A Conversation with Bundles of Joy New York Founder Adrienne Harper

A Conversation with Bundles of Joy New York Founder Adrienne Harper

Image credit: Emily Tull Pollakowski

Bundling hope and joy by giving clothes and personal items to mothers and children most in need

At the end of every year, I’m hit with the sudden urge to rid my home of unused items. I rip through closets, dresser drawers, even my storage unit in search of clothes that long ago stopped fitting and heels I can no longer withstand. But when it comes to my son’s things, nostalgia takes hold. I stockpile everything from first outfits to teddy bear–stitched bedding that never made it onto his crib but still claims space in closets and dresser drawers. These are the keepsakes my heart never wants to let go of.

One day, while scrolling through Instagram, I came across an organization called Bundles of Joy New York, or BOJ. Images of volunteers delivering “bundles” to beaming mothers and children, temporarily displaced and living in homeless shelters throughout New York City and Westchester County, immediately captured my attention. This was the type of organization I knew I could gift my treasured mementos; and one year later, I continue to happily do so.

Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with Adrienne Harper, founder and executive director of Bundles of Joy New York, about its mission and the tremendous impact it’s having on the lives of New York families in need.

Q: What inspired you to create Bundles of Joy, and what is its mission?

A: I was living in Boston, pregnant with my daughter, and volunteering at an organization that performs work similar to what Bundles of Joy now does. The mothers the organization served were requesting basic items for their children, such as bottles, soap, diapers, and pajamas. Whenever I went home after volunteering, I’d see my nursery set and ready for my baby. I couldn’t help but notice how different my circumstances were from the women, but how united we were as mothers. I knew giving moms the help they need during those critically early stages of their children’s lives was the life work I wanted to do.

In 2016, my family and I moved to Bronxville, and while pregnant with my second baby, I completed the necessary paperwork for BOJ to be registered as a nonprofit organization. Our mission is to provide children from birth to five years of age the essentials they need to not only survive but also thrive.

Q: You seem to have a solid base of support from the Bronxville community where you live and where BOJ is based. Was gaining and maintaining community support difficult?

A: Not at all. Businesses and families in Bronxville have been very willing to help us. I think what resonates with all of our community partners and volunteers at large is that not only is it easy to help us but also the results of BOJ’s work are tangible—volunteers put “bundles” together, help deliver those bundles, and see us in different communities engaging with the families we serve. Because I used to work for the nation’s largest welfare-to-work program, I know what it’s like for families entering the shelter system with the added stress of having insufficient personal items, such as soap, washcloths, and diapers. I’m always thinking about what mothers will immediately need for their children upon entry into the system. BOJ gives only new or near-new items because we understand that quality equals dignity. We also share an authentic and ongoing relationship with our clients. Moms tell us what they need, and we listen. For example, mothers recently told us they were having trouble thoroughly cleaning their babies’ bottles while in the shelter because they lack the necessary supplies. We then reached out to the bottle company Dr. Brown’s, which donated bottles to BOJ that we now give to our moms. In our first year of operation, we’ve served approximately 1,000 families with the help of our volunteers and partners; and with the opening of our new headquarters, we’ll be able to do even more.

Q: Is there a memory that stands out as illustrative of why BOJ does the work it does?

A: While doing a pop-up at a shelter, I met a family who had four children, and the children had holes in their clothes. I learned that the father, who’d been in an accident, was unable to work, which caused them to fall behind on their rent. We asked them to compile a Christmas wish list and got the children the things they listed. On Christmas Eve, the mom contacted me saying that they’d saved enough money to get their own place. The items we collected for the children went under their tree, and they opened them on Christmas morning. Their mom later sent a note thanking me for helping to make her children so happy. She said the children were excited and proud to wear the clothes we’d donated to them and that while playing, they sometimes pretend they’re BOJ volunteers.

Q: How has serving families, who are in their neediest and perhaps most defeated state, informed your ideas about privilege and parenting?

A: I’m aware that I exist in the middle of the two extremes of privilege and hardship; however, I feel lucky that I’m able to lessen some of the burdens in these families’ lives. Because of all that I’ve seen them endure, I no longer sweat the small stuff and am even more appreciative of my family and what we have. But I also encourage my volunteers not to feel guilty about the privilege that allows them to help others. Suffering is relative, and a person’s wealth doesn’t make them immune or insensitive to it. BOJ is a judgment-free zone. We’re happy to work with anyone who believes in our mission and wants to help make a difference in the lives of families in need.

If you would like to volunteer or support Bundles of Joy, email Adrienne Harper at adrienne@bundlesofjoyny.org. You can also connect with Bundles of Joy New York via its website or Instagram at @bundlesofjoyny.

Terri Linton, ESME’s Incarceration Resource Guide, is a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College, where she is currently pursuing a master of fine arts degree in creative nonfiction writing, and a graduate of Rutgers School of Law-Newark. Terri is a freelance writer and professor of criminal justice. She hosts and produces the podcast She Roads with Terri Linton, where she interviews women about their journeys of endurance and resilience. Terri’s writing has appeared in Ninth Letter, HuffPost, Motherly, and Mamamia. You can connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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