BERNARDS TWP., NJ - For the fifth year in a row, Bedminster resident Stacia McDonough spearheaded the "They Kept Us Safe, Let's Keep Them Warm" collection that gathered new clothing, toiletries and additional necessities for "our heroes in need" living at housing at the Veterans Administration facility in Lyons.

Even after McDonough and other volunteers delivered the donated items a few days before Christmas to men and a few women veterans at the VA off Valley Road, the collection is continuing into the new year.

McDonough said the volunteers hosted a party with food and holiday music on Dec. 21, during which they distributed the gift-wrapped coats and other warm clothing, toiletries, blankets and more.  

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The volunteers collected -- and will continue to collect -- new clothing, blankets and small kitchenware, toiletries such as soaps, shaving cream, dental supplies and more, as well as gift cards for Visa, supermarkets and similar stores.

There are approximately 100 formerly homeless veterans residing at the "Hope For Veterans" facility in Lyons, which is adminstered by Community Hope in Parsippany. The exact figure changes throughout the year, she said.

Inspired by husband who was Vietnam veteran

McDonough's late husband, John, was a decorated Vietnam veteran, and she credits him with being her inspiration in helping veterans, including those who may not have left the physical or emotional wounds of war behind them.

"It is an incredible privilege, and a joy for me to be granted the opportunity to give back to our veterans. They are our real heroes," McDonough said. "My deepest, most heartfelt thanks to all of our amazingly brave ex-servicemen, and women," she added.

This year, for first time toiletry gift bags prepared for ex-servicewomen, she said. Each woman veteran received two, she noted.

New Jersey communities triumphantly banded together for the event, she said, and this year eight New Jersey businesses, spread out throughout four counties participated by displaying collection boxes at their establishments. Three local businesses which contributed were: Investors Bank, Pluckemin, Weichert Realtors, Basking Ridge, and Coldwell Banker in Basking Ridge, she said.

The additional businesses are located in Morris, Union, and Monmouth counties, McDonough said.

This is the fourth year that Michael and Kathleen Robbiani, the proprietors of Robbiani's Clocks & Dolls of 

Marlboro, NJ, graciously opened up their place of business, and dedicated it to McDonough's drive.

"We were very happy to participate. We welcome the opportunity to help our veterans. The pure pleasure to do good for our needy veterans is rewarding. We're thrilled to see the phenomenal growth of this joyous, and worthwhile event," says Kathleen Robbiani.

She added, "You could see the raw emotion when people donated items. Some of them tear up. When I think about it, I tear up. We get a lot of hugs."

Mike Robbiani added that people have been genuinely happy to give when they know 100 percent of items donated go "directly to those who protected us. Ms. McDonough is doing a selfless, beautiful thing."

After the fifth annual event was a tremendous success, McDonough said that she will be working with volunteers to make next year's collection "bigger and better than ever. It's imperative to keep our veterans in the forefront. United we will make a significant difference."

Where to make continuing donations

For further information how to donate to the veterans, or for information on "They Kept Us Safe, Let's Keep Them Warm,"  contact Stacia McDonough at staciamcdonough@hotmail.com or by calling 908-470-1930, or contact Jena Rae at: jenakrae@gmail.com.

Pictured in the the photo of the volunteers delivering the gifts at the VA are (second row) Michael Armstrong (CEO of Hope For Veterans), Nancy Stober McCarthy (Volunteer), Louis Manzo (Volunteer), Stacia McDonough (Founder of "They Kept Us Safe, Let's Keep Them Warm"), Daniel Heulitt (Air Force Veteran, and Volunteer), Carol Conway (Volunteer). The front row is Harriette Doll (Volunteer), and Wendy Baytan (Hope For Veterans representative).