Packing Holiday Cheer for Deployed Troops - a Clifton Cares Tradition
Thirteen years ago, Clifton mom Dona Crum got an email from her son Scott, then in the military, saying that troops were lacking basics such as toiletries, socks, and snacks, and asking for her help. He added that many of the troops never received any packages from home. What began as a small, grass-roots effort has since blossomed into a community-wide one. Clifton Cares, now a 501c3 charity, coordinates the collection of items to be sent to deployed Clifton military personnel and then recruits volunteers to help with donations and packing.
After the slowdown due to the pandemic, where packers were limited due to the small size of the Senior Center where packing takes place, packing day this year was wonderfully chaotic, yet organized. The center was abuzz with volunteers young and old, all gathered with one mission in mind - packing goodies and adding that extra bit of love and holiday cheer to men and women most have never met. This year, Clifton’s youngest – students from the Boys and Girls Club Gingerbread class - drew and wrote out holiday cards by the hundreds. These will be truly appreciated and treasured by their recipients. Special thanks to Miss A. and her staff for coordinating this.
Supplies were donated in abundance thanks to the generosity of Clifton residents (and thanks to some publicity in the Clifton Times!) and for the first time, money for shipping was donated from a new source, the United Way. It costs $20.00 to mail a military package and this year, a generous donation from them took care of mailing out what ended up being 140 packages. More than 60 volunteers from such varied groups as CHS ROTC and Key Club, Clifton DAV (Disabled American Veterans), the United Way, Visions Federal Credit Union, and residents from other towns, including Lyndhurst and Wayne, all helped. Paula Smalling, Director of Education Initiatives & Volunteer Engagement, United Way of Passaic County said she was stunned that funds had to be raised for postage and she reached out to their corporate partners in the Clifton-Lyndhurst area to solicit monetary donations so that Clifton Cares could focus more on organizing the event.
Mary Celis, CEO of the United Way of Passaic County, added that this was an event “right up our alley” and said that going forward they would be “delighted and thrilled” to participate both financially as well as bringing in volunteers to help. One disabled veteran, Carl Crawford, from Lyndhurst, said it was heartwarming to see so many volunteers working so hard for what he called “an amazing cause.”
Many of the volunteers were too busy to talk much about why they took time after school and work, only saying it was a pleasure and lots of ffun. Adele Gimon, a long-time volunteer with deep military ties, said, "Once you’re in the military or have some ties, helping others is something you just do." She added, “Anyone who’s ever served, or been related to a military person, they’re military forever. And that’s why we do this.” She then went back to her “quality control” job of ensuring each package was packed tightly and labeled correctly.
At the end of the evening, 140 packages were taken down to the Clifton Post Office to go to the many appreciative recipients. As one of the original organizers, Chris Liszner said, “'It takes a village' was so evident tonight. All working side by side with the same mission, to bring home to those so far away and make them know how we may not know them, but we care about them.”