Youngster shows strength in battle against cancer

By CHRISTINE BARCIA
Staff Writer

 Gracie West, a seventh-grader at the Barkalow Middle School, Freehold Township, has been battling cancer for two years and recent scans showed no evidence of the disease. In December 2014, Gracie traveled to Rome and received a blessing from Pope Francis.  CHRISTINE BARCIA/STAFF Gracie West, a seventh-grader at the Barkalow Middle School, Freehold Township, has been battling cancer for two years and recent scans showed no evidence of the disease. In December 2014, Gracie traveled to Rome and received a blessing from Pope Francis. CHRISTINE BARCIA/STAFF Gracie West literally jumped for joy with the good news her doctor recently delivered to her. Gracie, 12, of Freehold Township, has been battling cancer for two years. After she found out her latest scans showed no evidence of the disease, she was jumping on a trampoline within the hour.

“I knew I was going to hit the clear mark,” said Gracie, who is the daughter of Don and Sharon West.

Sharon West said it felt like “the world lifted off your shoulders” when she heard from the doctor that her daughter’s scans were clear.

Gracie, whose nickname is “Cookie,” as in one tough cookie, is a seventh-grader at the Barkalow Middle School, Freehold Township. Two years ago she was diagnosed with stage four neuroblastoma.

 COURTESY OF THE VATICAN COURTESY OF THE VATICAN Gracie’s protocol included chemotherapy and radiation at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and additional treatments at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York City.

But it was a special blessing given to her by Pope Francis in December 2014 that brought Gracie the greatest sense of healing. “I felt calm and peaceful, like everything was going to be fine after (the papal blessing),” the youngster said. Gracie’s trip to see Pope Francis at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome was the result of a wish granted to Gracie and her family by the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Pope Francis hugged and kissed Gracie and gave her a benediction. The pope also shook hands with her brother, Joey.

“It was just the most amazing thing,” Gracie said.

The most difficult part of her battle against cancer, Gracie said, has been “not being able to do the stuff I normally do,” like swimming and playing with her French bulldog Topy, who is named after her first chemotherapy drug, Topotecan.

Gracie’s approach to life can be summed up in the mantra that guides her: you have no choice but to be strong, but you can choose to be happy and positive. Whether facing cancer or a just bad day, Gracie lives by these words.

Sharon West said the support of family members, friends and the community has been critical throughout her daughter’s fight against illness.

The West family established the Cookie’s Crumblers Foundation with a goal to not only help Gracie crumble her cancer, but also to help other children fight cancer.

A portion of the foundation’s proceeds will be contributed to research aimed at curing and eliminating childhood cancers.

The Cookie’s Crumblers 2016 Inaugural Gala of Gratitude will take place on June 4 at the Battleground County Club, Manalapan. For more information, visit Cookie- Gala2016.eventbrite.com

Temple teaches children to perform mitzvahs

By MICHAEL NUNES
Staff Writer

EAST BRUNSWICK — For those children whose only source of food may be a school lunch, Temple B’nai Shalom has made a weekend care package for them.

On Dec. 13, members of the Little Sisterhood of Temple B’nai Shalom, Fern Road, packed zipped storage bags with food to give to children who may not always eat three meals a day.

“Kids throughout New Jersey are on either free or reduced lunch in their schools, and unfortunately, we don’t know if they are actually eating over the weekend,” said Paula Storm, vice president of the sisterhood.

All 250 bags of food that were packed at the temple were donated to the Community Food Bank of New Jersey in Hillside.

“We wanted to get our kids (at the temple) involved in this because it’s basically kids helping kids. We really wanted kids to be involved in community service and understand there is a bigger world out there than themselves,” said Storm.

She explained that the sisterhood collected the food through food drives at the temple.

The bags of food are distributed to about a dozen schools throughout the state that have children in need.

“A school nurse will come and get these bags of food and then bring them back to their school. Students could quietly, and privately, go to the nurse’s office and receive a bag and put it in their backpack, take it home, and nobody knows,” Storm said.

The act of charity ties in heavily with the Jewish faith.

“For us, being a Jewish organization, Friday is a very special day for us. Friday [night] is Shabbat (Sabbath). Knowing that (children are need) are receiving the package on Friday and they are not going to go hungry on Shabbat is very important,” said Storm, referencing the religion’s day of rest.

“In Judaism, feeding the hungry is one of the greatest mitzvahs (good deeds) we can do,” Rabbi Eric Eisenkramer said. “Everyone, no matter how rich or poor, is obligated to give, even if it’s a small amount. We are teaching our children today to continue this Jewish tradition of charity and helping those in need.”

