When Tova Herskovitz of Toms River heard that Afghan evacuees were arriving at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst only a few miles from her house, she began to gather clothes, shoes and toys to donate.
Herskovitz, who is Jewish Orthodox, said she wanted to do something because some of her family members who survived the Holocaust were helped by others, and she wanted to pay it forward.
“It feels so close to home; I feel like it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to help people who are in this dire situation, and they are so close,’’ she said. “To think about when I’m here swimming with my kids in the pool and buying them school supplies, and then you have kids a half hour away with nothing.”
Herskovitz dropped off items at the base that she collected from friends, community members, and through the nonprofit One Ocean County. The donations grew, leading the Joel E. Perlmutter Memorial Food Pantry at The Barn in Whiting to serve as a drop-off site. But the site, which began to collect items on Monday, paused its efforts a few days later because of the overwhelming response that led it to gather 237,496 pounds of donations, said Pat Donaghue, president and CEO of Inspire-NJ, a nonprofit that provides emergency food assistance and employment readiness education, and which runs The Barn.
“It’s been wonderful, it’s just another way that we can all see how the community cares for one another,’’ Donaghue said, noting people have driven from Pittsburgh and New York state to drop off items.
Temporarily housed at military base
The donation drive is one of several around the state in the past few days, including in Paterson, New Brunswick and Cherry Hill, to help Afghan evacuees living temporarily at the base who will likely resettle in the United States in coming months. The base is one of eight across the country that are receiving people from Afghanistan who have been granted either Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) because of their help to U.S. forces or other at-risk Afghans.
The Department of Defense has not said how many Afghans are being housed at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, but CBS News, citing internal federal data it reviewed, said that about 3,500 were there on Wednesday.
Donation drives held in Paterson on Sunday and Tuesday drew items that will fill four to five trucks, said Sikandar Khan, founder and executive director of Global Emergency Response and Assistance, an organization that helps newly arrived refugees build new lives and which helped organize the drives.
Khan said that they have stopped gathering donations until they are able to deliver the items they received to Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst by the end of the week or early next week.
“The community response was phenomenal, and a lot of people donated all sorts of items,’’ Khan said.
Clothes, shoes, toys
The items collected included clothes, shoes, socks, as well as hairbrushes and toys, he said.
“A lot of them escaped without shoes, and ripped clothes, so we are just trying to provide what is needed immediately,’’ Khan said. “We were also told that a lot of them came with nothing and that they are in dire need of the most basic items.”
The organization, he said, is also accepting information on available apartments where some of the Afghan evacuees can live after they have been released from the base. He said eventually they will also need furniture donations. The organization, he said, is also collecting funds to pay for future housing costs.
“Right now the housing is the most immediate need,’’ he said. “It’s better for them to have a roof over their heads where they can shower and feel at home.”
Besides housing, the evacuees will also need financial assistance, and Khan said GERA will reactivate a program known as NJ Rebuild, which will offer English language classes to the new arrivals as well as teach them how to navigate government and community services. Khan, of Paterson, said the program will also offer mental health services.