The Sephardic Heritage Alliance, Inc. (SHAI) recently hosted its second Clothing and Coat Drive to benefit the Great Neck Public Schools clothing pantry. A steady stream of donors drove up, masked, to drop off their bagged donations. United Parent Teacher Council, the umbrella organization of parent teacher organizations, co-promoted the drive to its entire membership. SHAI Board members Mike Delafraz, Tania Eshaghoff-Freidberg, Jacqueline Harounian, Parisa Sarraf, Rebecca Sassouni, Sophie Sassouni and Shahruz Shahery helped sort the enormous amount of donated items.
In a vivid Great Neck snapshot, donors included individuals from every zip code on the peninsula, from various faith and ethnic groups, of all ages. One eighth grader who accompanied his mother to drop off donations expressed surprise that such a drive was necessary, stating “people in Great Neck don’t need help.” He was informed that approximately one fifth of the students enrolled in the Great Neck Public Schools are food-insecure and many local families struggle financially, particularly this pandemic year.
The Great Neck Public Schools clothing pantry was established in 2018. The idea was first discussed among the Social Work team and building administrators at Saddle Rock and has the support of district administration. Staff members volunteer to sort through clothing donations and organize the Pantry, which is housed in a small storage room at Saddle Rock School. In her capacity as a Trustee of the schools, SHAI president Rebecca Sassouni toured the Saddle Rock school with Principal Luci Bradley back in 2018. When they stopped at the nascent clothing pantry, an idea was born.
Established in 1992, SHAI has an extensive history of clothing, blood, bone marrow, voter registration drives, as well as communal programming, cultural and educational initiatives. Previous drives designated clothes for organizations outside of Great Neck. Last year, SHAI and UPTC, the united parent teacher council, co promoted a coat and clothing drive which was held at the SHAI office on Middle Neck Road. It yielded more than 100 children’s coats and hundreds of apparel items for kids. The surplus of donations from the Great Neck community was so generous that other nonprofit organizations were invited to come to the office to select items for their beneficiaries all over New York.
This pandemic year, SHAI reached out to Beautiful Memories Gemach founder Mark Krieger who graciously offered to host the Coat and Clothing Drive at his larger space. (“Gemach” is a contraction of the Hebrew words, “gemilut chassidim” which translate as “acts of loving kindness,such as those the pantry facilitates.) Once again, children’s items were separated for the Great Neck Public Schools Coat and Clothing pantry. Remaining adult items remained at the gemach pantry for distribution to adults with learning disabilities, veterans, homeless, dress for success, and many other organizations and individuals.
To learn more about SHAI, visit www.shaiusa.org and to learn about Beautiful Memories Gemach, visit www.beautifulmemoriesgemach.org/contact.
—Submitted by Great Neck Public Schools