Team Kevin Strive gives youths a helping hand

Volunteers who share a passion for an active lifestyle regularly dedicate their time to individuals who have a medical disability.

The volunteers make up Team Kevin Strive, which was started to raise awareness and to show that people who have a medical disability can still be participants in an active lifestyle.

The nonprofit Team Kevin Strive started when Kim Hansen, of Freehold Township, entered herself and her son, Kevin, 16, in a race. Hansen said Kevin is a special needs child who is medically fragile, but loves to be active.

Hansen and her son have been racing for three years, while Team Kevin Strive is 1 year old.

“My passion is to let Kevin experience anything he can and wants to experience,” Hansen said. “It makes me really excited and happy to see him doing things he enjoys.”

She said Team Kevin Strive’s goal is to raise money that can be used to purchase wheelchairs that have been designed for racing. The equipment allows individuals who have special needs to participate in races in ways that would otherwise not be possible.

“We have racing chairs, bike chairs and even boat chairs that pull the kids in the water,” Hansen said. “Our motto is you can do anything if you just try.”

She said Team Kevin Strive provides opportunities to individuals with special needs who want the thrill of racing by providing a “pit crew” and racing chairs for races of different distances.

“This past year we have done two triathlons and numerous 5K runs,” Hansen said. “Being disabled does not mean you cannot achieve your goals. It is just amazing how unselfish everyone is in helping those in need. You want to help these kids have a really good experience.

“What is so amazing is that these volunteers come just because they want to. When they see these kids smile, they want to come back and do more with them and the kids just have a great time,” she added.

Team Kevin Strive is sponsored by Hooters restaurants. Hansen said Hooters and the Elizabeth Police Department help to raise awareness and money so that children who have special needs may have an active and fun lifestyle.

“The kids hit the finish line and there is really nothing more tear-jerking than going through that with the child you are pushing,” she said.

Individuals who would like to volunteer for Team Kevin Strive may visit the website www.teamkevinstrive.org for additional information.

Classical pianist performs at Music Hour

Alan Wasserman, sponsored by the Cecilian Music Club, recently presented his Music Hour at Freehold Music Center, Freehold Township.

The Music Hour, now celebrating its 10th anniversary, is designed to reach out to community members and enhance their knowledge and enjoyment of music, according to a press release.

Wasserman began by performing “Cee Bop,” an original jazz composition by composer arranger-teacher Phil Carr.

Wasserman then began his discussion of “The Elements of Music” and demonstrated each element at the piano.

For “Melody,” he chose “Comes a Time” by Hunter-Garcia. For a discussion of “Harmony,” he performed an improvisation on a “mantooth chord,” a voicing of a chord that lends itself to many possibilities, according to the press release.

For “Rhythm,” he played “Last Date,” by Floyd Cramer. Then he explained the term “timbre,” the quality of a musical sound, or a blending of sounds. Timbre was demonstrated with Chopin’s Preludes No. 1 and No. 3.

And for “Form,” Wasserman selected the second movement of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata, Opus 57, known as the Appassionata, which is a Theme and Variations.

The hour concluded with a rendition of “Hey Jude” by the Beatles.

Wasserman is a classical pianist and educator who has performed in Europe, China, Russia, and at Weill Hall at Carnegie Hall in New York City, according to the press release.

The Cecilian Music Club, founded in 1883, is an organization of teachers, performers and music lovers dedicated to the performance and study of music. For more information, or to become a member, visit www.cecilianclub.org.

Honoring America in the NFL

 PHOTO COURTESY OF MANALAPAN POLICE DEPARTMENT PHOTO COURTESY OF MANALAPAN POLICE DEPARTMENT The Manalapan Police Department Honor Guard presented the state and national colors prior the Dec. 13 NFL football game between the New York Jets and the Tennessee Titans at MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford. The honor guard members have opened three NFL games in the past two seasons — two for the Jets and one for the New York Giants. Pictured, left to right, are Sgt Rich Gallo, Lt. Kevin Dobbin, Patrolman Phil Accatatta, Patrolman Matt Meyler and Sgt Robert Herring. Police Chief Chris Marsala expressed his pride in having the members of the honor guard representing the residents of Manalapan, the Township Committee and the police department.

