Many West Windsor and Plainsboro individuals, families, businesses, and community groups support HomeFront — the non-profit organization that works with Mercer County’s homeless and working poor families, providing food, shelter, affordable housing, tutoring and enrichment programs for children, and life skills training for adults.
Evelyn and Leonard Grossman, owners of Shapes USA, a women’s fitness center in West Windsor, organized a clothing drive, asking their clients to donate clothes that they have outgrown. HomeFront brings the clothing to its free store in Trenton, where homeless families can “shop” — free of charge.
Mickey DeFranco of West Windsor, the director and choreographer for the CATS Dance Company in East Brunswick, was instrumental in raising close to $3,"000 to fund the annual “Christmas in January” party for homeless families in Mercer County.
The 21 teenage members of the group not only train more than 30 hours a week after school to develop the skills that they hope will lead to a career on stage, but they hold bake sales, arts and crafts shows, and dance performances to raise money for this cause.
The mothers and young children who are invited to the “Christmas in January” party live at the Family Preservation Center, a shelter in Ewing for homeless families. This year, each child received five gifts from their own wish lists, were served a home-cooked holiday dinner, and were treated to a performance by the CATS dancers. Every infant received a new snowsuit and every child a new winter coat. The dancers provided gifts for the mothers as well.
“It is truly amazing what our kids do,” DeFranco says. “They raise the money, they wrap the gifts, and their parents cook the food. Our teenagers become personally involved and get so excited watching the kids open the presents.”
The West Windsor & Plainsboro Girl Scout Service Unit have been helping with the annual holiday party for homeless mothers and their children, which has been hosted at Pennington School for ten years. “It was my first year as a scout leader, and I thought it would be a great opportunity,” says Marilyn Steidel, a HomeFront volunteer and party organizer. Her troop members are now in their senior year.
Other troops helping at the party this year included Carolyn Sellars’s sixth grade scouts from Troop 299. “This was their first direct one-on-one helping experience,” she says. “It had a huge impact on them.” Along with Cadette Troop 1184, led by Julie Bartage and Mary Ann McKiernam, the scouts helped with activities including stringing bead bracelets, decorating wooden ornaments, and playing games.
“I see their smiles, all their aspirations, and love for life,” says Sellars. “They want to reach out to their community and make it a better place to live.”