Freehold church’s Nativity comes to life with animals

By CHRISTINE BARCIA
Staff Writer

 A 1,200-pound camel named Joseph attracted the attention of visitors to a living Nativity scene at the First Baptist Church of Freehold on Dec. 13. A donkey, sheep and goats were also participants in the holiday event. A 1,200-pound camel named Joseph attracted the attention of visitors to a living Nativity scene at the First Baptist Church of Freehold on Dec. 13. A donkey, sheep and goats were also participants in the holiday event. FREEHOLD — A live camel on the streets of Freehold Borough caught the attention of many residents and visitors to town on Dec. 13.

The camel, a donkey, sheep and goats were participants in the First Baptist Church of Freehold’s living Nativity scene at 81 W. Main St.

“This is the first year the First Baptist Church has done the live Nativity,” the Rev. Teresa Ely said.

The living manger was held on the front lawn of the church and attracted about 200 participants, according to church member Jean Buscaglia-Yurkiewicz, who coordinated the event.

Church members and people passing by were able to take part in the living Nativity by dressing in biblical costumes, several of which were handmade by Buscaglia- Yurkiewicz and her mother, and posing for photos with the animals. Participants were able to dress up as Mary, Joseph, shepherds and the wise men.

“One of the most recognizable symbols of the season is the Nativity scene. People have them in their yard and in their home. This was a way for people to actually be a part of that scene. It is a way to help everyone remember the reason for the season,” Ely said.

The Nativity, Ely said, “brought all kinds of people together who shared in the joy of the Christmas season. As a church family we are looking for ways to connect with the community around us. Some of those ways are practical, like collecting food for the local food pantry. Other ways are about making face-to-face connections with our community.”

The church will make this an annual event, Buscaglia-Yurkiewicz said.

Noah’s Ark Critter Care of Millstone Township provided all of the animals in the Nativity scene, including the camel named Joseph.

Kim Mooney of Noah’s Ark Critter Care said Joseph, 5, took the ride from Millstone Township to Freehold Borough in a horse trailer. The 7-foot-tall, 1,200-pound camel requires three handlers.

“Joseph the camel was wonderful. The variety of reactions from children was wonder, uncertainty, delight — there was so much laughter,” Ely said.

Munich attack survivor will speak in Marlboro

A member of the 1972 Israeli Olympic team will speak about the act of terrorism that claimed the lives of 11 Israeli athletes and coaches at the Summer Olympics in Munich, Germany.

Dan Alon will speak at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 19 at the Marlboro Middle School, Route 520, Marlboro. The event is open to the public. Chabad of Western Monmouth County will present the event, which is being sponsored in part by Sandra and Michael Weitz.

According to a press release, Alon was a member of the Israeli Olympic fencing team. His fencing career began when he was 12 and reached its peak at age 27 when he competed in the Olympics.

Alon will share his journey, the security concerns that were raised prior to the Olympic Games, the attack and the process of returning to normal life.

According to a press release, Alon recalls marching into the Olympic stadium in Munich, saying, “I was in heaven. It was the most beautiful day of my life.”

But Alon’s world was shattered five days later on Sept. 5 when eight Palestinian terrorists invaded the building where he and his 15 fellow athletes and coaches were living. Eleven were murdered in cold blood. Television viewers around the world watched as the events of that day unfolded, according to the press release.

Forty years after the Olympics, Alon was able to share the story of his escape and his journey of tolerance in “Munich Memoir,” a book he wrote in 2012.

Individuals of all ages, including sports teams, are invited to attend Alon’s presentation in Marlboro.

There will be a meet and greet with Alon at 6:30 p.m. Doors will open at 7 p.m. and the program will begin at 7:30 p.m. Ticket prices are as follows: corporate sponsors, $500; VIP seats, $72 per person, includes the “meet and greet” and front row seats; adult admission, $15 in advance, $20 after Jan. 17; and teens and students, $7.

For more information, call 732-972- 3687 or visit the website www.chabadwmc.org/Munich72.