Two more suspects charged in 2011 murder, home invasions

A female resident of Manalapan and a male resident of Neptune have been charged for their respective roles in three 2011 home invasion robberies, including one home invasion that led to the murder of a Freehold Township resident, Monmouth County Acting Prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni announced.

Ranu Sinha, 36, of Manalapan, and Ellis W. Goodson, 38, of Neptune, are each charged with three counts of first degree robbery, one count of first degree felony murder, two counts of second degree unlawful possession of a weapon, two counts of third degree possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, and one count of fourth degree possession of an imitation firearm, according to a press release.

Sinha and Goodson were charged on Dec. 23 and in an initial appearance before state Superior Court Judge Joseph Oxley they were formally served with the criminal charges and entered pleas of not guilty to those charges, according to the prosecutor’s office.

A joint investigation by the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office and the Freehold Township, Howell and Neptune Township police departments led to the arrests of Sinha and Goodson. The Manalapan Police Department assisted in the arrests of Sinha and Goodson last week.

Sinha and Goodson are charged as accomplices to Jeffrey Mayhue, 52, and Richard Busby, 58, both of Newark, in connection with three home invasion robberies at residences in Howell, Freehold Township and Neptune Township.

Michael Conway was murdered at his Jackson Mills Road residence in Freehold Township during the course of the home invasion spree that took place between May 14, 2011 and Sept. 8, 2011. During the first home invasion robbery that occurred at a residence on Brickyard Road, Howell, Mayhue allegedly entered the residence with a handgun, bound the occupants and stole a large sum of money. Sinha and Goodson are being charged as accomplices to those crimes, according to Gramiccioni.

The second event occurred on July 31, 2011, when Sinha, Goodson, Mayhue and Busby allegedly committed the home invasion robbery and murder of Conway. Mayhue and Busby were armed with a handgun and looking for money when they entered Conway’s home and discovered it was occupied by their would-be victim and his girlfriend during the early morning hours of July 31, 2011.

Mayhue and Busby allegedly killed Conway, set fire to the house and fled the scene. Conway’s girlfriend was able to escape from the burning house through a window, ran to a neighbor’s house and asked the neighbor to call 911, according to the press release.

In connection with this offense, Mayhue and Busby were indicted by a grand jury in November 2012, charging the pair with one count each of murder, felony murder, robbery, conspiracy to commit robbery, aggravated arson, unlawful possession of a weapon, possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose and certain persons not to have weapons. Sinha and Goodson will now join Mayhue and Busby for their alleged roles in the robbery and Conway’s murder, according to Gramiccioni.

The third robbery occurred on Sept. 8, 2011, when Mayhue forcibly entered a residence on Drummond Avenue in Neptune Township brandishing what appeared to be a handgun. The robbery was thwarted by individuals in the home who held Mayhue until police arrived on scene.

In connection with that incident, Mayhue was indicted on charges of armed robbery and possession of an imitation firearm. Sinha and Goodson will now join Mayhue for their alleged roles in the Sept. 8, 2011 robbery.

The next step in the case against Sinha and Goodson will be the presentation of evidence to a grand jury in order to seek indictments against them, according to the prosecutor’s office.

Sinha and Goodson are both being held in the Monmouth County jail, Freehold Township, on $1.5 million cash only bail, as set by state Superior Court Judge Honora O’Brien Kilgallen.

Mayhue and Busby are also being held at the county jail as they await further developments in the case against them, according to the prosecutor’s office.

Package theft a concern

By JENNIFER ORTIZ and KENNY WALTER
Staff Writers

 STAFF PHOTGRAPHER ERIC SUCAR STAFF PHOTGRAPHER ERIC SUCAR The theft of packages delivered to doorsteps is becoming a bigger problem as more and more people shop online for their Christmas gifts.

