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Helping Hands of Jackson offers support to community

JACKSON — For close to a decade, a small network of Jackson residents has supported their neighbors in need with help ranging from delivering groceries to buying Christmas presents for families facing hard times.

“We are a local fundraising organization, registered with the state, and we use our
skills and our event building know-how to raise money and help out the residents of
Jackson,” said Peter Reist, the president of Helping Hands of Jackson.

“We are a small group, just about 10 members. One of our focuses is providing food
to needy families in Jackson. We really focus on the Jackson community,” Reist said.

In keeping with its mission, “To touch the lives of those in need, to give a helping hand … ” the nonprofit organization delivers aid, keeps vulnerable members of the community in mind and celebrates Jackson residents who stand out, like a local teenager who saved his sister from being attacked by a rabid fox.

Although the group’s efforts were somewhat curtailed by the coronavirus pandemic, the group of about 10 people – which includes residents, municipal employees and Jackson School District personnel – still managed to brighten the holidays by donating poinsettia plants at Christmas to every resident at Bartley Healthcare in the township.

And the community response is always gratifying.

“A lot of times when you do these events, the people are so appreciative,” Reist said.

Reist credits his wife’s uncle, Vinnie Rubio, a long-time resident and former municipal official, for providing the inspiration to found Helping Hands of Jackson along with several other residents.

“Jackson is a big place with a small town feel,” he said. “(Rubio) has always had this innate knack, the type of personality where he gets to know people and he wants to help. He is always trying to help people.”

Rubio, who is a Vietnam veteran and Green Beret, said he entered military service at age 18 and was the only surviving member of his company. As a result of his experience, he said he deals with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Following his military service, he joined the U.S. Merchant Marine, serving for 23 years.

“When you have this problem (PTSD), you want to give back,” Rubio said, citing that as his
motivation to team with Reist to found Helping Hands of Jackson. “We have officials and a lot of people from the township. There is just a need in Jackson. There is a fire and people lose their home and we want to be there to help them.

“We don’t have a food pantry. If a member (of Helping Hands) finds out someone needs food, we will give the (member) 15 to 20 days worth of groceries and they will bring those groceries to that family so you are not taking anybody’s pride or dignity. Also, we have been working with the Jackson Women of Today food pantry for 20 years,” he explained.

“We do our (food assistance) the way we do it so nobody knows about the help. We don’t ask for information because we know somebody recommended them to us because they
need help. Through Helping Hands we do whatever we can for the people in this town.

“It is very important that we try to keep it low key because no one in the club, no one, is
looking for recognition. It is important to help people because some people need help. It’s as simple as that,” Rubio said.

Reist said Helping Hands of Jackson was initially a chapter of Optimist International. The group evolved to become an independent nonprofit organization based on neighbors helping neighbors.

“We developed our own organization in 2013, so we have been a group since. The original group was largely comprised of long-time residents and their focus was helping Jackson residents.

“At one time we did a fundraiser and we provided service dogs to veterans. Every Christmas we get the names of families that have some needs and we buy Christmas presents for them,” Reist said.

The groceries the group distributes are mainly donated to Helping Hands and the Jackson ShopRite has a collection box for donations at checkout points.

“As soon as we collect whatever is in the collection box, we will distribute it, whether it is to a family, a church or the food pantry. We don’t have a centralized place where we hold it all, it all goes out. ShopRite has been a great partner.

“We used to donate all of the food to the Jackson food pantry, but … we had so many
contacts in the community we were able to find families and needy organizations so
we just give the food to them directly.

“And that is the great thing, making sure everything we do goes directly to the
recipients, there is no middleman. We are grassroots, maybe 10 strong. We just added
two new members,” Reist said.

According to Reist, much of the Helping Hands outreach happens through word of
mouth.

“We will come up with an idea and say, ‘We know this organization or this person
or family needs help’ so we will focus on them. A lot of the stuff we do is just general, like fundraising, and then we will decide where to allocate those funds. Last year we gave 150 poinsettias to the residents of Bartley Healthcare. Each of them had a poinsettia in their room,” Reist said.

The organization recently recognized the heroism of a township youth.

When a local teenager saved his 4-year-old sister from being attacked by a fox that
had attacked three people last summer, it did not sit well with the Helping Hands
members that there was no official recognition of the teenager’s action, so the group stepped up.

“There are times when Helping Hands steps up just to recognize people for their
good deeds,” Reist said. “Last year a boy saved his sister from a fox, the township
did not do anything for him so we got him a plaque and a gift card and took his photo
and said ‘thank you.’ ”

The group also came up with “sharing centers” as a way to get donated groceries into the
hands of residents in need.

“The food we collect at ShopRite we use for the sharing centers. (At the sharing centers), it’s basically take what you need, give what you want. We have two sharing centers. One is at the Mug Rack on Bennetts Mill Road and one is at the Village Donut Shop on Route 571.

“We have given food to St. Monica’s Church, donated to their food drives. We have given
to the Jackson Baptist Church, the Jackson (Women of Today) pantry. We try to spread it around as much as we can.

“Our mission is basically helping the residents of Jackson, those who are in need of
food. Sometimes if we find a special cause, we had one family whose house burned down, so we did Christmas presents for them, brought them food.

“We do whatever we can. We have done clothing drives in the past, we do a little bit of
everything. We took donations at a hot dog cart throughout the summer last year.
Any type of event we can do to help people is right up our alley,” Reist said.

People in the community learn about Helping Hands of Jackson through word of
mouth and a network of school and township contacts.

“One of our members works at the Switlik Elementary School, another member was a teacher at McAuliffe (middle school), my wife’s uncle worked for the Department of Public Works so he knows everybody … The animal control officer just became a member. These are some of the people we have in the group who know people (and) who can reach out and get contacts for people who need help,” Reist said.

According to Reist, people also learn about the outreach through the Helping Hands
Facebook page as well as publicity the nonprofit organization generates.

Despite its small numbers, Helping Hands of Jackson has a broad reach when it
comes to helping residents in need.

“We are tiny, we are grassroots. We only have about 10 active members. We try, we do what we can. We are not looking for any accolades. We just want to get it out there and do what can be done,” Reist said.

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