TRIBECA — Hakeem Brown, who has been sleeping on the city's streets for about a year, was huddled on a TriBeCa sidewalk Christmas morning with just a sweatshirt to keep him warm when a kindly stranger came up to him.
That stranger was Claire Thaxton, a Brooklyn dental hygiene student, who was on her way to visit relatives on Long Island when she spotted the young homeless man. She had just seen a sign for a Christmas Day coat drive down the street at the New York City Rescue Mission, and she convinced Brown to go with her to check it out.
Brown, 21, joined dozens of people lined up outside the mission, at 90 Lafayette St., to pick up warm, donated clothing as temperatures stayed well below freezing on Wednesday morning. He received a heavy gray overcoat as well as a hat and gloves, as part of New York Cares' 25th annual coat drive.
"I was on my way to see family in Hempstead...I saw him lying on the street on cardboard and I told him to come with me," said Thaxton, a mother of grown children, who began to cry as she spoke. "I couldn't just walk past him and leave him there."
Brown said he appreciated the gesture.
"I've been on the street for 12 months," he said. "I need a coat to get through this winter."
Demand for New York Cares' coats rose by more than 20 percent this year, from about 80,000 coats last year to more than 102,000, while donations have slipped from a typical 28,000 coats by Christmas to just 18,000 this year, New York Cares Executive Director Gary Bagley said.
"On a day like today, we can all imagine what it's like to be outside in anything less than a good coat," he said. "This year, we are seeing an unprecedented demand for coats."
The dip in donations this year followed last year's spike.
"In the face of Hurricane Sandy a year ago, our collections were incredibly high — we collected 123,000 coats," Bagley explained, adding that many donors cleaned out their closets last year in the wake of the storm. "We never have as many coats for children as we need."
Donors can bring coats to their local police precinct through February, Bagley said.