Woodbridge Police Capt. Roy Hoppock said package theft has become a growing issue, and there are very few ways to address it.

“It’s a problem. It’s a crime of opportunity is what it comes down to,” he said. “So many more people are [shopping online] and more and more packages are being left on people’s front steps, and people drive by and they see them and they grab them.”

Hoppock said Woodbridge police recently made an arrest involving package theft and charged a woman with three counts of theft by unlawful taking after three packages were taken from an apartment complex on Dec. 7 in the Fords section of Woodbridge.

“We did a follow-up and on Dec. 13 we made an arrest of a female that was staying at [a nearby hotel],” he said. “Most of the time it is difficult to make an arrest unless there is video.”

According to Hoppock, some shoppers utilize their neighbors in an effort to thwart any potential theft.

“If they have the luxury of having some neighbors that don’t work or if the person knows there is going to be a delivery in a day or two, let your neighbor know,” Hoppock said. “That seems to be the best, but not everybody has that luxury.”

Howell Police Detective Sgt. Christian Antunez said thefts of this nature occur sporadically throughout the year, but increase in frequency significantly during the holiday season. He said that as of Dec. 14, police had received at least five reports of thefts of packages since Nov. 1.

“The number is likely higher because some people do not report the thefts to police. We strongly encourage residents to report any thefts to the police department,” Antunez said.

In a public awareness announcement, Howell Police Chief Andrew Kudrick said most thefts of packages occur during the afternoon and/or early evening hours.

Victims are asked to report thefts online at www.howellpolice.org or call the police. In the event the person who stole the item is caught, the merchandise could be returned, Kudrick said.

“Once the item is confirmed to have been delivered and most likely stolen, call the police immediately and file a report with as much information about the theft as possible, including the number of boxes, the items stolen, the value of items stolen, carrier, the time and date of delivery,” Antunez said.

He said the Ramtown area of Howell south of Lakewood-Allenwood Road appeared to be a target for this type of illegal activity.

“We are adding extra patrols in the area to stop and identify suspicious vehicles and persons and to increase visibility. This also includes plainclothes personnel,” Antunez said, adding that the reported thefts remain under investigation.

He said police are working diligently to investigate the crimes that have occurred and to prevent future crimes.

“We encourage residents to be vigilant and to contact the police immediately if they see suspicious vehicles or people in their neighborhood. Suspicious vehicles can include vehicles driving aimlessly, very slowly, up and down the street, apparently lost, such as driving down cul-de-sacs or dead end streets, and other similar actions.

“Suspicious people can exhibit similar behavior and also include clothing meant to conceal their identity, approaching houses and then asking about lost dogs or other fictitious stories when confronted by homeowners and other similar behavior,” Antunez said. “Unfortunately, we cannot be everywhere at once, so we ask that residents bring their delivered packages inside as soon as possible to limit their exposure to thieves. We also ask that neighbors be aware of their surroundings as much as possible to protect the community and to look out for one another.” Kudrick suggested residents might want to view a www.travelers.com “How to Protect Yourself from Package Theft and ID Fraud” article. Tips include having packages delivered at work or choosing a specific delivery time if the retailer provides such an option. Delivery alerts and a trusted neighbor to take one’s package inside for safekeeping are also advised.

“There are undesirables always looking to take advantage of you,” Kudrick said, adding that residents should be aware of their surroundings.

Manalapan Lt. Edward Niesz said the Manalapan Police Department has tips for consumers shopping online.

“We try to get people to either use one of the shipping locations to pick up there, to have the tracking devices so they know exactly when their package is going to be arriving or set up a delivery with a friend, or what a lot of people do now is have packages delivered to their place of employment,” Niesz said.

Niesz said while the problem seems to be growing nationwide, it hasn’t been that big of an issue in Manalapan.