For the children who participated in packing the bags of food, this was an opportunity to do something good in their community at a young age.

“I want to help others in need and I feel that by doing this, I’m helping a lot of people who don’t have enough to eat and that makes me feel really good,” said Alex Fernandez, who has participated in the program since its beginnings three years ago.

The same feeling was echoed by some of the younger volunteers.

“I want to help people who can’t afford food. I [want] to make people happy,” said Ethan Storm, 10.

“I feel bad for people who don’t have as much as we do, especially around the holidays. We are getting all these presents and they don’t have basic needs,” said Rebekkah Taistra, 10.

The food drive was one of many charity events that the sisterhood organizes. The group takes part in the Peyton’s Heart Project, which helps raise awareness for mental health issues, bullying and suicide by tagging hand-crocheted hearts with uplifting messages.

There was also a Mitzvah Day on Dec. 23 to provide first responders with baked goods.

In addition, the temple has a plot in the Community Garden that provides food for the East Brunswick Senior Center, according to Iris Udasin, adult social action chair for the sisterhood.

“We are a very affluent area and knowing that we are able to help others is very important to help teach our kids,” Storm said.

Contact Michael Nunes at mnunes@gmnews.com.

Milltown council thanks Murray for three years of service

By KATHY CHANG
Staff Writer

MILLTOWN — As the Borough Council commenced its final meeting of the year, Patricia “Patty” Murray said she enjoyed her three years serving on the council dais.

“It has been a real honor serving the residents of Milltown and it has been a great learning experience for myself personally,” she said on Dec. 14. “I am grateful for the opportunity and very humbled.”

Murray, a Democrat, did not seek a second term in the November election. She said due to the nature of her business, which requires her to be out on the road, it would not be possible for her to serve another term.

“I’ll never say never … maybe in the future I hope for the opportunity again,” she said.

Murray served as chairwoman to the Parks & Recreation Department this past year and has served as chair to the Finance, Planning & Administration in the past.

Councilman Francis Guyette thanked Murray for her service and said she would be sorely missed.

Mayor Eric Steeber thanked Murray for her dedication to the residents of Milltown and presented her with the key to the city.

“You lead various departments making significant contributions and for that we will always be thankful,” he said to Murray.

Murray said she was touched and honored by the memento and said she will place it in her office.

Photo

 KATHY McBAIN/STAFF KATHY McBAIN/STAFF Greater Media Newspapers held a holiday food drive in the Manalapan office from Dec. 9-21. Donations were brought to the Food Bank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties in Neptune.

New year offers opportunity to organize

By CHRISTINE BARCIA
Staff Writer

Mise en place is a French culinary term that means “putting in place.” For chefs, having ingredients prepared and arranged before the cooking process begins allows for greater organization and efficiency in executing a recipe. Applying that concept in everyday life can bring that same organization to almost any task.

“The ability to be organized has become increasingly more important because living in contemporary America, life has become very complex and multifaceted. We live in an age of specialization which creates more options and more decisions,” said Michael Osit, Ed.D., a psychologist, author and speaker from Warren.

Osit offers an example. Forty years ago, he said, one would go to the grocery store to buy orange juice and it was available fresh or frozen and came in either a frozen can or a glass bottle.

“I recently went to the local market and found 27 varieties of orange juice — pulp, no pulp, some pulp, concentrate, vitamin D, and it now comes in cartons, juice boxes, pouches, bottles, etc.,” Osit said. Such mundane decisions can overwhelm individuals and lead to an inability to focus, and in turn, to stay organized.

“To become organized takes a good deal of emotional control and focus,” said Michael Vito, Ph.D., a psychologist with offices in Morristown and Watchung.

To get (and stay) organized, individuals must be “convinced of the value of organization,” Vito said.

Organization, Vito said, leads to better mental health by creating a “less stressful and better functioning” state of mind.

“Organized individuals run their life instead of their life running them. They are in control, which optimizes positive outcomes and minimizes stress and crisis occurring in their life,” Osit said.

According to National Association of Professional Organizers Member Director, Lori Vande Krol, good organizational systems reduce stress and allow people to focus time and energy on what matters most.

“With the speed and volume of information and clutter in our lives today, it has become even more important to have the right systems in place to manage it all,” Vande Krol said.

Organized people, Osit said, can greatly reduce anxiety when life is relatively predictable and surprises are at a minimum.

