Many of us have heard the story before: In the summer of 1966, ISKCON founder Srila Prabhupada acquired a storefront space in New York’s Bowery neighborhood with the help of a couple disciples. It had previously been a curio shop, the name of which Srila Prabhupada found quite suiting to his mission of spreading Krishna consciousness: Matchless Gifts. This would become the birthplace of ISKCON worldwide.
Despite all the transformations that New York has undergone throughout the years, 26 2nd Avenue remains a place of sacred pilgrimage to tens, if not hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world. This is truly a testament to the global community of devotees who have come together with the united purpose of preserving this sacred space. Thanks to ISKCON's Governing Body Commission and devotees from all over the world who have either served managerially and/or financially over the years, ISKCON, incredibly enough, still maintains the space after over five decades.
In April 2019, the board of directors of ISKCON of 26 2nd Avenue entered into a new 12-year lease with the owners of the storefront, which is great news for the many devotees around the world who come to visit the place that they've read about in Prabhupada Lilamrita and the many exciting memoirs of Prabhupada’s earliest disciples. One of the challenges they now face though is keeping up with the annual increases in rent defined in the new lease. With the popular Bhakti Center literally on the opposite side of the same block, there's not much programming at Matchless Gifts. The space is rented out by separate groups within ISKCON every Friday and Saturday evening, and sometimes special programs take place there, e.g., Srila Prabhupada's appearance day, but at this point, 2nd Avenue does not have its own congregation.
Since Matchless Gifts is a part of ISKCON's heritage, and one of only a few projects that are truly of global significance for the Society, every ISKCON devotee has a stake in this holy place of pilgrimage. Therefore, the management team has begun a "26 for 26" campaign - $26 a month for 26 2nd Avenue. Their thinking is that although everyone has a lot of worthwhile projects that they support financially, $26 is a relatively small amount for most devotees. If enough devotees come forward to commit to a monthly pledge of $26, they will be able to meet their monthly expenses and keep their doors open for the whole Society.
Anyone who has been to Matchless Gifts at 26 2nd Avenue has felt Srila Prabhupada’s mercy, still tangible in that small space. The stewards of this magical place where ISKCON was incorporated by Srila Prabhupada in 1966 continue in their determination to keep that mercy available to any and all who want to experience it. They want this humble storefront on the lower east side of Manhattan in New York to remain a matchless gift that keeps on giving to the devoted and the curious well into the future and beyond.
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If anyone is interested in helping sustain the first ISKCON center in the world, they can go to: http://krishnanyc.com/donate or reach out to Yadunath das (Treasurer for ISKCON of 26 2nd Avenue) at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.
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