PATERSON, NJ – In the chill of a damp December morning, dozens of Paterson families stood outside School 4 on Saturday. Children and adults waited in single file in a line that stretched along the side of the school and into the parking lot.
Inside, volunteers who started work in the early morning hours piled hundreds of winter coats on cafeteria tables to be distributed to folks outside who needed them. There also was an assortment of toys, including Nerf footballs, jewelry sets and Spiderman and Bratz dolls.
“I was happy to get up at six in the morning”, says Giovanni Restrepo, director of operations for the Boys & Girls Club of Paterson and Passaic, one of the events co-sponsors, who helped set up toys on some of the tables.
Restrepo said his goal was to have all the coats and toys distributed by the end of the day.
Anyelim Arbelo, who lives at 85 Presidential Boulevard with her two children, was among those in line. Arbelo said she doesn’t have much extra money to buys toys for her children. “It’s very good because it help people who don’t got money,” she said.
Over the course, a variety of groups and community leaders are conducting coat and toy drives. Among them are school board members Christopher Irving, Chrystal Cleaves, Manuel Martinez, Corey Teague and Kenneth Simmons, City Council members William McKoy and Kenneth McDaniel, Team HOPE and the New Generation Healing & Deliverance Tabernacle.
The Boys & Girls club event on Saturday was conducted in conjunction with Newark Now and Paterson Public Schools. It’s among the biggest, with coats and toys provided for more than 600 people.
Shawnee Andrews, assistant director of operations at the Boys & Girls club, said School 4’s role as a Full Service Community School made it a good site for distributing the coats and toys.
As part of the Full Service program, School 4 has a social worker who helps with community events and focuses on students’ needs outside the classroom. Andrews said there is great need for such help among families in the neighborhood around School 4.
“Newark Now has been great, the Boys & Girls club is great, and I hope that next year we can do something like this together as well, be an annual thing,” said Andrews.
Newark Now was founded by that city’s mayor, Corey Booker. Lavar Young, the executive Director of Newark Now, said the organization has been doing an initiative called “Brighter Holiday” for the last nine years to help families in need throughout the city of Newark.
This year, in the aftermath of Sandy as the region’s economy continues to struggle, Young said Booker decided to expand and hold “Brighter Holiday” events in Paterson and Camden as well.
“You know this is truly like an initiative from the heart, Mayor Booker has thousands of contacts and he utilizes those contacts to give back to the community so I’m just happy to be a part of it,’’ said Young. “I’m happy that we were able to provide the merchandise because there is definitely a need for it.”