Encino resident Sara Tepper is doing something unusual for her Bat Mitzvah project: She's launched 'Jackets for Jersey' to collect and send gently-used winter coats to New Jersey residents in need of warm clothing in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.
With the help of her mother, Michelle Tepper, Sara has gathered garments from friends, relatives and their colleagues. Her friend Skylar Steinman, and Skylar's mother, Sheryl Steinman, are also helping with the project, as they have relatives who live in New Jersey who can coordinate the deliveries once they arrive.
Sara and Michelle organized a drive-through collection point for items at Encino Charter Elementary on Saturday, Nov. 17, as well as drop-off boxes at Millikan Middle School in Sherman Oaks, Portola Middle School in Tarzana, and Lanai Road Elementary School in Encino.
Michelle said the day was a huge success.
"I am so proud of her," Michelle said. "She and her dad [Rob Tepper] endured the cold rain for six hours on Saturday, and she had over 20 cars arrive and drop off items such as beautiful warm coats, hoodies, diapers, toiletries and shoes, boots and backpacks. We also had a huge delivery from Topanga Elementary's VP of Student Council, Strider Ellis, who made a huge donation to our home. I am personally happy to see so many parents teaching their children to help others and that they can make a difference. Rob and I are very proud of Sara."
The Teppers are no longer accepting jackets but are still raising funds for shipping costs through the Jackets for Jersey website.
Sara said she got the idea after seeing images of the disaster on the television and from discussions with Skylar and Sheryl Steinman.
"I'm super excited to see the turnout," Sara said before the Saturday drop-off event. "We've gotten 100 jackets already from my school, Millikan."
Her efforts tie in well with one of the requirements of her Bat Mitzvah.
"It's about giving to people who are in need," Sara said. "I always feel really sympathetic for a lot of people. I cry when I see people getting hurt, and I thought instead of sitting I could get up and help."
Sara created a website for the project at www.jacketsforjersey.com, and her father, a graphic designer, helped with the logo. Michelle is helping organize some of the logistics and the transportation from California to the East Coast.
Sara's 4-year-old sister, Phoebe, told her mother she wants to give her Tzedakah money to New Jersey.
Wish Sotheby's International Realty in Sherman Oaks has donated several bags of jackets and boots, and Russell's Moving and Storage, and Gary The Box Pro have donated boxes for the shipment.
Sara has been laundering and sorting the donated clothing by size and gender.
Meanwhile, Sheryl and Skylar Steinman are also pitching in. They're no strangers to helping others. Skylar's Bat Mitzvah project was a show from which the proceeds went to benefit breast cancer charities.
"My family lives back east and my sister lives in Marlboro, N.J.," said Sheryl Steinman, who is also involved in the project. "Her nephew helped with Soles4Souls on Facebook and she wanted to do something similar. She found 80 sweatshirts in her closets that her kids were not wearing, and so she started collecting for people who needed it who had no help from FEMA yet."
Steinman is going back to New Jersey to visit her sister, Susie Howard, this Sunday, and will help with the distribution of the items collected here in the Valley.
"People are just gathering together and organizing through social media to find out where people need things," Steinman said. "Some towns the National Guard doesn't let you in unless you live there, so designated people came to the border and picked stuff up from [my sister]. It's kind of crazy."