Tweny-one years ago, Anna De Sousa of Valley Cottage would spend so much money on groceries that her husband, Thomas, told her she must start using coupons like his mother did. As a bonus, Thomas said if she did this he would double however much she saved each week and add that to her weekly food allowance.
Soon, Anna was saving so much money with her coupons that her husband decided to end his challenge to her. But she continued to clip coupons and save with them as a hobby.
“My biggest thrill is going into the stores, ringing up a bill, and bringing it down to a few cents,” she said.
With so many coupons to use, she began to buy excess groceries, more than her family would ever need. So she decided to give back and donate her extra goods to charity. On Monday she, along with workers from the West Nyack Post Office and Rockland County Legislature member Ed Day, R-New City, helped pack up a room full of groceries and put them in the mail trucks, where most of them will be sent overseas for use by U.S. troops. She also sends goods to charities like hospitals, soup kitchens, and People to People in Nanuet, among others.
De Sousa said she packs up the donations every six to 12 months, depending on how many bargains she finds and how many items she buys. In fact, Derek McLoughlin, a supervisor at the West Nyack Post Office who often helps De Sousa pack up her items in the mail trucks, explained that some of the goods De Sousa donates cannot be shipped overseas. Specifically, glass bottles and aerosol cans could break or explode if put onto military planes. So these items are donated to People to People or other local charities as well.
She estimated that on Monday she had more than $2,000 worth of groceries, for which she thinks she spent around $200, including tax. The supplies took up two full mail trucks and included food items like pasta and pancake mix and other useful items like batteries (which soldiers can use in their night vision goggles) and aspirin. This particular supply also had various candies and packages of matzah, perfect for the upcoming Easter and Passover holidays.
And De Sousa’s giving does not stop with these donations. She noted that she often shares her excess food with her family, friends, and neighbors, and even gives some coupons to fellow shoppers that she sees in the stores.
Not only do these gifts provide goods to those who may not otherwise have them, one particular donation of hers may have helped save a soldier’s life.
“Years ago when I made a donation to the army, somebody got shot, and I had Tampax in my pile [of donations], and they took out the Tampax and clogged up the bullet wound,” De Sousa said. “They said, ‘Anna that was in your pile, you might have saved somebody’s life.”’
With all of her giving, De Sousa has become well-known in the community, so much so that she often receives coupons in the mail from strangers to help her donate more to good causes. Some local shops even give her leftover newspapers with coupons inside of them, and even the IRS has been saving coupons for her to use.
She said that the biggest bill she ever racked up was around 20 years ago, when she bought over $800 worth of merchandise from Pathmark and used coupons to get it down to a little over $7. But she also had to hand in the receipts she got for recycled bottles outside the store, so she ended up actually getting paid for her purchase.
But even though De Sousa has been helping those in need for years, she noted that she has faced some “harassment” from workers at various local supermarkets.
“They claim I’m taking all the bargains from the other people, the customers, but all the customers I’m meeting, they think it’s wonderful what I’m doing,” De Sousa said. “They think it’s wonderful and they tell me to keep it up.”
Day, the County Legislature member, said he has heard of De Sousa's occasional problems with stores.
“She plays by the rules,” Day said of De Sousa. “She’s doing God’s work right now for a very special segment of our society, our fighting men and women who are preserving our liberties right now. I told her very simply, if you have any issues in any stores […] I would be happy to go shopping with her. So far she has not had to ask me to do that, but when she has a problem I am there to help her.”
Indeed De Sousa’s military donations are especially meaningful for Day, as he has two sons currently in the Army, including one who has served in two wars.
“I don’t think people understand how important these routine items are to those folks serving overseas,” Day said. “My own son was by a riverbed for a month, trying to recover two of this troopers [and] they had no supplies. So these things are godsends to them. These things may seem trivial to the average person, but to those who are serving in war zones, and there are a lot more that are from Rockland than people really know, it’s a very, very important mission that she’s on. I can’t be thankful enough for what she does.”