by Greg Salvatore.
At a New Jersey train station earlier this month, Freedom Region IT Director Reggie Anderson and his wife, Yvette, handed out care packages to homeless people in the community near their home. More than 500 people received packages in the second year that the Andersons have hosted this event, up from 300 last year.
The care packages include new blankets, scarves, hats, gloves, toiletries, a bag lunch and more. People receiving them have told the Andersons that it’s like they fell out of the sky and came right on time. Many other people make and break promises to help, they say, but not the Andersons. They come back and do more each time.
At one point, a military veteran was about to receive his package from Reggie and insisted on showing his military ID. It was important to him that Reggie and Yvette knew that the place where he was in his life currently was not always the case.
“He said, ‘I really want to show you my ID, I want to show you who I was’,” Yvette said. “And we said, ‘You are still that person. This moment in your life does not define you, you’re still that person.’ That’s what we want people to remember — just because you’ve fallen on hard times, that could be any one of us.”
Andersons Meet the Need, the organization started by Yvette and Reggie six years ago, is founded on the Andersons reflecting on their own life experiences and honoring the people in their life who have shown them what is important in life and what it truly means to give back.
“It’s all out of the basement, it’s all grassroots and out of (Yvette’s) head,” Reggie said. “Knowing that we’re very lucky and blessed, it feels good to help. We’re all in.”
Each year, the Andersons host a Thanksgiving drive where they provide everything it takes to make a full Thanksgiving meal, including the turkey. This year, they provided meals for 300 families, up from about 25 when they started the project in 2010. The annual Thanksgiving drive is called Richard and Nola Adopt a Family, after Yvette’s grandparents. When Yvette was a young girl, her grandfather, Richard, was instrumental in helping those in need in the Monmouth County area. Years ago, Yvette volunteered at a church holding a similar Thanksgiving drive, which gave her the full perspective on why it’s so important to lend a hand when you are able.
“I’m not ashamed to say that back then, I was a family in need,” Yvette said. “That same night, my family would receive one of the baskets that I helped assemble. This is something that is very near and dear to me because it’s carrying out my grandfather’s legacy of helping people in the community.”
Reggie said the events not only have a profound effect on him, his wife and their daughters, but on all of the people who volunteer and appreciate the incredibly fulfilling feeling that comes from giving back.
“When we do these efforts, such as the Thanksgiving event, it’s cool to see parents bringing their kids out, and collaborating and working with their kids,” Reggie said. “The kids were saying, ‘Here, I’ll pick this turkey up!’ Parents were very happy to bring their kids out. I have a lot of coworkers now saying, ‘Reggie, when is the next one? Because I want my kids to see exactly how lucky they have it, and I want to work with my kids in a very impactful way.’”
During the day, Yvette works for the Social Security Administration, which gives her a perspective on the kind of help that really benefits people in the community.
“I deal with people in all walks of life all day long, from retirement to disability to supplemental security income,” Yvette said. “So for me, I see people in need all day long.”
The holidays are a very busy time for Reggie and Yvette, to say the least. In between the Thanksgiving drive in November and providing care packages for the homeless in January, they donate toys in December. In 2014, Reggie and Yvette lost their infant son, RJ. He was born three months early and survived just one day. They honor RJ by turning that tragedy into something that brings joy and hope to others, calling their annual holiday toy drive RJ’s Toy Chest.
Considering the growing size and scope of their projects, Andersons Meet the Need becomes essentially a second full-time job.
“Reggie will tell you that I literally work a 12-hour day at work and then come home and probably put in another 12 hours on my outreach program,” Yvette said. “I’ve turned our house into a warehouse.”
Moving forward, the Andersons are hoping to soon complete filing for 501(c) status, which would enable them to collect cash donations and help assemble volunteers. It will also help them transition Anderson Meets the Need from doing event-specific programs to a year-round nonprofit that could help people with housing, utilities, and even offer assistance to children looking to attend college.
Next month, they’ll be donating stuffed animals and Valentine’s Day cards – hand-drawn by local elementary school students – to the residents at two area nursing homes.
“This is something that we love doing,” Yvette said. “We hope to take it to the next level to be able to do more than what we’re currently doing. I’m just blessed to have God use me in this way. We’re all about enriching and uplifting. We want to be able to make a difference in someone’s life and let them know that there are good people out there who still care.”