“Organized people frequently have a plan B, so they do not feel trapped or victimized in specific situations,” Osit said.

The first step to getting organized, whether at home or at work, involves a commitment to putting in the work upfront.

“Employ a ‘work now, play later’ philosophy,” Osit said.

In other words, “become a list maker and prioritize items,” Osit said.

Other suggestions that Osit offers include the following: immediately enter appointments into either a mobile phone or calendar; promptly list items on a to-do list; leave buffer time for appointments and deadlines to account for unexpected events such as traffic or illness; and develop routines for daily tasks so they are automatically completed.

Although technology is often designed to help with getting organized, the opposite effect often occurs.

“Technological devices can be critical tools to help a person be organized in their life if used appropriately (calendar, reminders, to-do lists, alerts, etc.), but they are also a significant distraction from the task at hand, which can cause inefficiency,” Osit said.

The Internet, tablets and mobile phones, Osit said, have created a “tremendous distraction from the present moment.

“Even when people are not sending or receiving messages, a piece of their attention is on the device that could buzz or vibrate at any moment.” Osit said.

Simple advice, like make a plan and stick to it, can facilitate greater organization.

“Put the keys in the key spot and the junk in the junk spot,” Zito said.

In the last decade, the organization industry has experienced growth, as evidenced by the increase in membership in the National Association of Professional Organizers. In 2005, there were 2,945 members, and today there are nearly 4,000 members, about a 30 percent increase, Vande Krol said.

“Interestingly, I am seeing a revitalized interest in living a simpler lifestyle by downsizing space, possessions and activities,” Vande Krol said.

Heather Pierce, owner of House in Order, a professional organization company serving central New Jersey, said the most common request she receives is for help in organizing paperwork.

“Many people hold on to much more paper than they need to because they don’t know what to keep and what to get rid of,” Pierce said.

People often become overwhelmed by the sheer volume of paper that enters their home whether it’s via mail, their child’s backpack or shopping receipts, Pierce said.

“They do nothing to clear the paper clutter. The result is often cluttered kitchen counters, drawers or cabinets, overstuffed filing cabinets, bags and boxes of papers that get moved from place to place, but never sorted and dealt with,” Pierce said.

Pam of Toms River, a client of Pierce, said her “breaking point” with clutter came after she retired and was at home amidst years of accumulated items.

“I started feeling overwhelmed with my possessions,” Pam said.

With Pierce’s service, Pam was able to organize papers that had piled up for years.

“Now I follow a path that there is a place for everything. I’ve been able to break old habits,” Pam said.

When Pierce meets with clients, she discusses any fears or anxieties they may have about the reorganization process.

“Every client is different, so my plan for each client may be different — what works for one person does not work for all. It is important to set clear expectations as far as the desired outcome, projected time needed to complete an organization project, costs of completing a project and the roles each of us will play in the overall completion of the organization project, Pierce said.

It takes a great deal of courage for many people to reach out to a professional organizer for help, Pierce said.

“Many people feel shame, anxiety and embarrassment about the disorganization of their home or office,” according to Pierce.

By conquering the clutter, she said, clients are able to focus on the things that matter most to them.

“Generally, you first want to determine your vision. In other words, how would your ideal space or day look and feel?” Vande Krol said.

Seeing a revitalized interest in living a simpler lifestyle, Vande Krol said, has led to individuals downsizing space, possessions and activities.

Organization Strategies

Get Organized at Home

Some basic tips for better organization at home, according to www.webmd.com, include: find a place for every item; keep clutter out of the house; shop for containers after de-cluttering is complete; get rid of duplicates; de-clutter nostalgia, such as children’s artwork, by taking a picture of a child holding art work or crafts.

Get rid of old clothes using the 80:20 rule: we wear 20 percent of the clothes we own 80 percent of the time; look for simple solutions, like a key hook by the front door; and schedule de-cluttering for areas that need it daily, weekly and monthly.

Get Organized at Work

A focus on time, space and mindset is the key to organization at work, according to www.entrepreneur.com.

Concerning time, the website recommends that individuals start the day with structured time by sorting through email and responding to quick responses and referrals right away, deleting unimportant information and scheduling more essential tasks.

Space, which refers to physical and virtual space, is critical to productivity, the website stated.

The absence of office interruptions can improve concentration when writing or researching a topic, and this might be a task better completed away from the office, according to the website.

Switching off pop-up notifications on mobile devices and on computers, in addition to limiting the number of times email is checked, can result in greater organization of virtual space.

