“Good thoughts, good words, good deeds,” Freddie Mercury’s father reportedly said. This quote is perhaps what made the House of Good Deeds jump out at me initially, given my Bohemian Rhapsody-inspired Queen obsession.
Founded by Leon Feingold and his then-fiancee Yuanyuan Wang, the organization is not so much a charity as a movement. In 2016, Feingold and Wang were engaged to be married, when she received a terminal diagnosis of metastatic endometrial cancer. The outlook bleak, the couple was determined to go ahead with their wedding plans on a turbo-charged schedule, and the outpouring of support that materialized in order to make that happen bordered on miraculous. The thing is, they both realized, it wasn’t a “miracle” in the occult sense, but a tsunami of benevolence from individuals that facilitated both the wedding arrangements and the quality of her medical care.
The revelation that the actions of just one person could have such a massive impact on the life of another inspired them to create a foundation that could continue encouraging that kind of fundamental altruism. Henceforth they declared Altruism their religion, and established the House of Good Deeds as the church under which they could promulgate the philosophy.
Tragically, Wang lost her battle with the disease just a few months after their wedding, but Feingold forged ahead with what would become their shared legacy. That said he does not manage operations alone. While the grunt-work is handled by himself and a corp of dedicated volunteers, he has established the organization as a 501(c)(3 ) not-for-profit, complete with a board of directors, hundreds of volunteer, three company vehicles and multiple storage units in Queens and Long Island.
And what do these storage units hold? Donations, and lots of them. Along the lines of what is one man’s trash, is another’s man’s treasure, they have received everything from a used dish towel (soaking wet and still sudsy) to a $20,000 commercial A.C. unit. The destination for these myriad wares? Whoever needs them. Basically, the House of Good Deeds operates as a rescue and distribution mission shifting useful items from where they are superfluous to where they are wanted.
In addition to the clothes and housewares it stores until distribution, the House of Good Deeds has rescued literal tons of food during the pandemic, as the tragic fate of so many closing restaurants resulted in an ongoing influx of perishables that they have been able to divert from landfills and into the hands of the needy. When all seven Irving Farms locations shuttered due to COVID-19, they called the House of Good Deeds who was able to divert back to use. Even City Harvest called them during the height of the pandemic, seeking their proficiency in distributing surplus food. When larger organizations were shutting down as early as March due to heightened safety precautions, the House of Good Deeds was still on the front lines every week, picking up the slack by rescuing and delivering hundreds of pounds of food every week, all around New York City.
But this is not the only function they perform. They also offer classes on Altruism mental health training courses, sponsor blood drives and hold giveaways of the donated items. Approximately monthly, during cooperative weather, a troop of volunteers descends upon Washington Square Park for what was their quarterly, and is now monthly, giveaway. In bright reflective vests (and currently, masks and gloves) they unload dozens upon dozens of bags and boxes full of clothing, housewares and books, in what amounts a a massive New York City-style stoop sale - except everything is free. You need it, you can take it.
As Feingold explains, “Traditional charity trickles down from the ‘haves’ to the ‘have-nots’, but Altruism goes in every direction: anyone can give and everyone can receive. If Bill Gates attends a Good Deeds Giveaway and likes a belt, we’d want him to take it rather than leave it for someone ‘more deserving,’ we’d just encourage him to pay it forward somewhere else. That’s how Altruism works.”
Feed the Freelancers
One woman Feingold contacted with an offer of donated food, Isabelle Olaguera, was so inspired by the work of the House of Good Deeds that she founded Feed the Freelancers, another nonprofit that partners with corporations to send groceries to freelancers who lost their sources of income due to the pandemic. She started it in Brooklyn, and has now spanned out to Philadelphia. Likewise, the House of Good Deeds services not only New York City, but has made inroads into the entire tri-state region, and has interested parties looking to potentially open HoGD chapters in Georgia, Chicago, Toronto, San Francisco and L.A. They have reached as far as Berlin, Germany, and are figuring out how to “franchise” the movement safely.
While the work they do has contributed significantly to the relief of distressed New Yorkers, their true goal is to champion Altruism as a way of life, rather than just isolated gestures. “Single acts of charity are like giving people a fish,” says Feingold, “but Altruism as a way of life is like teaching people to fish. None of us can be as helpful as all of us.”
His philosophy that every person can make a real difference has certainly proven true in his case. He hopes the House of Good Deeds he and his wife co-founded will inspire as many people as possible to be that person in their own lives, in whatever capacity they can. Wang would be proud.
The next House of Good Deeds giveaway will be at Judson Memorial Church on Saturday Oct. 17 from 12-5 p.m.
“Traditional charity trickles down from the ‘haves’ to the ‘have-nots’, but Altruism goes in every direction: anyone can give and everyone can receive.” Leon Feingold of the House of Good Deeds