BERNARDS TWP., NJ - A few days before Christmas, 89 formerly homeless veterans living at Community Hope's "Hope for Veterans" facility at Lyons campus in Bernards Township received new warm coats and gift bags stuffed with items to help them feel at home.

This was the fourth year that Stacia McDonough, a Bedminster resident and staunch veterans advocate, held her "They Kept Us Safe, Let's Keep Them Warm," holiday drive for the veterans. 

McDonough said this year's event was the most successful yet, thanks to donations from throughout the state that were collected at several businesses willing to serve as drop-off centers.

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This year's collection far exceeded her expectations, she said. Each veteran received a brand new winter coat, in addition to a jumbo gift bag packed with items such as new sweaters, thermals, hats, scarves, slippers, robes, blankets and more, she said.

The veterans also received toiletry gift bag filled with such necessities as shampoo, razors, shaving cream, toothbrushes and toothpaste, she said. 

All gifts were hand-delivered by McDonough and "the world's best volunteers" on December 23, she said.

Businesses in Somerset Hills area participate in the collection

Businesses throughout New Jersey, including the Somerset Hills, participated as drop off centers. 

Those businesses included The Salon Studio in Bernardsville; Investors Bank in Pluckemin; The Stirling Elks in Stirling; The Waiting Room Restaurant in Rahway;
Robbiani's Clocks and Dolls in Marlboro and Salon Seraphim in Englishtown.

McDonough credits the tremendous success of the drive to the "tireless and dedicated volunteers" of whome she said, "Their efforts were and are unparalleled," along with the businesses which opened "their doors and their hearts, the incredible ourpouring of kindness, generosity, and compassion of the New Jersey churches and communities, and the fabulous press coverage." 

She added the response through donations was "beyond heartwarming."

"Our Christmas drive has grown by leaps and bounds," McDonough said afterwards. 
It was bigger and better than I could have ever imagined."

"It was a great privilege to spend the day with our heroes," McDonough added. "Mere words could never describe the immense amount of respect I have for these exceptionally brave ex-servicemen and women. It's humbling to be in their presence. Their service and sacrifice(s) must never be forgotten."

Stacia McDonough is the founder of this event. She said the gift-giving for veterans was inspired by her late husband, highly-decorated Vietnam veteran, John McDonough, a sergeant in the U.S. Air Force.

As of this year, the event was officially re-named "The John McDonough Memorial Christmas Drive," she said.

Those who wish to donate new items similar to those given to the veterans in December should contact Community Hope.

Hope for Veterans, on the Lyons campus of the VA New Jersey Health Care System, is administered by Community Hope. Further information on Community Hope and Hope For Veterans is online at www.communityhope-nj.org, or by calling 973-463-9600.