Helping the community

 KATHY McBAIN/STAFF KATHY McBAIN/STAFF Lisa Marie Stecker of Greater Media Newspapers’ Advertising Department shows some of the food that was donated during a holiday food drive sponsored by the newspaper group from Dec. 9-21. The food was brought to the Food Bank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties, Neptune, for distribution throughout the region.

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.

Grocery stores expand services

By KAYLA J. MARSH
Staff Writer

 Today, grocery stores are offering more than just aisles of food to customers, as illustrated by this gingerbread cookie decorating class that was held at Whole Foods Market, Marlboro, on Dec. 17.  STAFF PHOTGRAPHER ERIC SUCAR Today, grocery stores are offering more than just aisles of food to customers, as illustrated by this gingerbread cookie decorating class that was held at Whole Foods Market, Marlboro, on Dec. 17. STAFF PHOTGRAPHER ERIC SUCAR Area grocery stores are slowly changing the way they cater to their customers by providing more services and programs to help make a regular trip to the supermarket a day filled with fun, learning and adventure.

From nutritional assistance, children’s classes and even free home delivery services, supermarkets have become hotspots of activities and resources, showing it is not just about the shopping, but about community togetherness. “I feel like we are definitely providing something more than just shopping,” said Laura Fette, marketing team leader at Whole Foods Market in Marlboro.

“I feel like the store has been a destination for events, whether kid- or adult-focused, and we are even finding people within the community, partnering with them and helping them to build their own businesses, and I think that has been what has worked really well here — finding what our community needs and really catering to it.”

 Children of all ages watch a gingerbread cookie demonstration by Dani B. Fiori at Whole Foods Market in Marlboro on Dec. 17.  STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER ERIC SUCAR Children of all ages watch a gingerbread cookie demonstration by Dani B. Fiori at Whole Foods Market in Marlboro on Dec. 17. STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER ERIC SUCAR According to Fette, Whole Foods in Marlboro offers some unique partnerships and classes for its clientele, such as with Heirloom Kitchen in Old Bridge for cooking classes and Macaroni Kids of Western Monmouth County, where children get to make their own pizza and macaroni necklaces.

“Finding these local experts who are really trying to build their businesses as well, and collaborating together to bring programming inside the store, people see we are beyond a shopping destination,” Fette said. “We’re offering the full scope of things.”

Fette also said the store offers a You & Me Toddler Program several times a month.

“Each Whole Foods Market is different, and I really feel like that we cater to our community … we’re becoming a part of people’s routine beyond just shopping,” she said.

Aside from classes, Michael Sinatra, public relations and public affairs director at Whole Foods Market’s Northeast Region, said the supermarket chain also offers additional services such as catering and takes pride in giving back to local communities.

“A lot of people enjoy taking advantage of our programming, such as our special ordering and catering services and our special menus,” he said.

At Whole Foods Market, customers can make shopping quick and easy by reserving and ordering meals, entrees, and party must-haves online and then picking them up at the store.

“We definitely see a higher volume of orders this time of year, but customers are aware and use this service at various times of the year,” Sinatra said.

The supermarket chain also participates in community giving days or what they refer to as “5% Days.”

“Each store is always donating food to area food banks and shelters,” Sinatra said. “Then several times a year, we hold community giving days where five percent of that day’s net sales are donated to a local area charity or educational organization.”

The Whole Foods Market in Marlboro will also join the Manalapan and Marlboro municipalities for holiday tree lighting events, providing baked goods, hot chocolate and company.

“I feel like we do a lot in the community,” Fette said. “People are coming here for things, but we’re also coming to them as well … and I think that makes a big difference too.”

Valerie Fox, media relations coordinator at Wegmans Food Markets, said providing services such as catering and a free public app is about making customers’ lives and shopping experience as simple as possible.

“Wegmans’ aim is always to help mealtimes for families be as great and easy as possible,” she said.

