In the days leading up to the fourth of July, while most people were getting ready for vacations, barbecues, or fireworks, a dedicated corps of workers in Secaucus was busy unloading and sorting through three tractor trailers full of goods destined for distribution to the needy.
The Secaucus High School gym was transformed into a distribution center as towers of home items were unloaded from the trucks.
“We’ve been here for days,” said Lisa Snedeker, director of senior and community services for Secaucus, on July 3. “Last week I had some volunteers from the JSA, the Junior State of America. I had like 20 of them. But day camp started this week and now these kids all work for the day camp. They let me have 10 of them. Plus my daughter helps me.”
The items they were sorting through were donated by Fashion Delivers, a charitable organization in New York.
“We met them a while ago and set up this relationship,” said Mayor Michael Gonnelli. “It all happened during Sandy when we were doing outreach for food and all that other stuff. And it grew from there.”
Fashion Delivers receives donations of clothing and products from major corporations and redistributes those goods to organizations serving the needy. In 2013, Fashion Delivers received $179 million of donated products from 392 companies, helping 816 community partners.
Secaucus receives donations from numerous organizations including Fashion Delivers, then makes them available as needed to towns throughout the region.
The third tractor trailer contained donations from the Angel Wish Foundation.
Good neighbor Secaucus
As head of social services, Snedeker oversees the distribution of goods to the needy in town. She coordinated the groups of volunteers moving items from truck to gym, setting aside a portion of the bedding donations for her recipients, including about 160 kids.
Then the call went out to other neighboring towns, letting them know that items were available as needed.
Because Secaucus has established a highly organized system for receiving, storing, and dispensing donated goods, the town has become a de facto distributor for North Hudson and South Bergen Counties. “If there’s a tragedy in an area I notify the mayor of that town or the Red Cross that they can send people here,” said Gonnelli. “We do all the fire victims, we’ve done all the flood victims, fires in Union City, North Bergen, Weehawken, Carlstadt, Rutherford – we send stuff.”
“During Superstorm Sandy, Mayor Gonnelli had United Way come in. They had jackets,” said Assemblywoman Angelica Jimenez. “Brand new, high-end, name jackets. People in Hoboken had lost everything. Hoboken brought trucks, loaded them up with brand new jackets. He took care of all of us. He thinks of not only Secaucus, he thinks of the neighboring towns.”
Jimenez was in Secaucus on July 3 to pick up bedding for West New York, one of the towns in her district.
“At my legislative office we get a lot of calls when there are families in need,” she said, explaining how they planned to distribute the items. “We’re also going to call some of our parishes and some of our schools. Teachers know which are the neediest families.”
Cathy Wolf of Hygiene Project and Wrap 4 a Smile, two Secaucus-based charitable organizations working with children and the homeless, was picking up bedding for her program constituents. “We work with many shelters and soup kitchens,” she said. “We have Passaic, we have Newark, we have Hoboken, and we have over 300 foster children in Morris County.”
“We’re sharing with every town and city in this entire area,” said Gonnelli. “It doesn’t make sense to keep this stuff. Kids can use it.”
Fashion Delivers, the store
A portion of the donated items will be set aside for a special store in Secaucus established for those in need. Located at 79 Metro Way, it shares space with a United Way thrift store.
“Hartz gave us this building. It’s about 8,000 square feet,” said Gonnelli. “This part we gave to United Way. And they give us 10 percent of the profits for our emergency fund.”
The rear of the building houses the Secaucus food pantry, while the remainder of the building holds a unique store that doesn’t take credit cards – or even cash.
“People can come and shop and take what they need and leave,” said Gonnelli. No payment is required if you meet certain qualifications, specifically regarding income.
“It’s by appointment only,” he continued. “If you meet the criteria, then you can go through social services and make an appointment and you can come down here and shop.”
The shop is stocked with a wide variety of clothing items for kids and adults, from school uniforms to fashionable women’s work suits.
“Almost everything you see here was donated by Fashion Delivers,” said Gonnelli. “We’re constantly getting merchandise. This is really basically a Fashion Delivers store. We just got 12 boxes of jeans and jackets and stuff for winter. All designer names.”
“We got prom dresses last year,” said Jaswinder “Jassi” Kapadia, one of three women who administer all aspects of the store. “Really nice ones.”
But it’s not all glitter and fashion. “If there’s a fire at night, the next day we pack up tons of bags of clothes and bedding and send it to the victims,” said Maryanne Spangenberg, another of the store workers. “There were a lot of fires in the winter.”
“We get a call from social services,” adds Iqbaljit “Iqbal” Mangat, the last of the trio, explaining how they know what to pack for fire victims. “They tell us there were these many families, this many kids.”
The social services department also arranges the appointments, aiming to send groups of 10 families at a time to the store. “When school starts, we’re going to have tons of people,” said Kapadia.
Donations are sporadic, with months going by and nothing trickling in. Then along come three truckloads of bedding and other goods.
Meanwhile, “We keep hanging,” said Spangenberg as they got back to work preparing clothing for the racks. “Take price tags off… hang.”
Art Schwartz may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.