By Donald Wittkowski
There were piles of coats, sweaters, boots, scarves, hats, blankets and comforters. Some items still had price tags attached. A Columbia brand woman’s purple coat, for instance, retailed for $160.
All of the articles of clothing and bedding were neatly folded on tables or tucked away in plastic bags, seemingly ready for sale at the Black Friday shopping rush. But this scene wasn’t at some department store. Instead, it was at the Ocean City Board of Realtors office on 22nd Street.
A large room in the office remains crowded with items that have been donated so far in a holiday clothing drive organized by the Board of Realtors in cooperation with the Clothes Closet of the Ocean City Ecumenical Council, an association of local churches that helps needy families.
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.
“You would think that in such an affluent town that there wouldn’t be any poor people, but there are. A lot of the working poor live here,” said Gloria Votta, chairwoman of the Community Services Committee for the Board of Realtors.
The board’s annual Warmth for the Winter Clothing Drive helps people from all demographic groups in Ocean City. Votta shared heartbreaking stories of senior citizens who were desperate for clothes, of a single father who needed a coat for his young son and of a woman whose possessions were destroyed by Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
“They’re all different types of people,” Votta said. “We had one woman who always donated clothes before. Then, she came back for some clothing after Sandy. She was totally wiped out and needed some stuff to get her through until she could get back on her feet.”
Ocean City residents were particularly hard hit by Sandy’s flooding. Votta explained that there were great demands placed on the clothing drive in the hurricane’s aftermath.
“As fast as we could bring it in, it was going about the door,” she said of the donated clothing.
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.
This year’s clothing drive was originally scheduled to end on Wednesday, but it has been extended until Dec. 9 to give people more time to clean out their closets. Clothing should be gently used. There is a special need this winter for children’s coats and snow boots and women’s or men’s sweatshirts and pants.
Although most of the donated items are used, some people will bring in brand new clothing with the price tags still attached. Votta said some items are handmade by the people who donate them.
“One year, a woman gave us a bag of hats she knitted,” Votta said.
Donations come from near and far, including clothing that was sent from Maryland after Sandy. Votta uses Facebook to reach beyond the local community to help the clothing drive.
“It’s amazing the response we get,” she said. “It’s such a personal sense of satisfaction for me, like feeding the hungry or clothing the naked,” she said.
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 Clothes Closet.
Votta, an agent for Re/Max Realty Group, worked with fellow agent Anne Gallagher, of Grace Realty, to establish the clothing drive several years ago. Gallagher also serves as coordinator of the Ecumenical Clothes Closet.
Gallagher said 2,648 pieces of clothing were handed out last month to 344 people. Clothing is given away for free, although recipients must be residents of Ocean City.
“They can take as many coats as they need. Believe me, the need is great,” Gallagher said.
Clothes are given out at the Ecumenical Clothes Closet at Fifth Street and West Avenue. The hours are 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Any leftover clothing is donated to the Atlantic City Rescue Mission, a homeless shelter.
Votta and employees at the Board of Realtors said the clothing drive is an example of a community-wide spirit to help the needy. The board has also launched a Toys for Tots campaign for December and will hold a food drive in January and February.
“Every single person who has brought something in here says it’s such a wonderful thing that we’re doing. That gives us such a feeling of satisfaction that we’re doing something for the community,” said Vicki Heebner, the administrator for the Board of Realtors.
Votta credited members of the board’s support staff for overseeing the clothing drive, saying it would not be possible without their help.
“Not only do we think we’re doing a good thing, but we’re also enabling others to do a good thing,” Heebner said.