Annual coat drive returns; donate to those in need

Photo Courtesy of Cherie Leanza Sorting through some donated coats are, from left, Kimberly DeBlasi, Michael Leanza and Braden Shipke. Residents can donate coats to those in need through Dec. 9 by dropping them at 6 Inwood Place in Maplewood.
Photo Courtesy of Cherie Leanza
Sorting through some donated coats are, from left, Kimberly DeBlasi, Michael Leanza and Braden Shipke. Residents can donate coats to those in need through Dec. 9 by dropping them at 6 Inwood Place in Maplewood.

MAPLEWOOD, NJ — The GenWealth Group of Maplewood is once again encouraging residents to drop off clean and gently used coats for men, women and children for donation to the 20th annual Jersey Cares Coat Drive, a program that will eventually distribute all donated coats to approximately 200 New Jersey-based nonprofits.

Anyone interested in contributing coats can place them in the box inside the GenWealth’s lobby at 6 Inwood Place during regular business hours through Dec. 9. All donors will receive a free box of chocolates for their generosity.
Of course, the real reward for taking part in the drive is not candy, or even the chance to clean out one’s closet. According to Cherie Leanza, GenWealth’s vice president of marketing, it feels wonderful to help those in need. And even though donating a coat might not seem like much, Leanza said it is actually a simple way to do a lot of good.

“It’s a coat — it’s probably something we all take for granted,” Leanza told the News-Record in a Nov. 5 phone interview. “There are people out there who are maybe near homelessness and don’t have a coat at all. So a coat can really make a difference to them.”

And differences have been made. GenWealth first joined the Jersey Cares initiative in 2011 as a way to bring its employees together while giving back to the less fortunate, Leanza said. According to her, the company’s collection has grown exponentially each year, gathering 120 coats that first year, 206 in 2012, 265 in 2013 and 268 in 2014.
This year Leanza said they hope to collect more coats than ever before, adding that several coats can already be found in the donation box despite the fact that the drive just started. In fact, while she was speaking to the News-Record, a young boy came into the office to deposit a coat, which Leanza said shows how the program really engages people of all ages in philanthropy.

It also demonstrates just how charitable the South Orange-Maplewood community is, Leanza said. She explained that residents always go out of their way to ask her when the drive is starting, and through the years she has seen people come out “in droves” to contribute. One year, she recalled that a couple formerly of Maplewood drove all the way from their new home in Pennsylvania just to drop off coats they had purchased specifically for the initiative.

“This is a community of engaged people,” Leanza said, which she said is why it does not surprise her that the drive is so successful every year. “This is a community where people get involved. They do not rest on their laurels. This community, Maplewood and South Orange, jumps on whatever is happening in their town.

“This is a community of givers,” she continued. “It just proves to me time and time again that when you put out a call for something in this community, and if people believe in it and they can contribute, they will.”

Having a set collection site is vital for this drive, according to Jersey Cares service events manager Jennifer Lewellen, who said the nonprofit organization is grateful for GenWealth’s participation in the initiative. As one of approximately 300 collection sites throughout New Jersey — and only one of three in Essex County, according to the site list — Lewellen said the company is integral to the gathering and sorting of coats. In addition, she said having the support of a local institution is extremely beneficial to the cause.

“Anytime we can get a company volunteering, it just engages so many people more quickly having that trusted name spreading our message,” Lewellen told the News-Record in a Nov. 5 phone interview. “It’s just really helpful and really inspiring to see.”

And more people on board with Jersey Care’s mission means more coats going to help job-seekers continue their search for work in the winter, students concentrate on their studies in a cold classroom or senior citizens venture out in the cold to pick up needed medication, Lewellen pointed out. The state’s homeless population — which consisted of 10,211 individuals as of 2015, per the NJ Counts survey — also needs to keep warm.

That means every coat counts. After having already donated more than 500,000 coats over the past two decades, Lewellen said Jersey Care’s goal this year is to collect at least 30,000. But it needs all the help it can get.
Aside from volunteering as a collection site, Lewellen said people can find and participate in collection site coat sorting, during which donated coats are separated into men’s, women’s and children’s groups before being delivered to one of Jersey Care’s 10 containers. Jersey Cares will also invite volunteers to sort all of the coats at each of its containers during a widespread sorting event on Dec. 10, after which the coats will be sent to the nonprofits that requested them.

Easiest of all, Lewellen said people can simply donate coats to the cause, which she encouraged everyone to do.
“It’s a great way to network as a state of volunteers who want to share what they have with others,” Lewellen said. “It’s just a great way to get involved in giving something back over the holidays.”