.

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