Finally, there is an individual’s mindset. To reduce the feeling of overload and the procrastination associated with taking on overwhelming jobs, divide large tasks into small chunks to better focus, according to the website.

Get Organized at School

It’s as easy as ABC to keep school-related tasks in order, according to www.scholastic.com.

First: “A” place for everything — keep a ready-to-use homework kit filled with school supplies. Next, “be” focused — studying needs to come first when scheduling time and planning activities. Finally, “calendars” posted in a central place at home can help students prioritize tasks, such as test dates and report due dates.

Children should keep a small, personal to-do list in order to get a better understanding of time management, according to the website.

Contact Information

For info, visit the National Association of Professional Organizers at www.napo.net.

Council delays vote on Spotswood EMS service

By MICHAEL NUNES
Staff Writer

The future of Spotswood EMS remains foggy going into the New Year. According to borough Business Administrator Dawn McDonald, council members have made no decision regarding the borough’s medical transportation service, despite coming to the end of its initial 60-day bidding period.

“[The] mayor and council have not made a decision yet, simple as that,” McDonald said.

According to McDonald, there were two bidders, Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital and the Monmouth Ocean Hospital Service Corporation (MONOC), agreed to extend the process by another 60 days.

According to Council President Curtis Stollen, the move is not one that members on the dais take lightly.

“The council knows and realizes this is a very serious decision and that is why we are looking at all avenues and ways to improve what we have. We don’t take it lightly,” he said, adding that a final decision could be made in January. Stollen also said that the council would be making its decision based on three main criteria –– response time, professionalism and resources available.

During the Dec. 21 Borough Council meeting, Kelly Laudien spoke of her mother, a Spotswood resident who was recently treated by Spotswood EMS. She praised the Spotswood EMS, hoping that the council will see fit to keep the service.

“She had a major heart attack in the main artery. They said if it wasn’t for the response time [and] the expertise of the services that she got, she would have never have made it,” Laudien said about the incident that happened the beginning of this month.

According to Laudien, her mother had flat-lined twice before arriving at the hospital, on both occasions being resuscitated by a Spotswood EMT and once again at Robert Wood Johnson in New Brunswick.

“[They’ve] given me my mother back, so I have my special Christmas gift,” she concluded.

According to McDonald, the reason why the borough is looking into an alternative medical transport service is due to the rising cost. She estimates that it costs upward of $500,000 to support the service. She estimates that amount will increase in the future due to staffing, vehicle, building and capital expenses would increase the amount going forward.

Currently Spotswood EMS is housed in a warehouse on American Way. The borough is still “moving forward” with rehabilitating the old emergency services building on Devoe Avenue, which suffered structural damaged during Hurricane Irene in 2011, McDonald said.

Spotswood EMS employs 18 EMTs along with four supervisors and one director.

The council voted to seek bids at the Sept. 21 borough council meeting. With the extension, the council will have until February to make its decision.

Contact Michael Nunes at mnunes@gmnews.com.

Monroe board lauds three departing members

By KATHY CHANG
Staff Writer

As the Monroe Township Board of Education commenced its final meeting of the year, school officials praised the work of three outgoing board members.

Schools Superintendent Michael Kozak presented Board President George Doug Poye, Anthony Prezioso and Robert Czarneski, who served as a representative from Jamesburg, with plaques for their dedicated service on the board from 2013 through 2015 at the Dec. 16 board meeting. Poye and Prezioso ran unsuccessful bids for another term in the November election.

Kozak said Poye brought a unique perspective to the board, having served as an educator and high school principal in Hillsborough.

“Mr. Poye is not averse to asking tough questions [having] sweated through [some questions] myself,” he said, adding Poye always did so in a respectful manner. Kozak said Poye ensured the Monroe Township School District remained in the forefront of innovative educational practices and he assured Poye that they would continue to be a highly performing school district.

Poye spearheaded a steering committee to study the effect of growing student enrollment in schools and facilities and insisted on a balanced group of community members, students and educators.

“Mr. Poye is certainly one of the best presidents that I have worked for,” said Kozak.

Prezioso has been a champion for special education students, making sure they receive the best education the Monroe Township School District can offer.

“This is certainly evident in his comments and actions,” said Kozak. “He holds a huge holiday party for special needs students every year [which occurred this year on Dec. 12].”

Kozak said he can assure Prezioso that the district would continue to work to ensure all children receive a quality education that will prepare them for successful experiences in college and in career.”

Prezioso thanked Kozak and the board.