“Our services help save customers time … but I think the number one thing that separates us are our people and customer service representatives who provide an added convenience.”

One service Fox said Wegmans provides is a free downloadable app that makes going to the supermarket less of a hassle.

“The Wegmans app is a very useful tool,” she said. “Customers can create their shopping list right there, and it’ll sort everything by aisle, and as you add items to your list, it will automatically estimate the total so you can manage your budget.”

On the app, customers can also browse through hundreds of recipes and add ingredients to their shopping list with just one touch and can even watch easy how-to videos to make meals easier.

“We also offer three ways for customers to enjoy our catering services, and that is either by going online, ordering by phone or by coming into your local Wegmans store,” Fox said.

From simple cheese and deli platters to cocktail party menus, complete holiday dinners and even delicious dessert trays, catering experts and chefs help with cooking and planning so families can have a memorable gathering.

“Many families have told us that they just don’t have time to do all the prep work themselves, so while this is not a full catering service with people coming to your home to serve, it provides our customers a service where they can order all their party-planning needs in one place.”

At ShopRite, a growing service is the supermarket’s ShopRite From Home program, which allows customers to save time and energy by ordering their groceries from the convenience of their own residence.

“The majority of ShopRite stores offer the ShopRite From Home service, which allows customers to shop online and pick up groceries at the store or have those groceries delivered right to their doorstep,” said Karen O’Shea, spokeswoman for Wakefern Food Corp.

Whether you are a busy parent, are injured or can’t make it to the store for some other reason, the ShopRite From Home service is an effortless way to get all the groceries you need with the click of a button.

“The ShopRite Mobile App and ShopRite From Home service allow customers to place orders electronically, and those grocery orders are then shopped in store by personal, trained shoppers,” O’Shea said. “Customers can tell our shoppers how they like their produce picked or cold cuts sliced. Our shoppers will also call customers at home if we are out of a certain item.

“Service is key, and it’s the reason our ShopRite From Home service continues to grow each year.”

Heather Casey of Edison said that, with being a mom of four sons and she and her husband both working full time, ShopRite from Home allows her to order her groceries on her time and schedule the deliveries for when it is most convenient.

“With four kids and both my husband and I working full time, every second counts,” Casey said. “We started using ShopRite from Home when my youngest son was born and food shopping became an added challenge.

“It is so helpful because we can shop from our phones or computer early in the morning or late in the evening when the kids are asleep and schedule pickups [or] deliveries around our work/family schedules. I rarely see the inside of the store any more because this service is so helpful!”

The ShopRite Pharmacy App makes getting prescriptions easier for customers.

“The ShopRite Pharmacy App makes managing prescriptions simple by allowing customers to refill prescriptions and transfer prescriptions right to their local ShopRite,” O’Shea said.

Diana Fransis, retail dietitian program supervisor at Wakefern Food Corp., works closely with more than 120 registered dietitians across 130 stores, training them to work with customers and educating them on making healthier choices while food shopping, as well as carrying out these choices by preparing healthy, well-balanced meals.

“Our registered dietitians will sit down with customers in a free one-on-one consultation, talk about their needs and goals, find out what they are looking for, dive into a diet plan and will even walk around the store with customers showing them where the food that is best for them is,” Fransis said.

ShopRite’s Culinary Workshops is a hands-on cooking class program taught by professionals who share their skills and knowledge, helping customers acquire limitless meal possibilities that include delicious, healthy ingredients.

“They’re cooking full meals with appetizers, entrees, desserts, and we even have a kids cooking class that teaches them how to make a very easy meal.”

According to Fransis, part of the supermarket’s Health and Wellness program includes the Dietitian’s Selection recipe program, a collection of recipes featuring healthy ingredients and essential nutrients while limiting the amount of fats, cholesterol and sodium.

“People are becoming much more aware about healthy eating and getting proper nutrition, and there is so much that our registered dietitians and chefs offer and can help with,” Fransis said. “All our services are free.”

