Art Cashin '59.
Art Cashin on the roots of the NYSE Christmas Fund
The fund helped feed hundreds of thousands of people
Art Cashin had a humble start, he’ll explain. His parents were the superintendents of a building in Jersey City, and in at least one 1959 Xavier yearbook where someone scribbled the names of the colleges seniors were attending above their portraits, his photo is one of only three in the class that is marked “working.”
The 1959 yearbook portrait of Art
Cashin, marked "working."
At the time, his father had just passed away and Art had to forego the opportunity for college to help his mother, Gertrude, make ends meet for Art, his sister and his brother.
Only a handful of years later, Art became one of the youngest men to ever hold a seat on the New York Stock Exchange. He would go on to establish himself as an exchange floor veteran, working for PaineWebber and, later, UBS, while serving as Governor and a member of a number of exchange committees.
But one particular evening, around Thanksgiving 1982, something remarkable happened that would shape part of Art’s life and impact thousands of people in the New York area.
Art was at a gathering of other floor brokers when someone noticed a local television news program reporting on a meal distribution site set up at a nearby shelter. “A family of four came down to be fed, but the site didn’t seat four seats next to one another, so they were separated,” Art recalled. “Everyone remarked how terrible it was that they couldn't be seated together.”
Art thought, Wouldn’t it be great if they could have Christmas dinner on their own?
He contacted Windows on the World, the restaurant atop the World Trade Center, and arranged for a quantity of Charles Dickens Packages – boxed family meals with cooked turkey and all the fixings – that could be sponsored and delivered directly to families across the city, ensuring that those in need could enjoy the holiday while surrounded by family and loved ones.
Art and others reached out to Catholic Charities and arranged for discreet delivery to homes using simple, unmarked boxes. The program was structured as simply as that, and as Christmas neared, the $75-per-meal sponsorships from floor brokers and others were enough first to pay for 200 packages, then, soon after, 400.
With the right contacts and a network of supporters willing to make a small sacrifice around the holidays, Art shepherded the Exchange Christmas Dinner Fund for many years as it grew by leaps and bounds. “When you see that there is a task to be done, you find a way to get it accomplished,” he said recently. “The floor was a very generous place and we found a way to tap into what was there.”
Momentum continued to grow, and in 1987 the Fund was awarded a special citation from President Ronald Reagan. At a distribution site setup at the Children’s Aid Society on 115th Street in Manhattan, Art once saw burly basketball players from a nearby team. The men were busy volunteering their time to escort grandmothers home to prevent anyone from taking the package away from them.
These acts of charity were contagious, too. Soon, word arrived telling of families who, with more food than they needed in their care packages, had invited neighbors from their apartment buildings over to celebrate the holidays and share in the feast. This way, nothing would go to waste.
For 24 years, the Exchange Christmas Fund helped feed innumerable families. During the 2006 holiday season alone - the last year the program existed in its original form – an estimated 185,000 people had food on their table thanks to its support.
Art is not one to stand on his laurels. With his continuing success in the business world, he still remembers his past, that younger version of himself, pictured in the 1959 Xavier yearbook, listed simply as “working.”
“I remember difficult times of my own, and when I see people around me who are a little less fortunate, I try to help out,” he said.Each week we will be publishing the story of one 2010 Xavier Hall of Fame Inductee. Art Cashin will be recognized at Xavier’s Hall of Fame Dinner, which will take place November 5th at Pier Sixty at Chelsea Piers. For tickets and more information, please contact Mrs. Helene Strong at 212-924-7900 x.1654, or by email at email@example.com.