A Saucon Source initiative to help individuals and families who are without the funds to purchase warm winter hats, gloves and other accessories will continue this year, after it received the green light from Hellertown Borough Council at a meeting last month.
Project Keep Hellertown Warm began two years ago at the Saucon Rail Trail fence just north of Water Street in the borough, where publisher Josh Popichak received permission to cover the fencerails with the accessories and to hang a sign there announcing that the items are for anyone who needs them, no questions asked.
“In that amount of time I estimate that we’ve given away hundreds of donated pieces of winter clothing–mostly scarves and hats–to local people in need,” he told council.
The donated items are all new, gently used or handmade, and are collected at several Hellertown businesses which house signed dropoff boxes: H&R Block, 13 Main St., Hellertown; A Furry Tail Come True, 26 Main St., Hellertown; Kindred Spirits Books & Gifts, 66 Main St., Hellertown; and Doggy Dao & Cat’s Meow, 1238 Main St., Hellertown.
There is also a Facebook group for the project, which anyone can join to learn more about it, share ideas or volunteer to help collect items and hang them on the fence, which is monitored and used as a distribution point through the end of February.
Project Keep Hellertown Warm is as an anonymous distribution by design, so there is no accounting for anyone who removes items from the fence. In some cases they may be taken by people who are simply underdressed for the weather, and that’s fine. But more typically, they’re likely being accepted by people who are facing economic challenges.
“My vision for this has always been for the fence to be an anonymous resource for people who may be living paycheck to paycheck–barely making ends meet–and too proud or embarrassed to ask for help,” Popichak said. “So for them to be able to get winter hats and gloves for their families without spending anything or facing any stigma is huge.”
One possible misconception about the project, he noted, has been that it was primarily begun to help people who are homeless.
“Certainly anyone who is homeless is welcome to take these items, but the reality is that we don’t have a large homeless population in Hellertown,” Popichak told council. “That, however, doesn’t mean there isn’t poverty here.”
Leaving the items exposed in the elements also symbolically draws attention to that need, he said, adding that last year Project Keep Hellertown Warm volunteers experimented by putting some hats and scarves in sealed bags, only to discover that the bags’ seals ultimately failed, trapping moisture inside them. Had the items remained damp they would have eventually become moldy, which is why the group will continue to allow nature to dry what is tied to the fence.
“This way we also aren’t using any plastic, so we’re being environmentally friendlier,” Popichak added.
A goal for this year is to do more to promote the project throughout the season via social media with thank you posts about newly-donated items, he said.
Boxes at the locations that are collecting donated items for Project Keep Hellertown Warm 2019-2020 will be available by Friday, Dec. 6, and in the meantime volunteers will be filling the fence with a surplus of items collected last year and held in reserve.
Project Keep Hellertown Warm is just one of the initiatives by Saucon Source LLC to help improve the lives of individuals in need in Saucon Valley.
This year with support from Bob’s Valley Wide Carpet Care and other local businesses, Saucon Source is also sponsoring a Saucon Valley Food Drive to benefit the two food banks in Lower Saucon Township. The food drive will take place from Dec. 2 to Dec. 16.