“There is a heightened awareness about it and in our township it hasn’t been as much of a problem,” he said. “In Manalapan we haven’t seen a great increase in it as of late, it’s been sporadic here and there.”

Niesz said while it is difficult to solve crimes involving stolen packages, a lot of homeowners are now using surveillance cameras and uploading the footage to social media to help identify the perpetrators.

Michael, the supervisor of customer service for the U.S. Postal Service in Red Bank, who wouldn’t disclose his last name, said the growing theft problem began about six years ago as online shopping increased.

He said mail carriers are taught different ways to conceal packages so they are not just left in plain site.

“If they have a screen door and the package fits, a lot of times the carriers will put it in between the doors,” Michael said. “Sometimes if they have a side door, they will do something like that, but other than that there is nothing to prevent it.”

Residents are being put on notice that packages delivered to and left outside homes are a target for thieves, particularly around the holidays.

“It is getting worse and worse,” Michael said. “After Thanksgiving is when it becomes larger.

“That’s when it becomes big but it is an all year round problem.”

In a statement from United Parcel Service (UPS), which delivers an estimated 630 million packages between Thanksgiving and New Years Eve, the company has not seen an increase in package theft in recent years.

“UPS delivers about 18 million packages every day, and our data indicate that the rate of incidents involving UPS has been relatively flat over the last few years,” the statement reads. “We have procedures in place to ensure all of our packages are properly delivered.

“We alert our drivers and seasonal driver helpers to specific incidents where law enforcement has contacted us. If a customer contacts UPS to report a stolen package, UPS would work with the original shipper through our claims process to make the consumer whole.”

Delivery tips

 If you are not going to be home, have your packages delivered to work, a neighbor’s or relative’s house

 Have your package delivered to a local store for pick-up

 Track your package so you can be notified when a package arrives

 Pick up the package from the delivery company’s closest facility

 Ask the shipper to require a signature confirmation for delivery

 Give the delivery company instructions where packages can be left out of sight from the road

Middletown man charged with making threats at theaters

FREEHOLD TOWNSHIP — Investigators have arrested a Middletown man and charged him with making a pair of bomb threats at the Freehold AMC movie theaters at Freehold Raceway Mall, Freehold Township, Monmouth County Acting Prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni announced.

The prosecutor said Jesse Carroll, 22, of Middletown, who is an employee of the Freehold AMC theaters, was arrested on Dec. 18 and charged with two counts of second degree public false alarm. He was initially placed in the Monmouth County jail, Freehold Township, on $200,000 bail with no 10 percent option, as set by state Superior Court Judge Honora O’Brien Kilgallen.

The judge ordered Carroll not to return to the scene of the crimes and told him he may not have any contact with any movie theaters.

The theaters were evacuated twice last week after a series of threatening notes were discovered in the men’s room at the complex, according to the prosecutor’s office. On the evening of Dec. 14 and on the afternoon of Dec. 18, notes were found in the men’s room of the movie complex containing threats to either the theater management or specific threats of bombs inside the theater. One note that was found on Dec. 18 afternoon read: “I’m coming for blood; 4 p.m. bomb, 6 p.m. empty mag in guests.”

After each discovery the movie complex was safely evacuated while law enforcement departments were called to the scene. A thorough check of the movie complex yielded no threats to the safety of patrons, employees or management and business was returned to normal, according to the prosecutor.

“Making bomb threats in a movie theater is nothing short of domestic terrorism. Thankfully for everyone involved this was a hoax. We have wasted too much time, money and resources with these dangerous and disruptive threats. We will continue to fully respond to every threat to protect our citizens, but we are also going to react with the full force of the law every time threats turn out to be hoaxes,” Gramiccioni said.

If convicted of public false alarm, Carroll faces a sentence of five to 10 years in a New Jersey state prison for each count, which also comes with a fine of no less than $2,000 and up to the actual costs incurred by any first responder agencies.

“Our office fully intends to seek full restitution for the collective costs of all the responding agencies,” Gramiccioni said.

