EAST ORANGE, NJ — Anyone who braved the freezing temperatures on Presidents Day, Monday, Feb. 15, and traveled on Main Street in Orange or East Orange would have seen coats with envelopes attached to them hanging on parking meters all along the main commercial artery that links the “Sister Cities.”
The coats were placed there by Bibi Taylor and Dr. Karma Warren, wives of the mayors of East Orange and Orange respectively, in collaboration with the Montclair Chapter of the Drifters Inc. organization, as part of the “Coffee & Coats” initiative. According to officials in both cities, the initiative is modeled after the “Project New” program in Nova Scotia, created to raise awareness for homelessness and the need for warm coats in winter.
According to Tracy Munford, president of the Montclair Drifters, from 8 to 10 a.m. that day, Taylor and Warren, along with volunteers from the Drifters, hung 40 coats on parking meters on Main Street, one of the two main thoroughfares that cross into both cities. Munford said dissemination began at the corner of Main and Day streets, near Orange City Hall, and continued into East Orange, down to Winans Street.
As a special gift, Munford said each person receiving a coat found a gift card donated by Dunkin’ Donuts in East Orange and McDonald’s in Orange.
“In East Orange, we collectively work together year-round to support those in need, but especially at this time of year, when a warm coat can make a world of difference in someone’s life,” said Taylor on Monday, Feb. 15. “I am humbled to participate in such a worthy cause.”
According to Munford, the giveaway presented an opportunity for the organization to show how meaningful giving back can be, not just for the local homeless population, but anyone in need.
“The Montclair Drifters are honored that first lady Bibi Taylor and first lady Dr. Karma B. Warren have joined us for this important program,” said Munford on Monday, Feb. 15. “As we enter some of the coldest days of the year, it is particularly important for us to help spread warmth to those in need, as part of our mission for 52 — to serve families and communities.”
Warren said helping those in need is what it’s all about.
“In a time when the need for community is so great on so many fronts, the Drifters have recognized this need and maximized their power and potential to benefit our community by partnering with the city of Orange Township,” said Warren on Monday, Feb. 15. “The ‘Coffee & Coats’ initiative represents a real grassroots effort to address families in need and, as the first lady of Orange, I am more than excited about this partnership.”
“I’m retired 23 years from General Motors and I think this is good,” said 91-year-old Orange resident Al Gregory on Monday, Feb. 15, who had just parked his car in a spot on Main Street in that city and was about to feed the parking meter when he noticed the black jacket with a letter attached that was hanging from it. “I give clothes away a lot to the church around the corner from me on Lanford Street in the Valley.”
East Orange resident Carla Nutter was out with her daughter to pay her cell phone bill at a store in Orange when they noticed the coats hanging on parking meters along Main Street. She said it was a good idea to do something so nice for those in need.
Nutter also said she saw someone take one of the coats off of a parking meter that day, so she knows the giveaway was not a wasted effort.
“My daughter, Jamie, noticed the coats; there was a little brown one and we saw someone take it, but my daughter said: ‘Mommy we’re not homeless; don’t take it,’” said Nutter on Monday, Feb. 15. “I think it’s amazing. It’s a good idea. The people really need it. ”
Warren is a physician who has firsthand experience with the dangerous effects of exposure to subzero temperatures on the homeless, elderly and others who come into hospitals seeking treatment. She said she was glad to do what she could to provide relief to residents suffering due to the prolonged cold spell that dropped temperatures across the area as low as 20 degrees during the three-day weekend.
In fact, it got so cold during the weekend that Essex County officials issued a “code blue” alert from 5 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 12, through 9 a.m. on Monday, Feb. 15.
According to county officials, a code blue alert can be issued when temperatures drop below freezing and conditions pose a threat to individuals who are homeless or medically fragile. During a code blue alert, a network of agencies throughout New Jersey helps people obtain shelter, food and clothing by enabling authorities to take homeless adults to shelter programs that have agreed to make additional beds available.
Warming Centers are also opened during stated hours to provide residents with a place that they can go to warm up. The local warming center serving Orange and East Orange is located at the Essex County LGBT-RAIN Foundation at 168 Park S., on the border between the Orange and East Orange.
For more information about the county warming center serving East Orange and Orange, call 862-444-0582 or 732-707-7246.