For Monmouth County residents, it’s a familiar sight — a green box truck and an oversized burgundy van, both bearing the words “Another Pickup or Delivery for Jewish Family & Children’s Service,” delivering furniture and home goods to families in need.
Now those vehicles will be a welcome sight beyond the Monmouth borders. After winning a three-county contract from the Division of Youth & Family Services in Trenton, JF&CS is extending its helping reach to neighboring Ocean and Middlesex counties, providing furniture to families in need and installing it in their homes.
Those vehicles (and the JF&CS of Monmouth County staff members) do far more than deliver essential items to the needy, said the agency’s executive director, Paul Freedman. They also help rebuild shattered lives and reunite families.
JF&CS fulfills orders for new furniture for families referred by DYFS and other social service agencies. Some of it is purchased from stores, with JF&CS being reimbursed by DYFS; some items are kept in stock by the agency.
Up to 40 Monmouth County residents receive deliveries each week; with the expansion of services, JF&CS officials expect to at least double that number.
Orders are often filled within 24 hours after placement. Those 24 hours are critical and can determine whether or not a child can return home, said Cathy Childers, director of JF&CS thrift shop operations, who also oversees the delivery process. “If a child is expected to return home after temporary placement in foster care, and the home fails DYFS inspection, that child cannot come home,” she said. “If I was in that situation waiting for my child, I can’t even imagine being told that my child can’t come home because there is no proper bedroom furniture.
“The little bit of extra effort we give helps makes all the difference in the world.”
For Childers, that “extra effort” means dropping everything, day or night, to make the deliveries to the families. It’s a task that Childers takes seriously, even earning her the nickname Cathy “No Child Sleeps on the Floor” Childers by her DYFS colleagues. Sometimes when orders come in with little notice, JF&CS arrives with the furniture just moments before the DYFS inspector walks in the house.
‘Quality of life’
“We help people feel better about themselves and how they live,” said Childers. “We provide a safe and comfortable place for kids to sleep, and a dining table for families to sit down together and share meals.”
With the new contract, JF&CS will now reach out 50 miles in all directions. “It’s a huge undertaking, but we are up for the challenge,” said Childers. “We love to help more. We will be filling a void in Ocean and Middlesex counties.”
When the thrift shop business is factored in, the number of people assisted by JF&CS each week swells to 250, said Freedman. Good-quality used furniture is also sold in the agency’s two shops — one located in the JF&CS building in Asbury Park, and the other in a 2,600-square-foot space in Long Branch donated by the Katz and Siperstein families.
“We are not just a thrift shop,” said Childers. “We provide quality-of-life enhancement to everyone from single parents to families who are barely making ends meet, to senior citizens on a fixed income.”
JF&CS has come a long way since the opening of its Asbury Park shop in 1990. By 2007, when Freedman took over as executive director, sales were just breaking even, and he was told by the board to either boost revenue or close the shops. Freedman revamped the business model and revived the operation, surging from $100,000 in gross sales to $400,000 in the first year.
“The profit comes right back into JF&CS to help subsidize our food pantry and social service programs,” Childers said. “The more profit we bring in, the more people we can help, so it’s a win-win situation that helps better the community.”