By Donald Wittkowski
Gloria Votta remembers the father who walked into Ocean City’s Ecumenical Council Clothes Closet about two years ago accompanied by his young son, who was wearing only a T-shirt in the cold weather.
“The father said, ‘He doesn’t have a coat. Do you have a coat that fits him?’” Votta recalled.
Fortunately, the Clothes Closet had just received a new donation of coats then. Votta looked inside a bag of coats and found one that fit the young boy.
Those coats were among the donations given at that time to the Ocean City Board of Realtors as part of its annual Warmth for the Winter Clothing Drive.
Now in its ninth year, the holiday clothing drive is organized by the Board of Realtors in cooperation with the Ocean City Ecumenical Council, an association of local churches that helps needy families.
Thanksgiving Day was supposed to be the last day for this year’s clothing drive, but Votta noted that the Board of Realtors will continue to collect donations from the community as long as they are made.
Clothing donations may be dropped off at the Board of Realtors office at 405 22nd Street. To arrange for clothing pickups, people may call the office at (609) 399-0128. The office is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
A large room in the board’s office remains crowded with items that have been donated so far. Tables and chairs are stacked with coats, sweaters, boots, hats, gloves, scarves and many other articles of winter clothing. Donations have also included comforters, blankets and bed sheets.
Votta, chairwoman of the Community Services Committee for the Board of Realtors, said the organization hopes that the spirit of giving during the Thanksgiving season will result in more donations.
The board is looking for clothing that is gently used or new. Although most of the donated items are used, some people will bring in brand new clothing with the price tags still attached.
Some items are handmade by the people who donate them. Votta donated a white scarf that she had crocheted.
In place of clothes, cash donations are also accepted. Votta said cash donations are used for shopping trips to purchase clothes for the needy, as requested by the Ecumenical Council Clothes Closet.
While Thanksgiving and other holidays are usually a time of celebration for most of us, they also serve as a reminder that many people need a helping hand, organizers of the clothing drive said.
A little-known part of Ocean City is that there are pockets of poverty scattered throughout what is generally a well-to-do community of beachfront homes and trendy downtown boutiques.
“It’s surprising, because it is a very affluent community,” Votta said.
Clothing donations made to the Board of Realtors are distributed to the public at the Ecumenical Council Clothes Closet at Fifth Street and West Avenue. The hours are 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday and Wednesday and from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Friday.
Clothing is given away for free, although recipients must be residents of Ocean City. Any leftover clothing is donated to the Atlantic City Rescue Mission, a homeless shelter.
In 2016, nearly 24,700 pieces of clothing were distributed throughout Ocean City, compared to about 21,700 in 2011, according to the Ecumenical Council website.
For Votta, the memory of the father who needed a coat for his young son is the most touching example of how the clothing drive has helped the community. She also recounted stories of senior citizens, young families and victims of Hurricane Sandy in 2012 who were in need of clothes and received a helping hand.
“There are senior citizens who come in. There are young families that are struggling. If you work in the Clothes Closet, they are the people you see who come in,” Votta said.
Votta noted that the clothing drive is an example of a community-wide spirit to help the needy. The Board of Realtors also holds an annual food drive in February as well as a Toys for Tots campaign in December.
Votta, an agent for Re/Max Realty Group, worked with fellow agent Anne Gallagher, of Grace Realty, to organize the clothing drive in 2009. They wanted to establish a clothing drive that would replace the one that had been organized by the former St. Augustine School in Ocean City. The school closed in 2008 due to declining enrollment.
“There was a big need for coats for kids. So I called the Ecumenical Council and asked them what I could do to help,” Votta said, explaining how the Board of Realtors got involved in the clothing drive.
All these years later, the need for winter clothing continues.
“We’ll take everything anyone brings in,” Votta said. “When I talked to Anne Gallagher, she told me the need is very great this year.”