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SLIDE SHOW: Cathy’s Kids Redefines Christmas

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*Photos Submitted by Eladio Ruiz 3rd

Submitted by Eladio Ruiz 3rd

PERTH AMBOY – In 2009, Eladio Ruiz 3rd, a lifelong resident of Perth Amboy, was on his way to work and stopped at Sipos Bakery to buy cupcakes when he passed a mom walking her four children to school.  They all looked so happy that it was almost easy to overlook the one thing that would start a movement.  Although all the children were wearing coats, none of them fit properly.  It really bothered him, not only that the children needed the coats, but also that he never noticed there was this need in his own hometown.  That day he spoke with his good friend Chris Rezes and he shared the story of what he had seen earlier.  She then shared her mom’s story, which would be the birth of a group called Cathy’s Kids named after her mom.

The Bolanos family was your typical middle class family from Perth Amboy.  Augustine a blue collar worker, and Cathy a housewife whose job was to care for their two children and manage the household including the finances.  One of the things that made Cathy so special was that she opened up a Christmas Club every year, and whenever possible she would put away a little money.  At the end of the year she would withdraw the money for “the kids,” but the money was not for her kids.  She would go to the A. V. Ceres School and ask the principal to identify children that needed coats and she would buy them new coats, hats, scarves and gloves.  The number of recipients varied from year to year, some years she would buy more than 10. She never wanted to be acknowledged, so she did it anonymously.

Eladio was so moved by Mrs. Bolanos’s generosity that the following year he emailed family and friends, sharing Cathy’s story and letting them know that he was going to donate coats to the Perth Amboy elementary schools and wondered if they would also donate a coat. That year 107 people volunteered to donated new coats and accessories.  He reached out to all the Pre-k and elementary public schools and they identified students. The schools supplied only the gender and size keeping the children anonymous.

Although the group is not an organized charity, every year the number of donors continues to grow.  This year they already have 846 donors.  Eladio believes the secret to the groups success is that the donors are actually paired up with a child and since they are buying the coats and accessories, they know all the money spent is going directly to what many refer to as “my kid”.  The group has grown so large that Eladio has many family and friends that now assist organizing.  He points out Perth Amboy natives Gabriella “Gabby” Cuzzola, the daughter of Kelly Cuzzola, a friend of Chris’s since kindergarden. Gabby is responsible this year for soliciting over half the donations.  The group now delivers coats to children from Pre-K up to high school primarily in Perth Amboy but also in Woodbridge, Newark and Jersey City.  This year a Cathy’s Kids chapter was started in Lambertville, NJ.

In six years, this Perth Amboy grassroots group has donated over 2850 coats and continues to grow. Eladio proudly admits that what he thought would be a Christmas project has grown larger than he imagined. “We are spreading an epidemic of helping thy neighbor one coat at a time.  Cathy’s Kids has redefined Christmas to me. Christmas is no longer December 25, it is the day we deliver coats, knowing we are making a difference.  A difference that started many years ago by a very humble woman who now looks down upon us and makes sure we are successful.”

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