Unforgotten Haven seeks a haven

With an average of 100 to 150 clothing bags coming in everyday, the colossal Blackwood-based nonprofit needs a second storage space.

Co-partners of the Unforgotten Haven, Jeanne Rodrigues and Michele Gambone, sort through the nonprofit’s winter clothing donations. The abundant amount of contributions, averaging about 100 to 150 bags coming in per day, has lead to the need for a second storage building.

In November 2014, Michele Gambone found a family living in a minivan at a truck stop in Carney’s Point.

She started collecting donations for the homeless group, and when her living room of contributions quickly filled to capacity, Gambone found an empty barn in Deptford to store donations.

Although the family eventually received housing, Gambone knew there were more people in need, so when the barn, too, began overflowing with items after 11 weeks, she, along with her partner, Jeanne Rodrigues, established the nonprofit Unforgotten Haven at its location on the Black Horse Pike in April 2015.

Three years, 26 projects and 34,000 Facebook followers later, Unforgotten Haven is continuing its trend of jam-packed spaces abundant with benevolence, as the organization is seeking a donated second storage space in the area.

“We don’t wanna leave Gloucester Township because of the support from Mayor Mayer,” Gabome said. “He even helped us load our tractor-trailers during the hurricane relief.”

Ideally, the nonprofit would work out of square-shaped donated space, such as a warehouse, until the property potentially sells, and the owners would receive a tax write off. The nonprofit would just need one month’s notice to leave before the building goes off the market.

From canned goods to diapers, donations are, quite literally, piled up to the ceiling, as the current space is a maze of philanthropy.

“Every time we’re in here, we say, ‘It can’t get any crazier,’ and it does,” Gambone said. “We wake up every day and think, ‘It’s unbelievable.’”

While an additional building was always on the horizon, when Unforgotten Haven started averaging 100 to 150 bags of winter clothing per day, according to Gambone, the partners knew extensive storage was needed, as clients in need could not even walk through the front door, causing them to be turned away.

“It was so full in here that you literally could not walk through the front door,” Rodrigues said.

The winter clothing intake is on hold. On Feb. 1, spring and summer clothes will be accepted. All 26 projects are still active.

With more physical space comes more charitable creativity, as the partners can brainstorm more thoughtful programs, such as their current PB&J Project, which benefits children with food insecurities, or Snack Packs for Chemo, distributed to adults undergoing cancer treatments. The charities are not just local, as in the fall, Unforgotten Haven sent three tractor-trailers to Florida, Texas and Puerto Rico after a series of hurricanes battered those regions.

A second space would also allow the repurposing of the current building, as the partners hope the Black Horse Pike property can transform into a place to shop and relax.

Co-partners of the Unforgotten Haven, Michele Gambone and Jeanne Rodrigues, sort through the nonprofit’s winter clothing donations. The abundant amount of contributions, averaging about 100 to 150 bags coming in per day, has lead to the need for a second storage building.

“You spend more time moving stuff than interacting with the people that come in. They’re not being treated the way we want them to be treated, because we’re not giving them that time, because we’re so busy moving stuff around,” Rodrigues said.

She has enjoyable ideas, such as a coloring table for kids.

They also envision the second floor as a boutique, as just recently the nonprofit received nearly $80,000 worth of prom dress donations from Treasures on Broadway, a Glassboro store that permanently closed.

Eventually, the nonprofit even wants to open a location in Long Island, as Rodrigues has family in that area. But, for now, Unforgotten Haven is determined to expand right around here, with the impact resounding well past the immediate area.

“The person who donates can be a part of something so amazing, and they’re also helping people,” Gambone. “They’re going to be helping over 100,000 people a year. Over 100,000 people you’re going to help with your generosity by giving us a building,”

If you want to help, you can contact Unforgotten Haven through its Facebook page, www.facebook.com/theunforgottenhaven.