Race, ride and party into 2016

TOP PICK

iPlay America rings in the New Year with a blast during the Fifth annual New Year’s Eve Bash from 7:30 p.m.-1 a.m. Thursday, Dec. 31. iPlay America’s New Year’s Eve Party pass includes unlimited rides and attractions, a $10 game card, party favors, spectacular prizes and giveaways throughout the evening, a confetti cannon, light show and great music pumping through the entire park, with a live D.J., all for just $39.99. A la carte treats can be purchased at Sonny’s Boardwalk Grill, Boardwalk Bites, Rob’s Pizza, The Grind Coffee Co. and Mixx Frozen Yogurt throughout the celebration.

The New Year’s Eve Party and Prix Fixe Dinner pass is just $79.99 for adults and $54.99 for children age 12 and younger. This pass includes everything in the New Year’s Eve Party Pass plus a champagne toast for adults 21 and older. Dinner reservations begin at 7:30 p.m. and are for 90 minute seatings with staggered seatings every 15 minutes. Toddlers are free. Reservations are required to 732-577-8200.

You can watch the ball drop on one of iPlay America’s multitude of big screen monitors. iPlay America is located at 110 Schanck Road in Freehold.For more information call 732-577-8200 or visit iPlayAmerica.com/NYE2016.

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.

Marlboro’s credit rating upgraded

MARLBORO — Standard & Poor’s has assigned an AA+ rating to the Township of Marlboro Series 2015 bonds with a stable outlook. This rating on financing for projects authorized between 2004 and 2015 represents an upgrade of the township’s credit which was reviewed last in 2010, according to a press release from municipal officials.

“This is tremendous news for Marlboro,” Mayor Jonathan Hornik said. “This rating upgrade affirms the difficult decisions made over the last eight years to reduce the size of government and run it more efficiently. It also represents a reflection of the overall financial stewardship of the municipality.”

Marlboro’s credit was last reviewed by Moody’s in 2010 and was assigned a rating of Aa2.

Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s, representing two of the three primary bond rating agencies, use similar rating formats, with two notable exceptions: Standard & Poor’s uses plus and minus signs and Moody’s uses 1, 2 and 3; and Moody’s capitalizes the first letter only, according to the press release.

“The township has timed this financing to lock in a fixed interest rate at an historically low rate, before the Federal Reserve acts to increase rates for the first time since 2008,” Hornik said. “As a result of this rating upgrade, the township will benefit from an even lower interest rate, one that directly translates into lower costs to taxpayers for road, park and other capital improvements.”

According to the press release, in its narrative, Standard & Poor’s referenced a number of factors which led to its determination as follows: very strong economy; adequate management; strong budgetary performance; very strong budgetary flexibility; very strong liquidity; and strong debt and contingent liability position.

“The report highlights Marlboro’s local economy as ‘very strong,’ ” Hornik said. “The Marlboro Economic Development Committee must be recognized for its role in tirelessly pursuing new, clean, quality ratables.

“We have made great gains on the economic development front, despite the recessionary climate, to the tune of more than $70 million in new commercial ratables or $1.6 million in new tax revenue. This has reduced the tax burden on our residents.

“I am also very proud of the efforts of the Township Council and the employees over the past eight years to help get us to this point,” Hornik said. “An independent credit rating agency has now quantified our hard work in the form of an AA+ credit rating. You don’t hear much about rating upgrades these days, let alone in New Jersey government. This is a great victory for Marlboro.”

Marlboro councilman will seek county sheriff’s post

By PETER ELACQUA
Staff Writer

 Jeff Cantor Jeff Cantor MARLBORO – Councilman Jeff Cantor has declared his candidacy for the position of Monmouth County sheriff.

Cantor, 49, works as a health care consultant and has served on the Marlboro Township Council since 2004. Cantor will seek the Democratic nomination in June 2016 for the right to run in November. The sheriff’s position carries a three-year term.

According to the Monmouth County Directory, the sheriff is the chief executive officer of an agency with 600 employees and a $68 million budget which consists of four divisions: law enforcement, communications, special operations and corrections, as well as the administration of the Monmouth County Police Academy and the Office of Emergency Management.

As a councilman, Cantor has served as the liaison to the police department and as a member of the Emergency Planning Council. He is a licensed emergency medical technician and has been a member of the Marlboro First Aid Squad since 1996.

