top of page

APP Article – These Jersey Shore charities keep going, even in the pandemic. They could use yo

Jerry CarinoAsbury Park Press

Kevin Garrison was organizing the Thanksgiving food and clothing drive for his Bayshore-based charity, Blessing Bag Brigade, and he put out a call for several items. One of them was thermal underwear.

“This woman contacted us and said, ‘We bought pairs 100 of them,’ and I said, ‘OK, thanks,’” Garrison said. “When I really gave it thought, I said, ‘Holy crap.’ That’s like $1,000.”

Turns out, the story was even better than Garrison thought. The thermals were donated by the Marino family of Freehold Township, and a large chunk was paid for by teenage siblings Dan Marino, 17, and CeCe Marino, 14.

“The kids took money from their savings accounts to do it,” Garrison said. “And they wrote individual notes on every pair of thermals.”

A spiking pandemic, high unemployment and a hurting economy present unusual challenges for goodwill groups this Thanksgiving. Here’s how three local ones are meeting the moment.

Grab-and-go dinners

Before the pandemic, Garrison’s Blessing Bag Brigade was distributing about 2,000 supply bags a month to people in need. That number is now at 3,500.

“The community has given back like we have never seen,” Garrison said. “In this time, when people are fighting about politics and different things like that, nobody fights when it comes to charity. That’s what I love so much. When we have people working in such harmony, it’s beautiful.”

The Marino family is an example. They knew of the Blessing Bag Brigade’s work through their Roman Catholic church, St. Robert Bellarmine in Freehold Township.

“We talked about it, (the importance of) helping out because 2020 has been such a tough year,” mom Judith Marino said. “My daughter had the idea. She said, ‘Mom, can I give you money to buy these items?’ That really touched me.”

Blessing Bag Brigade also runs a handful of soup kitchens, which have been converted to grab-and-go sites to avoid the pitfalls of gatherings. “Grab and go” also is the plan for the nonprofit’s annual Thanksgiving Eve dinners on Wednesday. Volunteers will be distributing food at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Freehold (12-1:30 p.m.), Highlands Community Center (5-6 p.m.) and Newark’s Peter Francisco Park (starting at 5 p.m.)

Garrison will miss the communal nature of sit-down dinners, but he’s seeing that spirit shine through in other ways. Like when he put out a call for sweatshirts and Ron Navarro, a plumber from Middletown, collected and donated over 100 of them.

“It’s just amazing,” Garrison said. “People are just great.”

‘The demand is real’

While working for his family’s business, Neptune-based Lowy’s Moving Service, Adam Lowy noticed how much food got left behind or thrown out when people changed residences.

“That really bothered me,” he said.

So he began delivering such goods to the Food Bank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties (now Fulfill). In that first month, he salvaged 300 pounds of food. Eleven years later the concept has grown into Move for Hunger, an international network of 1,000 moving companies across the United States and Canada.

“We’ve delivered more than 20 million pounds of food to food banks,” Lowy said. “This year we are on track to deliver four million.”

That required a major course correction once the pandemic hit. For several months nobody was moving — and access to families’ kitchens disappeared.

“Our food drives came to a standstill,” Lowy said. “We leveraged what we had with transportation resources to get food to where it needs to go in time.”

Working with big agribusiness companies and local farmers, Move for Hunger rescued pallets upon pallets of food that was set to expire and shipped it quickly to food banks and pantries.

“They were seeing five, 10 times the normal need,” Lowy said. “There’s a projected 56% increase in food insecurity in New Jersey. The demand is real.”

‘I get swarmed with people’

A decade ago, Jackson residents Yvette and Reggie Anderson launched Meet the Need, a nonprofit that distributes food, toys and clothing throughout New Jersey. At this year’s Thanksgiving-dinner distribution, which took place Saturday in Manalapan, they gave away a record 830 “tote baskets” weighing 40 pounds apiece. Each included either a frozen turkey or a gift card for the purchase of one. And that’s not all.

“Everything a person would need to make a proper Thanksgiving dinner,” Reggie Anderson said. “Stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, corn, green beans, cranberry sauce, yams, a roasting pan, cake mix and juice.”

People came from as far as Trenton and Paterson for baskets.

“If you’re willing to drive down from Paterson, then you really need it,” Yvette Anderson said.

That’s the feeling the Andersons get at all their stops. They run a pantry in Freehold and a mobile pantry, which ran out of goods during a recent visit to Union. They had to turn away approximately 100 cars.

“The lines right now are unbelievable,” Yvette Anderson said. “People are really hurting.”

Added Reggie, “When I pull up in Lakewood now I get swarmed with people when I open the back of the truck. It’s overwhelming, the need.”

The good news: People are giving, too. A 12-year-old from Pennsylvania, Jake Lawler, raised enough money for 97 Thanksgiving tote baskets (about $5,000 worth) and assembled them himself. A woman from New Brunswick whom Meet the Need has helped feed — and who is battling late-stage cancer — is sending $5 or $10 for every project.

“We’ve been blessed, Yvette Anderson said. “The community has really stepped up and supported us.”

A noteworthy example: Manalapan resident Graciela Saldua Price put word out on Facebook that her 9-year-old son, Derek Price, would do push-ups or sit-ups for every Thanksgiving tote basket donated through their family. The young man wound up getting quite a workout, and his mother posted video evidence to her page.

“He raised enough for 32 baskets,” Yvette Anderson said. “It was awesome to see a 9-year-old do something like that.”

How you can help

  1. For more information on Blessing Bag Brigade’s upcoming events, visit

  2. For more information on Move for Hunger, visit

  3. For more informatio on Meet the Need, which has a holiday toy drive upcoming, visit or call 888-281-6434.

Jerry Carino is community columnist for the Asbury Park Press, focusing on the Jersey Shore’s interesting people, inspiring stories and pressing issues. Contact him at

6 views0 comments


bottom of page