GLEN RIDGE, NJ — The Kiwanis Club of Glen Ridge clothing and household goods drive conducted semi annually from the back of Glen Ridge High School was notable this past Saturday morning. There was still coffee and SUVs with a parent and a kid or two driving up with donations that Kiwanis and GRHS Key Club members deposited into a truck backed into the dock. But the proceeding were without its longtime coordinator Joe Connolly.
A former Essex County judge, Connolly, who died in February, was the paternal presence of the drive. He would be the first person you would notice, out front, sitting in a group, his white hair backlit by the morning sun.
“Joe was in the club for 30-plus years and always had something to do with the drive,” Kiwanis member Jeff Monicelli recalled on Saturday. “About 20 years ago, he became the chairman of the event.”
Back then, according to Monicelli, the drive was known as the “Clothing and Toy Drive.”
Connolly was remembered as the person who ran the show. He contacted the trucking company, made sure the drive was publicized, handed out fliers, put out signs weeks before. Permission had to be obtained from the school district and there had to be insurance coverage.
One year it snowed on the drive. “He tried his best to make it go,” recalled Connolly’s wife, Phyllis, who was there this past Saturday for the annual collection.
Another time, the truck broke down. He stayed with piles of goods until another one arrived in the afternoon. A Kiwanis member recalled when Connolly recused himself after her son went to court on a speeding ticket. It was agreed that if he did something, Connolly made sure it was done well.
Fittingly, at its last meeting, the Kiwanis membership decided to give the drive a proper name: the John T. Connolly Clothing and Household Goods Drive.
There is also a new coordinator. His name is Greg Jenkins. He is from Montclair.
Jenkins is a relatively new Kiwanis member. He joined the club in September and met Connolly.
“I’ve always been involved with children,” Jenkins said. “I went to the Kiwanis website and found a local chapter. I saw that Kiwanis had a focus on children.”
Jenkins became drive coordinator by volunteering for it. But he had some help from Joe.
“He left a lot of detailed notes,” Jenkins said. “He told us who to contact, when to contact them. There’s a lot to be done. He left a whole packet of typed notes.”
But Jenkins said it was tough when he had to inform people connected with the drive that Connolly had died. There was no blueprint for that.