Cantor has served in the U.S. Army since 1985, on active duty and in the Army Reserves. He currently holds the rank of colonel in the Army Reserves.

“When I joined the Army in 1985 as a Private First Class, I did it with one thought in mind and that was to serve my country,” Cantor said. “Thirty years later, I am entering this race with the same mindset. I simply want to serve county residents during difficult times.

“My wife and I are raising our two daughters here in Monmouth County and there is nothing more important to us than making sure they are protected and safe. This election has nothing to do with politics. It has everything to do with making sure Monmouth County families are afforded that same peace of mind.

“My experiences both at home and abroad have provided me with the unique perspective of someone who has established efficiencies to save taxpayers money, worked on responsible budgets and also helped establish governments and spearhead reconstruction and development in some of the world’s most dangerous environments.

“I am looking forward to the opportunity to speak with voters to let them know how all of those experiences make me the most qualified candidate to keep families across the county safe as their sheriff,” he said.

“Jeff is an extraordinary candidate,” Monmouth County Democratic Chairman Vin Gopal said. “He is a colonel and has spent over 30 years serving our country. He is probably the most qualified candidate we have seen for Monmouth County sheriff in quite some time. In the age of growing heroin and drug usage in Monmouth County, I cannot think of somebody who is more qualified than Jeff Cantor.”

Cantor said he is concerned about the safety and security of all county residents.

“I have just returned from a two-month deployment in Europe where we were tasked with ways to help our European allies deal with the (Syrian) refugee crisis and help combat foreign fighter flow with the migrants,” he said. “As a civil affairs officer, one of my mandates is protecting civilians around the globe. It is something I take very seriously and thoroughly believe in. … I have never played partisan politics while on the Marlboro council, nor will I ever do so. … If I can get Sunni, Shia, Kurds and Turkomen to work together, I can certainly get Democrats and Republicans to work together for a common cause.”

Republican Shaun Golden is the current Monmouth County sheriff. He was named acting sheriff in January 2010. Golden was elected to a three-year term in November 2010 and re-elected in 2013. He is a former member of the Colts Neck and Toms River police departments. Golden also serves as the elected chairman of the Monmouth County Republican Committee.

15-home development approved

By PETER ELACQUA
Staff Writer

MARLBORO – The Planning Board has granted preliminary approval to an application filed by a developer who plans to build 15 homes on Buckley Road.

Board members heard testimony from representatives of Stillwell Road Holdings, LLC, on Nov. 4.

Attorney Salvatore Alfieri represented Stillwell Holdings and presented testimony from Terry Sherman, a principal of the company, and Mark Zelina, a senior associate with Maser Consulting, Red Bank.

Testimony indicated that the 38-acre property on Buckley Road will contain 17 lots, with 15 lots to be used for homes, one open space lot with a storm water management basin, and one reconfigured lot which will contain an existing dwelling.

Each lot will be a minimum of 60,000 square feet (about 1.5 acres) and each home is estimated to be between 3,500 and 4,000 square feet, according to the testimony.

Plans call for Buckley Road to be widened and for a sidewalk to be provided on the side of the road where the homes are constructed. Two cul-de-sacs will provide access to the residential lots, according to the testimony.

Sherman said the property had a previous application approved in 2007 for 19 single family lots. He said the plans have been redesigned in accordance with Marlboro’s current municipal code.

Mayor Jonathan Hornik, who sits on the board, asked what the project’s affordable housing obligation will be.

Sherman said 1 percent of the sale price of each home will be paid into Marlboro’s affordable housing trust fund. For example, if a home is sold by the builder for $600,000, then $6,000 will be paid into the affordable housing fund.

No affordable housing units will be built on the Buckley Road development site.

Board members voted 6-2 to grant preliminary approval to the application. Chairman Larry Josephs, Township Councilwoman Carol Mazzola, Neil Bettoff, Andrew Pargament and Christopher Cherbini voted yes.

Hornik and Michael Messinger voted no.

Asked why he voted no, Hornik said, “I voted no because I believe Marlboro has been overdeveloped for years and I would like to see less residential development and more open space. This plan’s prior approval happened before my administration and I believe it could have been planned and situated better than it was.”

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