On Dec. 14, the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office, the Freehold Township Police Department, K-9 units from the Monmouth County Sheriff’s Office, the Middletown and Wall Township police departments, New Jersey Homeland Security, the Freehold Township Independent Fire Company No. 1 and the Freehold First Aid and Emergency Squad all responded to the movie complex.

On Dec. 18, the response included the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office, K- 9 units from the Monmouth County Sheriff’s Office and the Freehold Township Police Department.

Anyone with additional information about this case is asked to contact Detective John Catrone of the Freehold Township Police Department at 732-462-7500, or Detective Patrick Petruziello of the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office at 800-533- 7443.

Solar facility will front on Route 33

FREEHOLD TOWNSHIP — The municipality may soon have its first solar energy generation facility.

On Nov. 12, the Freehold Township Zoning Board of Adjustment unanimously approved a site plan application and use variance to permit the installation of a solar energy facility, Township Engineer Tim White said.

The application filed by Grems-Kirk Railway, Wall Township, includes inverters, transformers, security fencing and driveways, White said.

The property, which is currently used as a sod farm, totals 47.4 acres and has frontage on Route 33 near Jerseyville Avenue, according to White.

The only lighting associated with the project, according to the applicant, will be on the ground level inverters and light will not project beyond 10 feet from the inverter’s location.

The facility will operate 24 hours per day, seven days per week. No materials will be stored at the property, White said.

Phase one work on the construction of the solar energy panels may begin in the spring, White said, adding that the facility will provide power to adjoining property owners under agreements that will be privately negotiated.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, New Jersey has adopted a Renewable Portfolio Standard requiring that more than 20 percent of net electricity sales come from renewable energy resources by 2021; specific solar and offshore wind requirements are included in the standard.

Previously, there was an approval granted for a solar energy generation facility on Ely Harmony Road, Freehold Township, (140 acres) that has yet to be built, Township Administrator Peter Valesi said.

— Christine Barcia

Children turn new page with help from Bridge of Books Foundation

By KAYLA J. MARSH
Staff Writer

As hundreds of children begin new lives with their “forever families” following National Adoption Day events, they will also be able to begin their own personal “little libraries” because of the efforts of the nonprofit Bridge of Books Foundation.

The Bridge of Books Foundation, in partnership with the New Jersey Division of Children and Family Services, has provided 800 children who were adopted out of foster care in the state’s 21 counties, with colorful tote bags full of new, age-appropriate books to begin their own family library.

“It’s an investment in all our futures,” said Abigail Daly, founder and executive director of the Bridge of Books Foundation. “Every child deserves books in their home. Books have the power to change lives – providing an understanding of the world, en- couraging imagination and promoting dreams.”

The Bridge of Books Foundation was founded in 2003 and provides an ongoing source of books to underprivileged and atrisk children throughout the state.

Daly said this is the first year the nonprofit has formally participated in National Adoption Day events and she said it has been a great way to support literacy skills and encourage a love of reading to those less fortunate.

“We are always looking for new ways to get books to kids who need them and the bags of books concept has been on our minds for quite a while,” she said.

“After superstorm Sandy … what we noticed was the FEMA centers had kids who were not back in school, who were coming with their parents and just sitting there for hours while their parents were filling out forms and applications. “So we put together bags of preschool books and distributed probably 300 [bags] through the FEMA centers and we have been seeing how we could expand that program to reach even more children ever since,” she added.

Daly said participating in National Adoption Day, which is an effort to raise awareness for the more than 100,000 children currently in foster care waiting to find permanent, loving homes, allowed the nonprofit to have a greater impact on more children and their new siblings.

“This was kind of our first project under what we are calling our My Little Library Program,” she said. “This was our first partnership with the Division of Children and Family Services and we distributed just over 800 bags to children being adopted out of foster care across the state.”

According to Daly, in addition to providing books for the children who were adopted, bins of books were also sent to each vicinage where the adoptions were occurring for the siblings to choose from so as not to feel left out.

