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OPERATION CHILLOUT: A hoodie, thermals, gloves, socks and a hat

A hoodie, thermals, gloves, socks and a hat - basic items most people have in their closet - but that’s not the case for countless veterans across Bergen County.

“More than 16% of our homeless population in the United States are veterans, and 20% of all homeless are veterans” says Ray Chimileski, executive Director of the grassroots coalition, Operation Chillout, who is very concerned about the homeless veterans in our community, especially as the temperatures across the tri-state drop and the winter sets in. 

“Our outreach team hit the streets and asked our homeless vets what they need to get through the winter and they told us it’s these simple articles of clothing,” says Chimileski whose grassroots, interfaith organization, which was founded in 2000, provides outreach for homeless veterans, men and women in New Jersey and northeast Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.

For its 24th annual Winter Backpack Drive, Operation Chillout partnered with Hackensack Meridian Health at Hackensack University Medical Center, the network’s flagship hospital, to help fulfill the wish lists of nearly 200 local veterans in need. 

“We secured the six items on the list, quality goods, and our team members, many of whom are active or former military members themselves, filled 170 backpacks with the warm winter gear,” explains Jason Kreitner, MHA, FACHE, chief operating officer of Hackensack University Medical Center. “It is a really wonderful opportunity for us to help our local veterans who have made so many sacrifices for our freedoms.”

Hackensack University Medical Center is a veteran-friendly employer, employing more than 40 active duty, reserve, and retired active duty team members as well as the recipient of the Freedom Award, which is the Department of Defense's highest recognition to employers for their outstanding support of employees serving in the Guard and Reserve.

The Operation Chillout team will distribute the stuffed backpacks to veterans’ centers soup kitchens, clothing pantries, police and sheriffs departments, and social service agencies throughout New Jersey  December through January 2024.

“We’re so grateful to Hackensack University Medical Center and the team members for partnering with our organization to help make the winter a little more bearable for our homeless vets,” says Ray.  

In addition to the hats, gloves and other items placed in the backpacks, Hackensack team members placed notes to the recipients of the bags thanking them for their service in an effort to warm their hearts as well as their bodies this holiday season. 

Click here to learn more about Operation Chillout and click here to find out more about Hackensack University Medical Center.