Newark social worker never stops giving to those in need

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on September 19, 2013

Sharon Jackson, right, a social worker with the Urban league, picked up the phone last year and took a call from Gertrude Crawford, 80. Gertrude was on the line asking for help. She was hungry and hadn't eaten in a few days. She had money and asked if Jackson could buy her some food. Jackson took Gertrude shopping and watched her ride up and down the aisle for three hours in a motorized school. Nearly a year later, Sharon still looks after the lady.


Gertrude Crawford was working her way through the phone menu the Monday after Thanksgiving last year.

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Somewhere in all that button pushing, Sharon Jackson picked up the phone at the Newark social service agency where she is the self-appointed specialist at getting results, cutting through bureaucratic red tape with a chainsaw to aid her clients, many of them 55 and over and hurting.

Not your everyday social worker, Jackson will show up at city hall and state and federal offices to get to the people making decisions that affect her clients. She works the phones for her people, pesters supervisors for rental assistance, calls on shelters to spare a bed, connects with detox programs to see if they have room for one more.

"I do whatever I have to do," she said. "People have problems."

Crawford’s problem was hunger, Jackson recalls.

The 80-year-old woman on the line hadn’t eaten in several days, including the holiday.

She said she had money, but no way to get to the store. If Jackson could stop by her house in Newark, Crawford would give her a list to pick up a few things.

Jackson did better than that.

She got in her car and took Crawford to Pathmark, where she watched the delicate, genteel woman whiz up and down the aisle on a motorized scooter the store provides.

"I was so grateful," Crawford said. "I didn’t have anything."

For three hours Crawford shopped, filling her cart with enough food to last several weeks since she doesn’t get out much. Her balance is not so good and it’s difficult to get around with a walker. The ride to the store and the scooter made her feel free and independent again, if only for a few hours.

"She was having such a good time," Jackson said. "When we came out of there, it was dark outside."

The kindness we all hope to come our way one day has not stopped for Crawford. Jackson still looks out for her new friend, a proud woman who loves company and good conversation.

"I always felt like if I live to get old, I would want somebody to be there for me," Jackson said. "I tell people don’t mistreat others because you never know when it might be you that’s in that line for help."

Jackson brings Crawford her favorite breakfast — grits, eggs and bacon — before she goes to work at the Urban League of Essex County. On weekends, she might take her out to eat. The trip to the IHOP was memorable.

"Oh Sharon, we have to do that again," Crawford recalls saying.

The next outing may be a girly-girl day to get a pedicure and manicure. Crawford would like a spa day, too. Getting her back to church is in the works and a trip to the paint store is coming. Jackson’s brother is handy and has fixed up some rooms in her home.

In a society where everybody is busy floating their own boat, Jackson’s benevolence makes you pause at the compassion she has to see about someone she met on the phone.

"God has to have someone down here on Earth to do his goodwill," Jackson said. "He chose me."

Every Tuesday, Jackson volunteers at the "Willing Heart," a feeding and clothing program run by her church — Metropolitan Baptist Church.

Her tables are neat, decorated just so to make people feel they are at home. She stays all day, serving food to them as if they are in a restaurant.

"That’s my time," she said. "When they come in, I want them to feel the warmth, not like they’re in a line waiting for food."

Jackson is always in help mode. She’s scrolling through her cell phone, then gives the number she finds to a young man with a toothache.

"Tell ’em Sharon sent you, baby."

The trunk in her car stays filled with clothes in case she sees someone on the street who could use a coat, some shoes, a pair of boots.

Jackson doesn’t tell people what she does. She just does it, shying away from attention if someone finds out.

When the Urban League gave her a plaque, she wondered why.

"It’s unselfish love," said Marie Georges, a co-worker. "She does it without expecting anything back."

The youngest of seven, Jackson said she has always been this way. Giving like this was passed down by her late mother, Margaret, who fed the homeless huddled around fire-lit garbage cans in Newark during the holidays.

Crawford understands Jackson’s heart. She said she did the same thing years ago, handing out dinners to the hungry when she was a younger woman.

"I know what it’s like," Crawford said. "I think God blesses us for helping others."

And to put us in touch with the people like Jackson.

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