Some people have a life-changing experience that shows them what to do with their lives. Lindsay Gruntorad had two.
Six years ago, Gruntorad, then a Division Avenue High School student, volunteered at a food drive in Harlem. While there, she noticed that the people receiving food were in dire need of coats. It affected her to the point that she pestered family members and friends to donate coats. A year later, she returned with 50.
That was the first of Gruntorad's annual coat drives. This year will be year six. The organization receiving the coats is different (in recent years, she's donated to St. Bridgid's Church in Westbury). The drive is bigger, too (she donated 160 coats last year). But the motivation is still the same; help those who need to be helped.
"You can see that there’s a need for it, especially with the economy," she said. "A lot more people are cold this winter than were last winter. Just that alone makes me want to do it.”
What set Gruntorad down her specific career path was the death of her grandmother when she was in high school. In particular, what impacted her was the way a funeral home in Florida prepared her.
"Florida’s notorious for not being great with embalming, to be blunt," she said. "When she got here, she didn’t look like herself. My grandma wore big lipstick and crazy hair. It just wasn’t what I wanted her to look like."
Gruntorad decided that day that she didn't want anyone to go through the same experience that her family did. She went to her guidance counselor and set herself up on a path to become a funeral director. Last December, that goal was fulfilled when she got a position as a resident funeral director in Queens. She works 40 hours a week, commuting back and forth, doing what she wants to do.
“I love to work with the families," she said. "I like them to have a lasting memory of their loved one that they may not have if they went to another funeral home. It’s hard, and it’s emotionally draining, but it’s fulfilling at the same time."
Between her coat drive and her job, you get the sense that Gruntorad cares deeply about the well-being of others. She's been that way for as long as she can remember.
"My friends always thought I was the mom of the friends," she said. "I was always making sure everyone got home safely and that everyone was safe and sound before I was able to go to sleep."
That caring is what motivates her to keeps her coat drive alive, despite a full-time job and an ever-expanding donation pool. She doesn’t know anyone in Suffolk County, but she branched out there this year, getting donations from an AMVETS chapter and the Suffolk Pony Club.
All of it is done to help the less fortunate. “If one person’s warmer this winter,” she said, “then I did my job.”
To donate coats to Lindsay Gruntorad’s cause, you can view the flyer attached to this article or you can email her at KeepNYWarm@yahoo.com.
Editor's Note: This story is featured as part of the Huffington Post's "Greatest Person of the Day" series.