Passaic pair recycles baby goods for families in need

Passaic pair recycles baby goods for families in need

PASSAIC – Leah Zimmerman and Siggy Berger, two local moms with 17 children between them, have a successful matchmaking service. But this isn’t about engagement rings; it’s about cribs, high chairs, and strollers.

Zimmerman and Berger collect gently used baby equipment and distribute it to Jewish families here in need. They call it the Baby Gemoch. "Gemoch" is an acronym composed of the three Hebrew letters gimmel, mem, and chet, which stands for "gemillut chasadim" or "acts of kindness." A gemoch is commonly an organization that lends items for free or gives them outright.

Siggy Berger (wearing a snood) and Leah Zimmerman unload the trailer of donated baby supplies with the help of Miriam Zimmerman, 11. photo by abigail leichman

"You don’t have to be poor to take from the gemoch," Zimmerman said. "In Passaic we don’t have a lot of low-income people but very few are wealthy. Most would be doing okay but because they have a lot of kids and tuition is high, they’re struggling."

Zimmerman started the project about three years ago, using the excess of formula that she had from her own children. "I figured if many people didn’t use what they got from the hospital, we could feed a few babies a year on it," she said. "And then I realized that sometimes you buy a case of diapers and suddenly the baby outgrows the size and what will you do with it? So I put a basket outside my front door for people to drop off diapers and formula. We’d find some babies whose parents needed a little help."

Enter her friend Siggy Berger.

"Mostly," said Berger, "Leah was getting stuff from Passaic, where families are larger and the things weren’t in such good condition. I suggested getting more people and more neighborhoods involved, but Leah couldn’t pick up the things so I started doing it with my van and it blossomed very quickly."

Driving her van with a little wooden trailer hitched on, Berger drives at least twice a week to Teaneck and once a week to Englewood and other Jewish communities where families have heard of the service and have things to donate. Riverdale, Paramus, West Orange, Livingston, Monsey, and even Brooklyn also are on her route.

"I’ll go farther if people have items that are worth my trip, like a full nursery set," she said. "[Recently,] I got a set from Mahwah. The woman who donated it explained that her mother-in-law’s best friend works at Yavneh [Academy in Paramus] and she found me that way. I was happy to know the word is getting out to other communities."

The trailer, by the way, was the present she asked her husband to give her for what she calls "a significant birthday" last November. Often she brings along some of her kids to help her carry the items from the trailer up the three flights to the Zimmermans’ storage area.

"Before I knew it, the gemoch of diapers and formula was only 5 percent of that and 95 percent other items that people would really throw out otherwise," said Zimmerman. "They’re from Jewish homes mostly, and the families are thrilled to give them to other Jewish families."

Another family nearby recently agreed to allow the women to store donated toys in their garage.

Berger stressed that there is complete confidentiality. "Many times, Leah doesn’t know where the things came from and I don’t know who’s getting them," she said, "and in any case, nobody knows other than us."

The women usually have a list of 15 to ‘0 items that parents are waiting for. The most in-demand items are cribs, nursery furniture, and jogging strollers.

"At one point I had six cribs and now I have people waiting for them," said Zimmerman. "Sometimes I have to make a decision about who gets what we have here and that’s difficult. I always try to make people comfortable taking because otherwise these things would have no home. And I never ask anyone how badly they need it."

Zimmerman’s children, ranging from an infant to a 14-year-old, also lend a hand. On a recent day, Tova, 9, and Miriam, 11, happily hauled car seats and busy boxes up the steps.

"When Siggy comes, the kids help bring in all the stuff and they help organize and clean it and help people find what they are looking for," she said. "I wanted chesed [kindness] to come out of my house to give a bracha [blessing] to my house."

To reach the Baby Gemoch, call Berger at (’01) 486-149′.

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