By Matt Cosentino | For NJ.com
WASHINGTON TWP. — Dozens of volunteers, Assemblyman Paul Moriarty and members of a local motorcycle club all gathered in the same room on Saturday afternoon in a modest building across from the Washington Township Police Department.
At the center of it all was a woman with a thick New York accent and an infectious personality who brought this eclectic group together.
With the help of family and friends, Susan Rose started the Lauren Rose Albert Foundation in 2000 in memory of her oldest daughter Lauren, who was killed in 1999 at age 40 in a car accident while on vacation.
From humble beginnings the non-profit has grown into an impressive charitable foundation that helps women in need throughout South Jersey and beyond. Saturday’s open house was a way to spread the word about the group’s mission and gear up for its annual Mothers Matter
Mother’s Day drive, which distributes glamorous gift bags containing beauty and personal care products to women in the area.
“It’s amazing what it has turned into,” said Rose, a native New Yorker and long-time Cherry Hill resident. “It has been all volunteers since the beginning. We started out with gift baskets and we did 265 in the first year. In 2009, we switched to gift bags because we were doing so many. By the end of 2016, we’ll hit 35,000 gifts bags that we’ve delivered.”
This year Rose expects the foundation to distribute between 2,000 and 2,500 gifts bags for Mother’s Day to daycare centers, hospitals, women’s shelters and more. Each bag is color coordinated and contains items such as lotions, soap, shampoo and makeup.
“It has to be beautiful, it has to be perfect,” Rose said. “We want to show this mom, this person, that someone cares. The thank yous that we get, we see that it does make a difference.”
The products are stocked on shelves in different rooms throughout the foundation’s headquarters based on color. There are also different stations for the volunteers to organize items coming in and carefully put the gift bags together. All bags are checked and re-checked before going out.
“We partner with Dollar Tree and a lot of this comes from them,” Rose said. “For five weeks a year at about 40 stores, when customers check out they’re asked if they’d like to donate a dollar for Mothers Matter. Every dollar gets us a product.
“We also have a lot of businesses — such as the Rothman Institute, New Jersey Manufacturers, public and parochial schools, Rowan College at Gloucester County and other organizations — who do collection drives for us. We bring in about 75,000 items a year.”
Anne Cutler, a close friend of Rose’s, has helped out since the foundation’s inception and appreciates the time spent with other volunteers, as well as the impact they make.
“We’re one big happy family,” Cutler said. “We all work well together and everyone has their own niche. Some people like to make the bags, some people like to stock, some people like to sort. It works out well.
“I love it when we go to the daycares,” she continued. “We give them to the children to give to their mothers or caregivers, and it’s very nice. The kids are adorable and they get very excited.”
Although the Mother’s Day drive has always been the signature event, in 2010 the organization began helping women year-round. A big part of that work is the delivery of special gifts bags to cancer patients at places like the MD Anderson Cancer Center at Cooper and the Fox Chase Cancer Center.
These bags often include a journal, playing cards or a book along with the beauty items.
“Some of these women are getting ready for cancer surgery or radiation,” Rose said. “They get this, and it gives them a lift.”
Glassboro resident Kathy Rozanski was at Saturday’s open house and echoed that sentiment. A cancer patient at Fox Chase, she has received a gift bag in the past.
“They are gorgeous and it’s a real nice treat,” Rozanski said. “Your skin changes (when you’re battling cancer), so the lotions are awesome and the soaps are good. They really pamper you.”
Members of the Deptford chapter of the Saints and Sinners Motorcycle Club were also on hand Saturday. They met Rose about eight years ago and have since played an active role in the foundation, especially at this time of the year and during the annual Mothers Matter 5K Walk and Run in October.
“Everybody lends a hand who can,” club president Frank Jennings said. “We do pickups for them, and we come here every Tuesday night and sort the stuff we pick up while the women make the baskets. For the 5K run, our guys all chip in and help set it up, then we road marshal the actual run so the runners know which way to go. (We get) satisfaction from helping people.”
Jennings’ favorite stop for the Mother’s Day deliveries is at the Ronald McDonald House in Camden.
“All of the kids come out and sit on the bikes,” he said. “My wife and another woman in the chapter bring little water tattoos and sunglasses and bandanas for all the kids. So we dress them up as bikers and they take pictures on the bikes. Then we give them baskets to give to their moms. It’s a lot of fun. We try to make that stop a couple times of year, just to brighten their day a little bit.” That mentality of brightening someone’s day is shared throughout the organization, and it’s a tribute to Lauren, a mother of three herself.
“She was a very giving person,” Cutler said. And so is her mother, who doesn’t plan on slowing down anytime soon with the charity she started 16 years ago.
“This is all a tribute to Susan’s leadership,” said John Crosbie, a long-time volunteer along with his wife Michelle.
“She inspires everyone to want to help others, and that’s what makes her special.”