Eight years ago, Lorrel Boughton, of Kinnelon, read a story about Lois Bhatt, executive director of Bridges Outreach, Inc. Bhatt survived Stage II breast cancer and decided to dedicate her life to helping the homeless.
“My husband is very philanthropic,” Boughton explained. “But, with a lot of charities, it’s not hands on. You don’t get to interact with the people you are helping. When I read this article, I said, ‘Let’s see.’ And we did.”
Boughton, an Operating Room [OR] RN at Chilton Hospital in Pompton Plains, has been volunteering for Bridges Outreach, Inc. ever since. No matter what the weather, three or four Saturdays each month she makes a “run” to Penn Station in Newark where 60 to 150 homeless men, women and children line up for soup, sandwiches and a cold drink or a cup of coffee. At Penn Station, Boughton joins 10 or 12 other volunteers from Bridges Outreach. Often Boughton’s husband and children accompany her.
“It was very important to me that my kids grow up to realize how fortunate they are, and to give back,” Boughton said. “I grew up very poor, and that was something that I vowed that if I ever got a chance, that I would give back.”
Born in Hackensack, Boughton has lived in Kinnelon 28 years.
“I came here because a friend said this was the place to bring up children.”
Uncomfortable talking about herself and her volunteer work, Boughton explained that she has conceded to participate in interviews because of the impact the story she read in the newspaper about Bhatt has had on her life.
“I find it very rewarding,” she said. “People don’t always know what they can do or how to go about helping, but it is a wonderful way for people to give back. And, you see how lucky you are.”
She hopes others will be inspired to do what they can to help the homeless.
Boughton devotes about an hour and a half to two hours serving food each week in Newark. However, she said there are many other ways to help, including collecting food and toiletries or donating and sorting clothing at the Bridges Outreach offices on Morris Avenue in Summit.
Since beginning her relationship with Bridges Outreach, Boughton has learned a lot from those who live "on the street." She listens to their stories and tries to help.
“It’s not always for the reasons people think,” Boughton explained about how people become homeless. “Sure, sometimes it is because of drugs or poor choices, but sometimes it is lack of education, loss of jobs, or something like losing a home to fire.”
Recently, Boughton was asked to become a Core Volunteer for the organization. At firs,t she was skeptical thinking it sounded too much like a job, but then she discovered that the Core Volunteer’s job is to really to talk to those who come out for food and supplies. Core Volunteers listen and try to help provide services or other items that individuals need.
“It’s addicting,” she explained. “It is simply making people feel respected and making them feel important, and I love doing that.”
From helping a young pregnant woman find just the right coat that fits from a pile of donated items to making sure a 30-year-old man, who lost his job because his company went out of business, can find a blanket, Boughton enjoys her volunteer work and looks forward to the time she spends each week helping others. She tries to never miss a Saturday if she can help it.
During the week Boughton also spends time thinking about people’s needs and collecting socks, backpacks, food, clothing and many other items that she loads in the trunk of her car for distribution in Newark.
Additionally she promotes the Bridges Outreach’s monthly coalition services, which provides blood pressure and diabetes screening, HIV testing and housing and job information.
Currently, Boughton hopes that schools, churches, businesses and Scout troops will collect new or gently used backpacks and “green” shopping bags to Bridges Outreach, Inc. Plastic shopping bags often break, dropping people’s food and belongings on the sidewalk. Backpacks and “green” shopping bags are sturdier and easier to carry. Boughton needs 200 of them for the homeless in Newark.