Brokers' Christmas gift: phones for senior citizens

This Christmas Day, Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith Inc. will open its headquarters doors to 750 senior citizens - allowing them to use Merrill Lynch phones to call relatives anywhere around the world. At the same time, Merrill Lynch will give thousands of toys to needy children.

At Bache Halsey Stuart Shields Inc., another large broker, and the New York Stock Exchange, employees have also brought in toys for needy children. Bache will distribute the toys through the Marine Corps's Toys for Tots and the exchange will give them to the Salvation Army.

And, instead of sending Christmas cards to one another, the employees of Standard & Poor's, a rating agency, will give the amount of money they save - $1 ,800 - to two community groups helping senior citizens and youth.

This is part of the Christmas spirit on Wall Street, where some of the brokerage houses and investment bankers are working hard to change the Scrooge-like image of the stockbroker.

''We hope to dispel the myth of Scrooge,'' says William A. Shreyer, chairman of Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith, adding, ''When you see the gifts people are leaving for needy children, I guess you realize we're not all heartless.''

Mr. Shreyer says he got the idea of letting senior citizens use Merrill Lynch's phones from one of his co-workers last year who handed him a newspaper clipping telling the story of a Midwest company that did the same thing. ''I said, 'This is a great idea,' and we let some people in to use the phones. This year, we really organized it way ahead of time and we've got about 750 senior citizens.''

The senior citizens will be bused in by the New York City Transit Authority and will also be given refreshments donated by IBM. About 200 Merrill Lynch volunteers, including the company's treasurer and chief financial officer, will help escort them to one of four floors being used and will help them make their calls.

Gina Mitgang, one of the volunteers who works in Merrill Lynch's public affairs department, says she decided to come in on Christmas Day ''because I was looking for something really meaningful to do to celebrate Christmas. The company is making it easy for me to do something socially helpful.'' Merrill Lynch is also expecting some celebrity volunteers, including Joe Franklyn, a local TV star, and possibly Mayor Edward Koch and City Council President Carol Bellamy.

Helene Wolff, director of public information for the New York City Department of Aging, says she considers it ''a marvelous thing for the private sector to open its heart and headquarters to the old people who can't afford the price of a long-distance telephone call.'' The department was responsible for finding the people, who have no place to go on Christmas and will be separated from friends and family.

Shreyer remembers how the program turned out had last year. ''One man hadn't been able to locate his brother since 1939,'' he recalls, ''and when he found him in Israel his first communication with him was on the phone at Christmas.'' This year the brokerage house, working with the New York Telephone Company, has reserved phone lines for calls to Russia and other East-bloc countries.

The New York Stock Exchange started its volunteer program during the Korean war, when it gave radios and shaving cream to the USOs - the organization that helps members of the armed forces. After the war, recalls Bob Reynheer, an accountant in charge of the program, the NYSE started giving toys to the Salvation Army for needy children. The toys are usually distributed to orphanages, church groups, or children from broken homes. On an average Christmas, says Mr. Reynheer, the exchange collects 500 to 600 toys.

''We should do better,'' he says, noting that ''inflation has really hurt us.'' With $20, he notes, he used to be able to buy four new toys. Now the same amount of money only buys two.

Standard & Poor's began its program about six years ago and has seen it expand every year. Today, 650 out of its 800 employees make a contribution that goes either toward Caring Community, a group of five or six churches helping senior citizens, or the Lower West Side Children's Center. In return for forgoing sending Christmas cards, S&P's in-house artist devises a Christmas card with the names of all the donees inscribed on it. This card becomes the cover of the in-house magazine, explains Don Moser, an S&P spokesman.

Most of the brokers involved with toy giving programs leave barrels for the toys in the lobbies of their buildings. RoseMarie Lombardo of Bache says her goal is to get every employee to donate a toy, which will eventually be given to a handicapped child by the Marines.

''I know a lot of people are excited and enthused about the program and have given more than one gift,'' she says. E. F. Hutton says it too has a toy program and gives the toys donated to the New York Foundling Hospital

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