“Our mission is to raise the discussion on a more daily level and on a more community wide basis about the real gap that exists in access to books among children,” Daly said. “The way we do that is by distributing books anywhere we can find kids who are underserved and need access to books.

“Working with the Division of Children and Family Services, we did a big statewide distribution … [and] for us it is one more way to really raise awareness about this gap in access and a way to reinforce the fact that we can solve this problem by working together as a community,” she said.

So far in 2015, more than 100,000 books have been donated to children across the state.

“In the last four weeks we have had teachers in Camden, southern New Jersey, Newark and Freehold literally tell us they all have students who do not have books in their homes and they are so thankful to get books from us because then their kids can practice the skills they are learning,” Daly said.

“It’s a neat project and we are looking forward to doing it again next year and figuring out where our next partnership will be to distribute even more of these bags with books for children,” she said.

As part of the My Little Library Program, the foundation worked with the Rider University School of Education to create a Parent Guide To Reading, which was enclosed in each child’s tote bag.

The pamphlet is a guide that encourages parents to make a commitment to read with their child every day.

“Oftentimes the reality is that a lot of these children come from homes where the parents are just worried about keeping a roof over their head, food on the table and keeping their jobs,” Daly said.

“I really feel that the development of literacy skills occurs in the home as well as the school so what we did was … partner with Rider to create a very simple menu to hopefully give the parents some guidance on how to use these books and how to use them to engage with their kids.

“If kids see their parents are enjoying reading, they will develop a love of books themselves [and I think] it is all about giving kids and their parents the tools they need to create a family of lifelong learners,” she said.

For more information visit the website www.bridgeofbooksfoundation.org.

Clients have found caring touch for 30 years

By JENNIFER ORTIZ
Staff Writer

 Lucy Melillo is the second-generation owner of Wig Illusions, Manalapan, which offers products to individuals who are battling diseases that result in hair loss.  JENNIFER ORTIZ/STAFF Lucy Melillo is the second-generation owner of Wig Illusions, Manalapan, which offers products to individuals who are battling diseases that result in hair loss. JENNIFER ORTIZ/STAFF A second-generation family business is marking 30 years of service to individuals who are battling diseases that result in hair loss.

Wig Illusions, in the Summerton Plaza, Route 9, Manalapan, was founded by Elizabeth (Betty) Melillo, who lived in Manalapan for more than 40 years. Melillo died in October 2014.

The business is now owned by Betty’s daughter-in-law, Lucy Melillo, who has owned Wig Illusions since 2006 after working for her mother-in-law for seven years.

As she marks the business’s 30 years of operation, Lucy Melillo recalled how Betty, who was a wig stylist her entire life, founded Wig Illusions in space at Kilmer Plaza, Marlboro.

“It was a chair, a shower curtain and everything was ordered by mail,” Melillo said. “She needed a little help washing and setting wigs. … So when I was home with (my) babies, I would do that work for her.

“As soon as my youngest child went into preschool, I started coming in and learning the business. I worked an apprenticeship with her for many years … that’s how I learned,” Melillo said.

In 2006, Betty decided to retire from the business she had founded 21 years earlier.

“She gave me the option of buying the business. I was very scared because I didn’t know the business aspects,” Melillo said, adding that she had lost her sister and mother to cancer in 2005.

“It was super tough for me. … Did I want to stay in the cancer field? Because I suffered for a year with my sister and as soon as my sister passed away my mom got diagnosed and passed away five months later. I was so saddened, but I decided the women here, the rewards I get from my job, are (worth it),” Melillo said.

With support from her husband, Gerald, she took a leap of faith and became the owner of Wig Illusions.

“I decided to start working by appointment to see how that would work out. Walkins are welcome, but this isn’t a place people are going to walk into unless it’s someone looking for extensions and things like that,” Melillo said.

Melillo said when Wig Illusions opened, it did not primarily cater to people who were losing their hair during a battle with cancer and other illnesses. “Because of illnesses that make your hair come out, we saw it was very important that we move to a private location to give people personalized and private rooms,” Melillo said.

