NEPTUNE, N.J. (AP) — The temperature hovered around 20 degrees when Reggie Anderson and a handful of cohorts parked behind the ShopRite on Asbury Avenue. They unloaded a small truckload of goods: high-quality sleeping bags, blankets, hats, scarves and toiletries.
A few moments later two men emerged from the adjacent woods. They represented a homeless encampment of a dozen or so people who live in tents amid the trees. They knew Anderson was coming, and they were happy to see him.
So were other folks around the state on a recent Saturday, as Anderson and fellow members of MTN Organization, a Jackson-based nonprofit, made their annual "Friends Feed the Homeless" caravan to help the less fortunate.
This was their most expansive one yet, hitting the train stations at Asbury Park, New Brunswick and Newark (Penn Station), plus homeless encampments in Neptune and Howell. They handed out a total of 507 care packages, plus roughly the same amount of bag lunches, as well as 175 winter coats.
"We get such a positive response," said Yvette Anderson, who co-runs the charity along with Reggie Anderson, her husband. "What we hear the most is, 'Thanks for not forgetting about us.'"
New this year, a handful of registered nurses offered basic health screenings at the train stations.
"We wanted to add that because there are people who don't get the opportunity for medical attention," Yvette Anderson said.
Another new twist: The winter coats were set up on portable racks, to provide more of a shopping experience.
"Last year we had them stuffed in garbage bags, and I didn't feel comfortable having people go through garbage bags," Yvette Anderson said.
Such attention to detail has helped elevate MTN Organization (the MTN stands for Meet the Need) from a passion project into a full-fledged charity. The Andersons, who live in Jackson, started in 2010 with Thanksgiving baskets for struggling local families and a Christmas toy drive for underprivileged children. Now they have a full calendar of outreaches, including a weekly pop-up food pantry.
"It's great how they give back," said Chris Lawler, a colleague of Reggie's at Comcast who joined him on the caravan. "Their house is really amazing. It's a warehouse of goods to help the homeless."
Lawler brought along his 11-year-old son Jake, who had performed a service project of his own, collecting goods for the caravan.
"We wanted to see it through to the end," Lawler said.
Contributions came from all over. Jersey Mikes in Neptune donated nearly 400 sandwiches, Girl Scouts of the Jersey Shore Troop 60709 donated 168 sandwiches and Bethel AME Church in Union donated 300 sandwiches. Uncle Gino's of Manalapan, Romeo's of Manalapan and Di Lucca's of Millstone also donated sandwiches.
"This is a true community effort," Yvette Anderson said. "From what we see in the news it seems like the country is divided. I can say I've had an outpouring of support from people throughout New Jersey who came together to make this event successful."