By Steve Sears
Nicole Coward, an On-Site Property Manager with Kaplan Companies in Hackettstown for 14 years, and her daughters, Rebecca and Leah, have created “Operation: Send Smiles!”
“What we’re trying to do is create care baskets and deliver them to the seniors,” says Nicole, whose family has lived in Hackettstown for two years. “As everybody knows, COVID took a real hard hit on our seniors, and we just wanted to make them smile and make sure they understood that they’re loved and that we respect our history with them. We wanted to do something so that they know they weren’t forgotten or not thought about, and we’re just trying to do something to uplift their spirits.”
Both Nicole and daughter Rebecca came up with the idea. “My mom and I overheard a story on the news about a senior citizens place where it was saying there is a steady decline in the mental health of the senior patients,” says Rebecca. “We felt heartbroken about it. My mom said she wondered how Paragon Village was doing since we live next door to them. My mom and I wondered if we could do something for the seniors. I said, ‘Why don’t we make them care packages and make them smile?’ After we discussed it, we created Operation: Send Smiles!”
Nicole spoke with Dawn Perdon, Director of Bentley Commons at Paragon Village (which is located on Route 46 near the Hackettstown and Mount Olive border) who also related touching stories regarding the seniors there, which furthered Nicole, Rebecca, and Leah’s determination to get the donations prepared and eventually delivered. “I wouldn’t want to be 70 or 80 years old and feel like I’ve been forgotten about,” says Nicole.
The Coward family is always looking to raise the spirits of others. With the help of the Kiwanis Club, they are collecting food for the Mount Olive Food Pantry and have also collected PPE equipment for the Mount Olive Police Department, but “Operation: Send Smiles!” has been their biggest endeavor. For the trio, Paragon Village is a stepping-stone; there is much good work to come. “What I’d like to do,” says Nicole, “because they do have 110 residents there, is everybody is going to receive something. And I’m hoping to gather enough products that we can create baskets for seniors throughout the entire Mount Olive community. That’s my goal.”
Rebecca, who is in 8th grade at Mount Olive Middle School, echoes her mom’s words. “My mom and I said no matter what we want to make sure every resident of Paragon Village receives a basket. If we get extra donations, we want to create extra baskets and give them out to Mount Olive senior residents throughout town.”
Among the items in the baskets are socks, crossword puzzle books, crafts, yarn, and yarn tools, and more.
Younger sister, Leah, has also added an extra touch to the baskets. “My mom and sister asked me if I wanted to help write letters and color pictures for some of the baskets. I said okay. I really wanted to help but I wasn’t sure what I could do. I was really happy when they asked me to join them. I love when my mom does fun projects like this.” She then adds, “It has been really fun seeing boxes come to our house every day. My mom keeps saying how happy she is to see everyone coming together and donating. I can’t wait to help build the baskets and drop them off. I’m happy to be sending smiles.”
Donation deadline for the Paragon Village baskets is April 30. Items, which must be brand new, can be dropped off at 103 Sowers Drive, Hackettstown. Pickup is also available by calling Nicole at (732) 921-6242.
“This isn’t just a one-time program,” says Nicole. “This is something I want to do for as long as I possibly can.” She also states that Kaplan Companies and its owner, Jason Kaplan, are huge supporters of the trio’s good works. “Anytime I have a cause, they’re right there helping us. They’re pretty amazing.”
Rebecca sums up “Operation Send Smiles!” “I am really excited, and it makes me feel good to know our community seniors will know that their community is thinking of them and they’re not alone. I learned so much from my grandparents and I think how many of those seniors are grandparents. They deserve to be happy and smile. I am happy to do this for them.”