Arlene Putterman, manager of public and community relations at Stop & Shop’s New York Metro Division, said getting prepared for the holidays or other festive occasions is easy as customers can order party platters, desserts, cakes and other arrangements online for in-store pickup and can order flowers.

“Stop & Shop provides fully prepared holiday dinners,” she said. “All the fixings without the prep work.”

Putterman said the supermarket’s Peapod service also makes delivering groceries to your home or business easy.

“Peapod online home delivery service strives to deliver convenience and value,” she said. “Customers can order online or on Peapod’s free mobile app for grocery home delivery or car-side service at one of our many pickup locations.”

Judge: Schools in Freehold need upgrades

By CHRISTINE BARCIA
Staff Writer

A decision regarding the Freehold Borough K-8 School District’s plan to build new facilities is now in the hands of New Jersey Education Commissioner David C. Hespe.

District administrators have said the proposed facilities are needed to accommodate a student enrollment that exceeds the capacity of the borough’s three public schools.

Voters have twice rejected referendums in which they were asked by the Board of Education to approve a construction package that exceeds $32 million.

After the second referendum was rejected, district administrators took the next step available to them to get the work done: appealing to the state to override the voters’ rejection of the two construction referendums.

The board petitioned the commissioner of education to overturn the voters’ decision and to issue bonds for the project or to direct the state Legislature to fully fund the improvements. Voters rejected a plan that would have added about $280 to their annual school property tax bill.

According to a press release issued by the school district on Dec. 16, Administrative Law Judge Susan Scarola has recommended the issuance of bonds to pay for the construction of the new facilities. Scarola’s recommendation is non-binding on Hespe.

She is recommending that Hespe order the issuance of bonds totaling $32.9 million by Freehold Borough to fund improvements, renovations and repairs necessary to provide a thorough and efficient education to the students of the school district, according to the press release. “We are relieved Judge Scarola has confirmed the merits of our case and ruled in such a manner,” Superintendent of Schools Rocco Tomazic said.

He said a favorable ruling by Hespe will address “severe overcrowding, which is preventing our students from receiving a thorough and efficient education. My understanding is that the commissioner has 45 days to make a final ruling. That should put it no later than around Feb. 1.”

If Hespe agrees with Scarola’s recommendation and orders the issuance of bonds, Tomazic said, the district “will become very much involved in the construction plan and the many details that come with new construction.”

“We are also continuing our work with legislators and the Department of Education to address our state aid underfunding,” Tomazic said.

The Freehold Borough school district is the third most underfunded district in the state, according to the superintendent.

“This shortfall, as much as overcrowding, is hindering our ability to carry out a thorough and efficient education. It is our intention to keep this issue in clear focus,” Tomazic said.

Public hearings that were held on Sept. 24-25 in Freehold Borough gave residents a chance to express their opinions about the $32.9 million school construction project that was rejected by voters twice in 2014.

Tomazic’s comments, in addition to comments that were made by other interested parties, were included in Scarola’s report and recommendation.

In part, Tomazic stated that in kindergarten through third grade, schools were 79 percent above the size limit; in fourth and fifth grade, schools were 77 percent above the size limit; and in sixth through eighth grade, schools were 14 percent above the size limit.

Scarola said 408 written comments were submitted as part of the record and she said the “overwhelming majority” of the comments were in favor of the construction project. The judge’s report included examples of previous rulings in New Jersey that addressed the issuance of bonds for school improvements following the rejection of referendums.

On Sept. 30, 2014, Freehold Borough voters rejected a $32.9 million referendum by a vote of 374 no to 272 yes. On Dec. 9, 2014, voters rejected the same referendum by a vote of 370 no to 241 yes.

The proposed construction plan includes additional classrooms and other improvements at the district’s three schools: the Park Avenue Elementary School, the Freehold Intermediate School and the Freehold Learning Center elementary school.

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.