Toms River Homeless Support Volunteers Win National Award
What started as a one-man mission to help Ocean County's homelessness victims rebuild their lives has grown into a nonprofit organization reaching throughout New Jersey and beyond - and the 85-year-old founder has gotten new energy for his mission with a $5,000 award.
Clark Paradise's volunteer group, the Toms River-based Your Grandmother's Cupboard, is the 2012 recipient of Home Instead Senior Care's Salute To Senior Service award. The Omaha-based network chose Clark's mission from more than 1,500 organizations around the country.
Home Instead representatives delivered the symbolic oversized check to Clark and his wife of 62 years, Jean, during Senior Night on June 5 at First Energy Park in Lakewood. The Lakewood Blueclaws took an active role in the presentation as well.
Clark's journey into volunteer service is all the more remarkable for its timing. He revved up the energy he needed to establish Your Grandmother's Cupboard at age 75 - a time when most of us would be winding down.
He says he was living in the Midwest, running a lackluster business and at loose ends with life. Then he found himself engaged in a pointed and stunning discussion.
"I went down by Lake Superior," he recalls. "I had a long talk. I said 'Lord, what do you want me to do?' He said, 'Help.' And I said, 'Could you be more specific?' But that was it."
Clark's path led to Ocean County, where he became familiar with Minister Steven Brigham and started collecting items to help people in what became Lakewood's Tent City.
"One Friday afternoon," he continues, "He tapped me on the shoulder. He said, 'Do something about the people in the motels.' I didn't know there were people in the motels. It turns out there's three or four hundred that the County puts in the motels." Here's where some miracles begin to occur.
"We had an old van. But I figured we're going to have to have a trailer if we're going to haul stuff to the motels. So I went to Hecht Brothers and found a nice trailer for $2,400. I came back Saturday and said, 'We don't have $2,400 to buy a trailer."
"On Monday, I got a check out of the blue from a man in California I'd never even met. I'd talked on the phone and did him a favor. He said, 'Here's $1,200. Do something good in your area.'" One of his sons, says Clark, stepped up with the remainder.
Another benefactor, says Clark, was the owner of the Roslyn Plaza, who donated the space for the burgeoning effort. Since then, it's expanded to branches in Phillipsburg and Wayne.
The program is simple. People who clean out their closets, attics, basements and garages bring items to the building. Clark's 30 or so volunteers sort it all for genders, ages, and uses, and they drive the donations to a route of spots in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
Clark says that the cash award will give them just enough money to cover gasoline expenses for a year. He credits all his progress and benefactors to that starting discussion by Lake Superior, and to the Supreme Being that guides his every step.
At the presentation, Clark was accompanied by his wife Jean, and they called it an extra reason to celebrate - the other being their 62nd wedding anniversary.
Your Grandmother's Cupboard in Toms River is open Tuesday through Friday, 10 'til 4. Find out all about the growing mission at http://www.yourgrandmotherscupboard.org.
Home Instead Senior Care also began as a husband-and-wife mission, from an office in Omaha in 1994 to a network reaching throughout America and 17 nations around the world. Find out more about its mission to provide non-medical home care and companionship to the elderly at http://www.homeinstead.com.