Not long ago, Augustine Lopez was on the way to GameStop with his mother, his allowance burning a hole in his pocket. The Westampton boy planned to buy himself a video game at the Hainesport, Burlington County, store.
But then he saw a homeless man with a dog and a sign. “I need food,” the sign read.
Augustine forgot all about his video game. Instead, he asked his mother Jessica to take him to the Sonic restaurant nearby, where he spent his money on burgers and fries – for both the man and his dog.
Augustine, now 7, said he felt driven to help the man because he felt “sad” that the man “didn’t have any food, and he didn’t have any gloves, sweatshirts or blankets. He only had a camp.” (The family later returned with more food and a jacket for the man, but he’d moved on, and they couldn’t find him.)
The meaning of the season
As this holiday season approached, Jessica looked for ways to teach her kids that Christmas is not just about getting gifts. But Augustine and his little brother Alexander, 5, quickly showed that they already grasped the meaning of the season: Last month, they launched a drive to collect socks, hygiene items, and cold-weather gear for homeless people.
This week, they delivered their donation – 110 bags packed with necessities including neoprene face masks, socks, toothbrushes and toothpaste, combs, lip balms, snacks, sanitizer, and Mylar emergency blankets – to Catholic Charities, Diocese of Trenton’s Community Services office in Trenton.
The annual count
Community Services workers will distribute the bags to homeless people they encounter in late January when they participate in the annual Point-in-Time Count. That’s the 24-hour period – set for Jan. 23-24, 2019 – when social-service workers from around the state hit the streets to talk to people who are living unsheltered on the streets or in temporary-shelter housing. The goals are to determine the size of the population in need of housing, to identify (and remedy) gaps in services, and to track progress toward the goal of ending homelessness.
Richard Ferreira, director of Burlington-Mercer Community Services, said donations like those from the Lopez brothers really help those in need. The most recent Point-in-Time Count last January found that more than 8,500 people were living on the street or in temporary shelters statewide, with more than 1,600 located in Burlington, Mercer, Monmouth and Ocean counties.
“Our community donations are the backbone of the services we deliver here,” said Ferreira (pictured above, on left). “We depend on the community to help residents in need, and the community has really risen to meet that outstanding need.”
For his part, Augustine said bringing comfort to those who are homeless makes him “happy.” And he wants to do more.
An ongoing effort
The brothers – in second grade and kindergarten at Holly Hills Elementary School in Westampton – already are collecting blankets and plan to donate those for homeless people who are living unsheltered on the streets. And next year, they have plans to collect far more than 100 bags. Little sister Rosaline, who just turned 4, vowed to help too.
“Next year, my goal is maybe 1,000,” Augustine said.
Jessica, laughing, responded: “We might need a bigger house then to store all that stuff!”
Jessica said the family’s faith partly fuels their philanthropy. They’re Catholic, most recently attending St. Casimir in Riverside. She said her sons’ charitable efforts make her proud, and she plans to facilitate their good deeds however she can.
That includes rewarding them for a job well done. After Augustine bought food for that homeless man and his dog not so long ago, Jessica went back to GameStop and bought her son the video game he’d originally wanted.
“How could I not?” she said with a smile.
Here’s the video Jessica posted on her social media in which the boys asked friends and family to support their cause:
For more information: Dana DiFilippo, communications, (609) 394-5181, ext. 1153.
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