By Amy Batista, Special Writer
HIGHTSTOWN — Rise is teaming up with local businesses and organizations this holiday season to fight hunger and is seeking help from the community.
“As you all know, Thanksgiving is right around the corner and we need all the help, with donations and volunteers,” said Rise Food Pantry Coordinator Julia Badulescu.
Rise is the primary non-profit social service organization in eastern Mercer County, according to its website.
“Thanksgiving is a unique American family tradition,” said Executive Director Leslie Koppel. “Please help Rise with our Thanksgiving Turkey Drive to make sure that every family can share in this special holiday that our entire country celebrates together.”
Local businesses, organizations, churches, schools, East Windsor Area Girl Scouts, and more are holding food drives for Rise this Thanksgiving season.
Ms. Koppel said that some businesses and organizations committed to helping them this year include, but are not limited to: in East Windsor – Conair Corp., Expert Plan, Shiseido Group USA, HMP Communications/NACCME, Grace Norton Rogers Elementary School, the Perry L. Drew Elementary School and the Jemstone Group-Windsor Crossing; inn Cranbury – Solvay, Crate and Barrel, Mr. Subs, First Bank, and St. David’s Episcopal Church; others include the Peddie School in Hightstown, Allen and Stults in Hightstown, Davlyn Industries in Monroe, 217 Church in Hamilton, CCL Label in Robbinsville, Fidelity Investment in Princeton, and Down to Earth in Colts Neck.
Farmers Against Hunger provides a big donation of fresh produce, she added.
“This year we are donating $500 from the Rectory Discretionary Fund,” said John Patterson, outreach coordinator of St. David’s Episcopal Church in Cranbury. “We have been working with Rise for three years and sponsor every first and third Wednesday evening food distributions.”
He said that the families who come in with little kids are always heartening.
“The kids are so excited,” he said. “We do this because we see the need first hand. The families we help, they always say ‘thank you.” I feel like we are definitely making a positive impact.”
The third annual Mercer County Turkey Trot event proceeds benefit the local food pantries, including Rise. Organizers are also collecting non-perishable food/non-food items, which will be donated to the pantries after the race, according to its website.
The race will be held on Nov. 26 from 7 to 10 a.m. at the Mercer County Park.
“For the past two years, we were delighted to receive support from the Turkey Trot run and to include literature and information about Rise programming in runner’s gift bags,” Ms. Koppel said. “Our Rise Food Pantry is helping more than 500 families each month with basic needs.”
Events such as these are crucial to keeping our pantry going year after year, she added.
Rise will start its 2015 Thanksgiving Basket distribution on Nov. 18.
“Rise is a community service partnership and has been providing services to local families for more than 48 years,” Ms. Badulescu said.
She said that traditionally, the organization provides a Thanksgiving basket, including a turkey with trimmings, to registered families.
“To date, we have 179 families registered and expect that number to double before distribution,” she said.
She said the group needs vegetables, turkeys, fruits, beans, tuna, pancake mix and syrup. Also being collected will be collecting non-perishable food items. Suggested items included boxes of macaroni and cheese, cans of tuna fish, cans of vegetables, dry or canned beans, boxes of cereal, cereal and or oatmeal, stuffing, pasta, rice, pasta sauce, cranberry sauce, applesauce, canned soup, instant mashed potatoes, gravy, corn muffin mix, bread mixes, canned or dried fruit, chicken or turkey broth, baby and children items, personal care items, fruit juice, instant breakfast drink mix, nuts, and Jell-O or pudding mix.
Other items that are also needed are brown grocery bags and plastic bags.
The schedule for the Food Pantry will be as follows – Wednesday, Nov.18 from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., however from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. the Food Pantry will be closed for regular food pantry distribution in order to prepare for the afternoon and evening Thanksgiving basket distribution; Thursday, Nov.19 and Friday, Nov. 20, from 9 a.m. to 3p.m. for distribution of Thanksgiving baskets; Monday, Nov. 23 and Tuesday, Nov. 24, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. regular Food Pantry hours and Thanksgiving basket distribution; Wednesday, Nov. 25 from 9 a.m. to noon, regular Food Pantry and Thanksgiving basket distribution.
Volunteers are needed during each day of distribution.
“We will need 20 to 30 people to volunteer each day,” she said. “They will be bagging fruit and vegetables, picking up deliveries, checking expiration dates, sorting produce, delivering baskets, organizing storage space distributing food to families.”
In addition, the group also needs help with picking up food donations from various locations on Friday, Nov. 13, and Monday, Nov. 16, from 9 a.m. to noon.
Rise Director of Development Kristen Cere said that they are expecting volunteers from St. David’s Episcopal Church, Church and Dwight, and the Hightstown High School football players.
Juan Cabos, Rise Food Pantry assistant, said this is his sixth year with Rise Food Pantry.
“It’s always been busy, now it’s crazy,” he said. “We started with 25 families and now have 125 each week. We used to have five volunteers and now we have 12 to 15 each day.”
He said that they have one family who they take special care of and strikes his heart.
“They are three people, a mother and two kids who lost their dad, Marco, this year,” He said. “Every week we help the mom and help her kids.
“My favorite part is watching people feel good,” he said. “It is very emotional to see the volunteers working together, see people helping and wanting to give something back.”
Elias Malasquez, a Rise volunteer who helps drive the Greater Goods truck, said that last year was tough.
“I was out of work,” he said. “Both my sons were away, serving in the Marines. When I needed help at the holidays, I got a turkey and food and it made things better,” he said.
“This year is different, my sons ages 22 and 23 finished their tours and now attend Rutgers,” he said. “I am also working. I will buy my own turkey this year but I am always grateful that Rise was there when I needed them. There are still a lot of people who need help when they are down.”
Those able to volunteer can contact Ms. Badulescu at 609-865-7660 or email availability at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rise is also sponsoring its annual Holiday Gift Drive and Adopt a Family Program. The group is collecting holiday gifts for more than 800 registered children whose families struggle to make ends meet. Many business are working with Rise to “adopt a family“ for the holidays to create wonderful holiday members for families who otherwise would go without.
If you or your organization is interested in donating items, contact Rise at email@example.com or call 609-443-4464.
By Amy Batista, Special Writer