EDISON – Leslie Stivale took the call in her office at the Triple C Housing late in January and was surprised by the news.
Amazon, which had opened a fulfillment center in Edison in October, was offering hundreds and hundreds of household items, from cleansers to slippers, to people with disabilities and those previously homeless people. Amazon called to help Triple C, in its hometown of Edison and in the surrounding communities it serves, including New Brunswick.
“I couldn’t believe it. We’ve never received such a large donation. This is going to impact every one of our clients,” Stivale, executive director of the non-profit housing agency, said during ceremonies Monday announcing the donations at the Edison Housing Authority.
It is expected the volume of items would be enough to serve at least 60 families that Triple C has identified as critical in need.
Candace Jones, senior business operator for the Amazon fulfillment center in Edison, said the online giant is eager to reach out to the local host communities and help where it can. Amazon has six fulfillment centers in Middlesex County; two in Carteret, two in Avenel, one in Edison and one in Cranbury.
“We really want to be a good neighbor,” Jones said. “We’re are so excited to be a partner with Triple C. Housing."
Amazon donated 15 pallets of products, including skin care items, towels, laundry detergent, baby care supplies, nutritional and dental care products, and shoes, sneakers and slippers. Donations were all over the place, from computer keyboards to a DVD boxed set of every episode of "Beverly Hills 90210."
And so large was the size of the donation that Triple C had to scramble to find storage, and turned to Edison Township officials for help, Stivale said. Township leaders found a company willing to provide storage space and help with logistics, Romark Logistics of Westfield.
Stivale said one of her agency’s staff members, Deb Kaufman, the program coordinator, first made contact with Amazon outreach officials last December. Kaufman was seeking funds that Triple C could use to provide items for clients at Christmas. The mayor's office was instrumental in making that initial contact with Amazon, which donated $5,000 just in time for the holiday season.
Just over a month later, the company called to offer the much larger donation.
Edison Mayor Thomas Lankey, who attended the event, praised Amazon, Triple C, the Edison Housing Authority and the many others who stepped in to handle the coordination and distribution of such a sizable donation.
“This is not something that just happens. This is something that you have to work at,” Lankey said, of serving those in need. “How a community deals and handles its most vulnerable residents is how a community should be judged."
Started in 1979, Triple C assists people with various disabilities, along with former long-term hospital patients, and people and families that are homeless.
One grateful recipient was Sharon Yahn, who lives in the Rutgers Gardens apartment complex in New Brunswick. She is unemployed and struggles to provide for two young children, ages 5 and 8. She was especially grateful for the cleaning supplies, toiletries and sneakers, noting all those items can be very expensive.
"I am excited and happy to be here," Yahn said, adding she was also the proud winner of a pedicure foot massager, which the mayor raffled off on behalf of Amazon.
Yahn also was able to meet with Candace Jones of Amazon and express her interest in working at the Edison fulfillment center, which offers competitive wages and health insurance to all its employees in Day One. Jones promised to follow up with Yahn.
"This has been a great day," Yahn said, with a big smile, as she used a large cart to carry out a variety of items, from paper towels to spray cleansers. "I am very lucky to have had the chance to come here. Who knows what will happen next?"
Another recipient, who identified herself as "Jaye," described how she and her husband has just bought a house for themselves and their children, when she became disabled and unable to work. She and her husband subsequently divorced and she struggled to keep a roof over the heads of her and children, and ultimately had to give away a pet dog.
Unable to keep up with bills, as she was not receiving child support, Jaye said she and her children moved from one rental unit to the next, sometimes jamming into a motel room with their dogs. “Every morning it was just a struggle to get up,” she said, recalling how she prepared the family meals in motel rooms with a microwave, hot plate and a mini-refrigerator.
Then, three years ago, she applied to Triple C for help, and her family now lives in a home. One son is in college, another is seeking a job in law enforcement and her daughter is a cheerleader at high school.
“We don’t have to worry about being kicked out. We don’t have to worry about the safety on the street,” she said.
Triple C now serves 250 households in Middlesex, Monmouth and Ocean counties, with most of the clients living in the more than 20 homes that the agency owns and operates, and other places.