‘LEOs’ come through in coat and blanket drive

Honestly, it was just a happy coincidence.

On Monday, Jan. 21, a day when many Americans were celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day by honoring the man through various, grassroots service projects, the Deptford Pride LEO Club was delivering 40 oversized trash bags filled with coats and blankets to people in need.

They didn’t time it that way. It was just the Monday after their donation drive had ended, and since everyone was off school and work, it made sense to finish their project on MLK Day. Coincidental, but fitting.

“I think it was a really humbling experience to be able to help people that need it, and especially touching when we were able to meet them and give it to those people directly,” said LEO Club president Umali Patel, a 15-year-old freshman at GCIT.

“I’m so proud of them,” said Joann McCormick, the secretary and treasurer of the Deptford Lions Club and the Leo Club advisor.

The most remarkable part of this story might not be that two dozen children (the LEO Club is ages 12-18) got together for a worthy cause, since that’s really what the club itself is all about. The impressive feat was getting this donation drive up and running just after the holidays and finishing it in less than four weeks, collecting 230 coats and nearly 50 blankets, bedding materials and quilts.

The “Coat and Blanket Drive,” the second annual event held by the LEOs, involved taking boxes and setting up drop-offs at local businesses throughout Gloucester County. Both the kids and the community came through in a big way in a short amount of time.

“Isn’t it awesome?” McCormick said. “First they had to make the boxes and then place the boxes, follow up, collect and sort everything. We met twice (on Jan. 17 and 18) to sort all of the coats. They were all over the place, so we had to go through them all and make sure we knew which ones were going where. And then label all of the bags and then, with all the parents, loading them into vehicles (for delivery).”

(Special to The Sun)

The drive benefited two organizations: children’s coats were delivered to Angels Community Outreach in Pitman while the adult coats and blankets were delivered to Joseph’s House of Camden.

“It was a really good experience because we were helping people who need it, helping the community,” said Umali Patel’s younger brother, Sujay, a 13-year-old seventh grader at Monongahela Middle School.

“I think it was a great happiness,” Mallory Mazurkiewicz, a 14-year-old freshman at GCIT, said of the feeling she had while making the deliveries. “They probably feel more loved, that people care about them and took time out of their day to help them.”

The Deptford Pride LEO Club (LEO stands for Leadership, Experience, and Opportunity) began in September 2017 under the guidance of McCormick, a former long-time educator. The club held its first coat drive last year. This year, they decided to make it a staple project for the club and brainstormed ways to become more successful this winter.

The result? This year’s “Coat and Blanket” donations more than doubled last year’s total.

“At our next meeting we’ll discuss what we did this time, and what we can do differently next time,” McCormick said. “I think that’s what helped get more response this year in collections. The kids last year said we need to make sure we put more boxes out, we have to contact more businesses, we have to advertise more, so they told the schools about it, businesses, they put it on the social media pages. For me, it’s just awesome to see their faces when they realize what they did. It’s a self-realization I can see in themselves that, ‘Wow, I did this,’ you know?”

The aggressive collection and hours of work resulted in the ultimate payoff on MLK Day, when they saw exactly whom they were benefiting and how much it was appreciated.

“I think if you give back to the community it just makes you feel better,” Mazurkiewicz said. “You’re making their livelihood better by giving them stuff that they need.”

The LEO Club, which meets the third Thursday of every month (from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. at the Deptford Free Public Library) is working on two more projects in the coming month: writing cards for veterans, to be delivered to the Westville VFW, and putting together snack bags for a mother and child shelter in Woodbury.

If you or your child (ages 12-18) has an interest in getting involved with the Deptford Pride LEO Club, attend a meeting, visit them on Facebook, or contact McCormick at jmtgfjja@aol.com.