Morristown Daily Record
MONTVILLE — Thinking of people living on the streets, shivering and suffering, was more than Rachel Sullivan could bear.
So she took matters into her own hands.
“No one is disposable,” she said Friday while she and her husband, Neil, packed a U-Haul trailer with clothing and other essentials to deliver to homeless individuals in New Jersey and New York. “I just couldn’t take it anymore and said I’m going to do it myself.”
She started off with a few closets full of clothing to donate. Her cause, named after her grandmother, has taken off and gained a quick following on social media.
“It just blew up from there,” Sullivan said. “One person after another following, and then more and more donations came in.”
“The Hazel Project” has more than 600 followers on Facebook and a garage and basement overloaded with donations from scores of supporters.
Some come from neighbors, who bring new or gently used clothing items that are clean and free of damage. Others pour in from local businesses, including Blue Nail Roofing and Siding, which donated three brand-new pairs of men’s shoes.
Blue Nail has upped the ante and has set up a drop-off bin for donations to the Hazel Project through Jan. 31.
Volunteer and civic organizations also are pitching in, including Lincoln Park Middle School and Brownie Troop 98013, which collected more than 140 women’s and men’s sweaters.
The Brownies even collected a pile of Christmas-themed “ugly sweaters” for regifting to those who actually need them.
“Remember, what’s ugly to you may be beautiful to someone else,” they posted on social media.
The Hazel Project adheres to the principle of harm reduction in a society that often marginalizes addicts, the mentally ill and others who are forced to live in the streets, said Sullivan, a harm-reduction specialist.
“Everybody is entitled to a warm meal, warm clothing and medical care,” she said. “If we can’t get the government to do it, that’s why you have us.”
Paterson is a frequent destination for the project’s distribution events, including a “Pot Luck Pop Up Clothing Shop” last month at the Upper Room Church of Christ in Paterson.
On Saturday, the couple towed another U-Haul trailer full of goods to their latest drop-off point at Roberto Clemente Plaza in the Bronx.
“We set up tables and rolling racks. We had coats, hats, shoes, blankets, gloves — all the stuff people need,” Sullivan said. “We even have tents and sleeping bags.”
The Sullivans have all but given up the use of their basement and garage at this point and are out-of-pocket for money needed early on to organize the drives. But now cash donations are arriving through a Venmo account after the Hazel Project achieved official nonprofit organization status in December.
“My house is in chaos because we have so many donations,” Sullivan said. “We’ve been asking for winter clothes lately, but people donate what they can when they can. So we separate and have boxes of clothes around for spring and summer. We will probably need warehouse space eventually.”
Other supporters are also stepping up with donations of clothing racks, tables and other essentials needed to distribute the inventory.
The Hazel Project also dedicates itself to treating its clients as human beings.
“We are trying to raise the bar on how we address those in need,” Sullivan said. “It’s not just about us. I got tired of everybody saying we can’t save everybody, focus on your family. I want every child to have what my child has. I want people to have what I had. We want that solid foundation for everybody.”