Niki Russ Federman knows New York City.
As the fourth-generation owner of the iconic family-food business Russ & Daughters, Russ Federman and her family have been in the city for 107 years and worked through the Spanish influenza pandemic, two worlds wars, recession, depression, Hurricane Sandy, 9/11 and everything else the last century has brought.
That history only strengthens her resolve that New York City and all its residents will get through the current economic and health crisis, and come out stronger for it.
“Every time our city has been faced with adversity, so much creativity, so much growth and interesting things have come out of it,” Russ Federman told BK Reader. “And I see that being the case with what we’re going through now.
Russ Federman is one of the founding members of NY Forever, a new civic group aimed at getting New Yorkers engaged and committed to the city’s recovery. The group asks New Yorkers to take a simple pledge online to commit to the community of 8 million, and it aims to connect residents to volunteering opportunities and nonprofits in need of assistance, and just generally boost morale and pride amongst everyone who considers themselves New York strong.
Russ Federman said the group was started by a group of young New York patriots who felt “really, deeply committed to this city, and want to counter the false narrative that New York is dead and everyone is leaving and it’s all doom and gloom.”
Why? “Because that’s just not the case.”
She said rebuilding after 2020 also gave New Yorkers the opportunity, “to take a hard look at our city and see where we can really undo or reconsider some deeper issues, and make the city a place for everyone.”
The group hopes to get at least half a million people to take the pledge and it has enlisted the help of 100 iconic city residents, including Amy Schumer, Jerry Seinfeld, Hot 97’s Ebro Darden, Misty Copeland and Slick Rick.
The initial campaign includes a multi-channel marketing blitz to build awareness and civic engagement, through which the nonprofit will release new videos with notable New York City celebrities from film, tv, sports, theatre and community organizations.
Russ Federman said it was all about rallying around each other as a community of New Yorkers, and bringing people together, “this is why we’re here, these people are why we’re here.”
“Something about this town is that whatever you’re interested in, you’re going to find your people, you’re going to find people who can inspire you to be as good as you can be in whatever your interest is,” she said.
“But I think we all get as much, if not more, from the people who are not like us.” Connecting with and supporting those people was what the campaign was all about, she said.
Russ & Daughters opened its Brooklyn location not long before the pandemic hit, having built out 1800 square feet on Flushing Ave with the intention of growing into the space over coming years.
But when the pandemic hit, like all food-service business owners, Russ Federman had to pivot. The Brooklyn space, that includes a bakery and retail section, but is also where the kitchen, warehousing and shipping is based, became the hub of operations as the other two restaurants were closed.
Russ Federman said opening the Brooklyn space – a somewhat full circle move being the place her great-grandfather found his feet when he arrived in New York – saved the company.
But she knows how deeply impacted the industry has been and will continue to be in coming years. In the coming weeks NY Forever will work to support out-of-work restaurant workers in partnership with ROAR, and roll out programs to connect New Yorkers to urgent volunteer needs through New York Cares and Citizens Committee for New York City.
It will also introduce limited-edition merchandise “drops” with some of New York City’s top designers to benefit New Yorkers in need.
NY Forever founders Risa Heller and Jonathan Rosen said New York’s comeback depended on New Yorkers.
“We are eager to help our neighbors play a meaningful part in building New York’s future — by supporting locally owned small businesses, looking out for our unemployed restaurant workers, applauding our essential workers and caring for families battling homelessness. We are excited about this project and confident in the city’s resilience.”
Find out how to get involved and take the pledge at www.nyforever.nyc.
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