She said her relationships with her clients are very meaningful and helped her make the decision to become the owner of Wig Illusions.

“I’ve cried, I’ve laughed, I’ve hugged, I’ve gone to people’s houses. Some of these women are fighting for their lives,” she said.

Client Marie Pellicone said it is that compassion that has made Wig Illusions a success.

“Lucy takes care of all of her clients … She takes the time and she has the understanding for people’s needs. … Whether it is medical or just a beauty aspect, people come from all over to be with her because she’s that good at what she does, and it’s the human feeling that comes across from her that makes the difference,” Pellicone said.

The process starts with an appointment and a free consultation.

Melillo’s advice to individuals coming in for a wig for fashion reasons is to cut out pictures of the look they would like to achieve. Her advice to people facing the prospect of hair loss is not to wait.

“A lot of times, for my chemo people, doctors will say, ‘you’re only going to thin, you’ll be OK,’ and they come in here crying because their hair is coming out.

“For anybody who is going to go through chemotherapy, I recommend that before they start treatment, they make an appointment; that is very important. Sooner is better than later. If they come to me (before treatment), they will have everything prepared,” Melillo said.

Items available at Wig Illusions include head coverings, hats, scarves, sleep caps, turbans, wig spray and more. All wig services are offered on premises.

Melillo said her clients are her top priority.

“I think about what happened to me before I took over the business, with caring for my sister and caring for my mother. When people walk in, I know exactly what they are thinking, what they are feeling, their emotions, because I have been through it,” she said. “If I can make you look good and you can feel good, I’ve done my job.”

Wig Illusions may be reached at 732- 431-9629.

Working poor provided with breakfast, lunch during winter

FREEHOLD — The 12th year of the sanctuary program, which provides breakfast and lunch for the homeless, working poor and families during the winter months, began on Dec. 19 with breakfast and lunch being served at the First United Methodist Church, 91 W. Main St.

Every Saturday through March 12, the program will offer breakfast and lunch from 7 a.m. to noon. Breakfast will be offered every Friday at the Methodist Church beginning Jan. 8 and ending on March 11, from 7-10 a.m.

“We offer a warm meal and a respite from the cold for our working poor neighbors during the winter months when work is scarce,” said Ann Bagchi, co-coordinator of the program. “The program serves between 150 and 200 meals a week for those who find themselves a few meals short of a full stomach.”

The sanctuary program relies on donations from local residents and businesses, said Bagchi, who noted that all persons involved are volunteers. Monetary donations and gift cards to local supermarkets to purchase ingredients are especially welcome, she said.

Sandra Whitehill, coordinator of volunteers for the program, said the program relies on the kind hearts of volunteers in the community to step forward to make a difference in the lives of those who need a helping hand.

“We have a loyal core of good souls who have served for many years, but it is heartwarming to see people hearing about the program for the first time and being ready, willing and able to help. Service to others enriches our community and changes those who serve,” Whitehill said.

The sanctuary program was founded in 2003 by the Latino Coalition and the New Beginnings Agape Christian Center, Freehold. It has since blossomed into a collaborative effort that includes participation by the First United Methodist Church, the First Presbyterian Church and the Reformed Church, all of Freehold, according to a press release.

Financial sponsors include the Latino Coalition, the I Beseech Thee Community Development Corporation, the Graeme Preston Foundation for Life and the Reformed Church. Food donations are provided by Battleview Orchards, Bagel World and Dunkin Donuts.

In addition to meals, the sanctuary program provides visitors with blood pressure screenings and HIV/AIDS testing, and a variety of speakers who provide community information about a wide range of topics.

Contributions to the sanctuary program may be sent to the Rev. Ricky Pierce, executive director of the I Beseech Thee Community Development Corporation, 133 Throckmorton St., Freehold, NJ 07728. To volunteer, call Sandra Whitehill at 732-863- 7395.