HARRINGTON PARK, N.J. -- Renee Jensen of Harrington Park never would have made it through extreme hardship as a single mom without the help of others.
So it was no surprise to many that countless mothers she united from Bergen County and elsewhere on a Facebook page donated massive amounts of food, books, diapers, pajamas and more to a local organization that assists victims of domestic violence and their children.
"Imagine having to flee abuse from the only home you have with nothing but the clothes on your back and children in tow," said Allison Torres of Northvale. "This will make their lives a little easier during such a tumultuous time."
Jensen, a 41-year-old author and entrepreneur, got things rolling with her "Mommies Time-Out" Facebook group.
Launched two years ago for Bergen County, the group has grown to more than 2,500 members, including several from Passaic, Hudson and Essex.
One of them, Marie Sullivan of Paramus, told Jensen that the Paramus-based Center for Hope and Safety is currently housing more families than ever and is in desperate need of food -- specifically pasta, jarred/canned pasta sauce, rice and beans.
It struck a chord.
Born in South Korea, Jensen was 7 months old when an American family adopted her. She grew up in Illinois before moving to Jackson Hole, Wyoming in 2004.
"I come from a home full of domestic violence," she said, "so I moved out when I was 17 and had to go out in the workforce and didn't have much guidance.
"I didn't really have a clue what the heck I wanted to do or how to do it. I was just worried about surviving and putting a roof over my head and having health insurance on top of trying to just deal with growing up way too fast without guidance, emotional or financial support."
There she met her now-ex-husband and had two children.
"We spent six years out west until economic times took its toll and caused us to separate and divorce," Jensen said.
With "little money and no job," she drove her children to New Jersey.
For three and a half years, Jensen shared a house with another single mom --and her bedroom with both of her kids -- to minimize monthly expenses.
Eventually Jensen rebuilt her life. Now she's an insurance agent for CDA Financial in Dumont.
"During my time out west, I was blessed to be surrounded by a network of women who nursed me through some of the hardest times of my life," she said.
Hoping to do the same for others, Jensen launched "Bergen County Mommies Time Out" in February 2015, focusing on mental health and wellness among moms of all ages.
Within 12 hours, 250 other mothers had joined. A week later, Jensen said, "50 moms who were total strangers gathered in a crowded bar for food, drink, and conversation."
What they created has grown into "a family of women who come from every different walk of life and support and lift each other up," she said. "No mean girl behavior allowed."
Jensen, who organizes various fundraisers through her company, My Time-Out, quickly assembled the food drive for the Center for Hope and Safety with Sullivan. They've gotten more than they'd dreamed in barely a week and a half.
"We're still receiving donations even after the food drive ended," Jensen said Tuesday.
"The outpouring of support from the moms of Bergen County has been absolutely amazing," she said. "Allison [Torres] and Laura Ellili of Cliffside Park generously donated their homes as drop off locations. Finks BBQ Smokehouse in Dumont also joined the mission as a dropoff point.
"Many brought not only the requested items but also things like pajamas, books, art supplies (for children's therapy sessions) diapers, and formula."
Torres, using her personal Facebook page, received donations from residents in Old Tappan, Northvale, and Norwood.
Wally Hassan from Wally's Bagels in Northvale saw the post and contacted Torres immediately, offering fresh bagels for the shelter occupants.
He also told her she could pick up any leftover bagels after 4 p.m. to deliver to the Paramus center, formerly known as Shelter Our Sisters.
Torres was floored.
"I had no idea what this drive would amount to, if anything," she wrote to her fellow moms. "You all have blown me away with your generosity and kindness -- what the season is truly about.
"You should all be very proud."
Although Mommies Time Out collectively gathered much more, Torres alone received a huge chunk of donations from Northern Valley-area moms:
- 65 boxes of pasta
- 36 boxes of spaghetti
- 40 jars of tomato sauce
- 15 bottles of salad dressing
- 2 jars of peppers
- 2 cases of diapers
- 15 containers of baby wipes
- 8 cans of tuna fish
- 22 bags/boxes of rice
- 2 big jars of applesauce
- 58 cans of food
- 1 jar of pickles
- 24 cup of noodles
- 2 boxes of graham crackers
- 1 big package of paper towels
- 3 boxes of tissues
- 3 big bottles of shampoo/body wash
- 3 boxes of pancake mix
- 2 bottles of pancake syrup
- 2 boxes of nutri-grain bars
- 1 large package of plastic cups
- 2 packages of toothpaste/toothbrushes
- 2 packages of soap bars
- 1 box of tea
- 2 cereal boxes
- 6 beef/chicken stock
- 8 pairs of pajamas
(Not to mention "tons of" toys, coloring books, art supplies, books, games and handbags for moms.)
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