East senior collects materials for women dealing with domestic issues

Gates finds purpose thanks to hard work and local generosity.

Cherry Hill High School East senior Marly Gates poses with the donated materials she’ll be using to fashion bags to be given out at shelters across the Delaware Valley for women facing domestic situations during the coronavirus pandemic. In just two days since putting out the word, Gates had more than doubled her original goal, and so she’s planning to keep making the bags as long as donations come pouring in. (Photo credit: Marly Gates/Special to the Sun)

Like everyone else, Cherry Hill High School East senior Marly Gates followed along when the coronavirus pandemic forced schools to adapt to online learning. But on her path to the new reality, she became restless and searched for a purpose beyond merely finishing school.

Gates is making the most of a tough situation, by giving back to a segment of the community that may have to exist in silence as COVID-19 forces people to endure close quarters for the long term. 

“Beyond taking classes, I’ve been wandering around the house wondering what I could do,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to give back, but I just never had the time and I never had the resources. And especially now, we need to come together as a community and help each other out.”

The resident of the Eagle Hill development gained inspiration during a walk with one of her parents. 

“The idea first came to me while I was on a walk with mom, talking to her about how I had so many makeup bags and what I should do with them,” she recalled. “I had the idea of filling them up with toiletries and donating them somewhere.

“And my mom was also talking about how she heard something on National Public Radio about domestic violence potentially being on the rise due to the stay-at-home order and how long we’ve been forced to stay indoors.”

Inspired, Gates took to social media, posting a request on Facebook around 7:30 p.m. on the first Saturday of May. She received a flood of comments from like-minded residents who were eager to chip in with donations of bags and accessories. A day later, she embarked on porch pickups of promised materials and went to work. 

“I started off with 11 bags in my own possession,” Gates said. “I said if I made 50 bags in a day, how much could I do in a week? I now have enough material for 63 bags and this is the second day.

“My new goal is to make 100,” she added, “and now it’s a matter of seeing how long we can go and how much we can top it. I’ve also had eight monetary donations through my specially set up Venmo account, amounting to $300 so far.”

Gates accepts all items that would typically be required to cover a woman’s basic necessities, but is in need of specific items like lip balm, toothpaste, compact mirrors, pads and tampons, dental floss, lotion, makeup wipes and mini-deodorants. 

With success arriving so quickly, Gates realizes she’s in it for the long haul. 

“Basically, for the whole month of May, I want to keep taking donations and making orders,” she explained. “So that by June, I want to start getting (the bags) out to the shelters.

“I’ve reached out to Camden County Women’s Center in Blackwood, Providence House Burlington County in Delran. I’m thinking about in a day or two reaching out to My Sister’s Place in Philadelphia.”

Even her impending foray into higher education carries a purpose. Gates plans on attending The Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College in West Philadelphia, where she will study baking and pastry science. 

“My main goal is to have my own bakery,” she mused. “I’ve always loved baking and I’ve been known to bring cookies or cupcakes into school. It’s a part of how I like to make people feel like they’re not alone and accepted and I’m happy I can do that with sweets.

“There is a lot of stuff these days that we can’t control, but one thing we can do is give to people. And if we have the resources, why not?”

In order to contribute to the cause with material or financial donations, contact Gates through her personal Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/marly.gates.52