Teaneck—Tables and racks fill the large ballroom, hidden from sight by the teetering piles of children’s clothing. Small signs placed strategically amongst the piles proclaimed what size and gender’s attire could be found there. There are clothes for all seasons, including coats, shoes and accessories. Several women were working hard sorting the numerous bags still left to be organized, in preparation for the shopping days, which was be held from Wednesday, July 27 through Tuesday, August 2.
Five years ago, close friends Dalia Stelzer and Chana Shields were going through their kids’ closets, removing all the clothes that no longer fit. Realizing how much was going to waste, and knowing that they weren’t the only ones experiencing this when their children grew, the women decided to take action.
As Stelzer said, “Everyone from the community chips in.” Volunteers work around the clock for two days, separating clothing into proper categories and folding everything to create a neat and tidy atmosphere for people’s shopping experience. Stelzer and Shields qualified the drive as for “people for whom shopping for their kids is a hardship.” To help people maintain their pride and integrity, the sign-up link circulated is filled out with only initials, allowing for the anonymity of the approximately 100 families who benefit from the event, coming from places like Teaneck, Monsey, Passaic and Queens.
One of the volunteers, Sara Leffel, has been a part of the clothing drive since its beginning. She described the two types of shopping days as public, when a group of people shops at once; private, which which is an appointment alone or semi-private, with up to five people. Leffel said, “My role is to help find for the right ages and help pull the right clothes. Sometimes the kids come in and are going through the shoes, picking what they want, and it’s really nice.” During these one-hour appointments people are encouraged to take whatever they need and however much they need.
Running such a large chesed event on a zero budget is a challenge in and of itself. With the help of Howard Gruenspect, the executive director of Keter Torah, as well as the in-house caterer Kenny Yager of Five Star Caterers, who has given them the use of the hall, the large ballroom at Keter Torah was chosen as the location. Emails were sent out and information was posted on Teaneck Shuls. In just the first year the number of donations received was unanticipated. Some stores even donate brand-new clothing. Shields said, “It’s an incredible thing to realize that people are inspired by it and want to be a part of it.” As another volunteer said, “Thank God we live in a blessed community,” the men, women and even children of which are extremely involved in and eager to help at this chesed event.
More hands are always needed. Chaviva Weinblut, of Bergenfield, is a first-time volunteer, but has previously donated to the drive. When asked about her initial impression of the clothing-filled room, she replied, “I’m overwhelmed by how much there is here. It’s amazing to see how much people donated.” Weinblut is looking forward to volunteering again in the future.
Now that this is the fifth year of the clothing drive, word-of-mouth has helped spread the word even more. Stelzer said, “Donors and recipients know to expect it. People stock up for the year.” Bags of clothes in very good condition are dropped off over the course of a couple of days, giving the volunteers much to do. One of Stelzer’s favorite things about the experience is that “Every time people come to drop off clothes it’s really cool, because they go, ‘Oh my God, there’s so much.’” The awed reactions of people stopping by helps the organizers remember and come to appreciate again just how much good they are able to do for others.
As happened last year, the last day of the event, Wednesday August 3, 9–11 a.m. and 6–9 p.m., is a rummage sale open to all members of the community. All proceeds, as well leftover clothing, will be donated to Yad Leah, a volunteer-based organization that collects clothing in the US and distributes it to communities throughout Israel for families in need.
Sara Linder is a JLNJ summer intern. She is a Teaneck resident and a student at the University of Maryland-College Park.