Project Homeless Connect Helps Serve Toms River Community

Winter coats and shirts were hung up on racks along the wall. (Photo by Kimberly Bosco)

TOMS RIVER – With the cold weather and the recent end of the holiday “season of giving,” it is important to remember that there are still homeless and at-risk individuals in our areas that need our help.

The Hope Center in Toms River provided their assistance as part of the Project Homeless Connect program and Point in Time statewide survey. On Jan. 24 at the Toms River Presbyterian Church, located directly across the parking lot from the center, members of the organization personally helped provide clothing, food and resources to those in need.

Project Homeless Connect is a national program that, “strengthens and utilizes collaborations with city agencies, businesses, and organizations to provide comprehensive holistic services, both at service events and through continued care, for those who are at risk of becoming homeless, are currently homeless or are transitioning from shelter to permanent housing,” according to their website.

One table had a lot of handmade clothing and blanket donations. (Photo by Kimberly Bosco)

The Hope Center participated in this program by setting up a site for resources and service. They gathered donations from community members of all kinds of items, ranging from children’s toys to winter coats to backpacks pre-loaded with sanitary items.

Sharon Amato, a member of The Hope Center, noted that the items were there not just for homeless individuals, but also for those who are needy, or really anybody who needed something – it doesn’t matter, she said.

Amato said that various organizations have helped contribute to the donations that filled the tables. There were tons of handmade items, such as winter hats, scarves and blankets, which were donated by these groups to the center.

Tables were strewn with blankets, clothing, pillows, shoes, backpacks, hats, gloves, and scarves. There were boxes placed at the end of the tables, brimming with socks, underwear, and children’s toys left over from The Hope Center’s holiday toy drive. The wall was lined with clothing racks full of long-sleeve shirts, sweaters, and winter jackets, some leftover from the center’s holiday coat drive as well. One table even had stacks of denim jeans.

The members provided those who came for items with recyclable bags that they could carry away their items in. Others might have just taken a backpack that was already filled with sanitary items like deodorant, toothpaste, and a toothbrush.

People can donate whatever they want to the center year-round, said Amato. “We don’t care, bring it inside, leave it on the steps, whatever it is, we’ll take it,” she said. Amato noted how grateful she was for the donations they received and emphasized that whatever you can do to help is good enough.

During the event, most of the individuals that were helped by the donations were those in need, she said. “They came and really just took what they could carry.”

Buckets overflowed with hats and winter accessories. (Photo by Kimberly Bosco)

She said that whenever a person came in, the members would interview them as to their specific situation and what their personal needs were. This would then help them pick and choose things to take. Amato would walk arm in arm with people around the room, helping them choose items that were best suited for them.

“Today we had about 15 (people),” she said.

Kim Santora, Client Coordinator for The Hope Center, noted that when people were interviewed on a personal basis, they would also be given the Point in Time survey to fill out.

The survey is a statewide survey that helps determine the number of people who are homeless or at imminent risk of homelessness in our community, according to the Ocean County Homelessness Prevention and Assistance Coalition. This allows workers to serve them with appropriate resources and services.

The surveys are filled out at the event and then they are sent off to a database, said Santora. This is how the state is able to calculate a more accurate count for the homeless and at-risk communities.

Toys were also available. (Photo by Kimberly Bosco)

“The Point in Time survey is only once a year,” said Santora. However, she noted that donations to the center could be made any time.

Nancy McCorry of the Ocean County Homelessness Prevention and Assistance Coalition noted that the final results of the survey will take a few months to be calculated.

The Project Homeless Connect and Point in Time survey programs were not only at The Hope Center. The St. Francis Community Center in Manahawkin, the New Life Christian Center in Lakewood, the Greater Tuckerton Food Pantry, the Toms River Community Church, and Ocean County Hunger Relief in Toms River also hosted Project Homeless Connect. The Lakewood Community Center, BEAT Center in Toms River, Ocean County Library in Toms River, Visitation Relief Center in Brick, and Catholic Charities in Lakewood also hosted sites for the survey.