“We do this job for the kids,” he said.

Kozak thanked Czarneski for being committed to all the students, including the Jamesburg students he represents, ensuring that they receive the best educational experience.

“His commitment to education is evident through his own training as a board member and being an advocate for children in the districts,” he said.

Poye, in his final session leading the board, highlighted the many accomplishments the school district has made in the past three years.

The district refinanced $65 million of outstanding bonds from 2006 to 2008, saving $3.9 million in interest over the next 20 years, which averages just under $200,000 a year.

The district ended the financially failing MECA (Monroe Employee Childcare Academy) program and extended the district’s kindergarten program through the creation of Falcon Care, the tuition-based, board-operated enrichment program bringing revenue into the budget.

This past summer, renovations to the Monroe Township Middle School, funded out of the operating budget, allowed for the creation of 11 additional classrooms.

Poye said this was a great accomplishment for the district because they were able to create additional space for a “very crowded” school building by not utilizing borrowed funds.

An ad hoc student growth committee has been formed to find recommendations and present ideas to the board on how to handle student population now and five years from now.

Poye said this year the district saw an additional 186 students and foresees an additional

200 students every school year.

A redistricting plan was implemented after a state demography study in September creating a better balance for the seven elementary schools in the district.

Poye said he understands that the plan was unpopular, but noted that it was a state plan that the board approved.

The district upgraded facilities to prepare for the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC). The board approved a three-year iPad lease for the district’s one-to-one iPad initiative, he said.

Poye said after many meetings, the board successfully approved Kozak as the district’s new superintendent beginning in July. He said with the leadership of Kozak an improvement with communications among the school district and its constituents has begun.

He said going forward he has enjoyed working on the board and wanted to thank his supporters and the service of Prezioso and Czarneski.

“Being a member of the board is indeed a privilege and it is also a huge responsibility,” he said, adding that the commitment requires a willingness to listen to all points of views before making a decision.

Board member Michele Arminio thanked Poye for his dedicated service.

“You have been an intelligent and able leader who brought decorum and clarity and concise information to the board and to the public,” she said. “And I know that your continued interest in the community will ensure your participation and I look forward to meeting you publicly and privately. I am grateful and appreciate your leadership and the community has been well served.”

Board members Kathy Kolupanowich, Steven Riback, and Lew Kaufman shared the same sentiments and thanked Poye, Prezioso and Czarneski for their service.

A school board reorganization meeting will be held on Jan. 6, which will include the swearing-in of Marvin I. Braverman, who won re-election in November, and newcomers Dawn Quarino and Frank Russo.

Grocery stores expand services

By KAYLA J. MARSH
Staff Writer

 Grocery stores are offering more than food shopping such as this gingerbread cookie decorating class held at Whole Foods Market in Marlboro on Dec. 17.  STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER ERIC SUCAR Grocery stores are offering more than food shopping such as this gingerbread cookie decorating class held at Whole Foods Market in Marlboro on Dec. 17. STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER 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.”

Spicuzzo released from prison

By JENNIFER AMATO
Staff Writer

Former Middlesex County Sheriff Joseph Spicuzzo has been released from jail.

Spicuzzo was sentenced in 2013 to nine years in prison for running a jobs-for-cash scheme that yielded him approximately $112,000 in bribes from those seeking positions or promotions in the sheriff’s department, Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman said at the time.

He was released from the Central Reception and Assignment Facility (CRAF) in Trenton on Dec. 17, according to a receptionist at the CRAF. Spicuzzo had to serve at least two years before becoming eligible for parole. He faced numerous charges in the scheme, but entered into a deal in which he pleaded guilty to only one of them.

The 70-year-old Helmetta resident was sentenced in state Superior Court in Monmouth County on Sept. 20, 2013, after pleading guilty to a charge of accepting $25,000 in exchange for a job in his office.

He was the Middlesex County sheriff for three decades, from 1980 until his 2010 retirement, and was chairman of the Middlesex County Democratic Organization for 16 years.

Former Middlesex County Sheriff’s Investigator Darrin P. DiBiasi, 47, of Monmouth Junction, and former Middlesex County Sheriff’s Officer Paul A. Lucarelli, 50, of South River, also submitted guilty pleas. The two men admitted to a third-degree charge of conspiracy to make illegal gifts to a public servant.

DiBiasi was sentenced on Sept. 20, 2013, to 364 days in jail, five years probation, 200 hours community service and a $5,000 fine.

Lucarelli was sentenced to three years probation, fined $2,500 and ordered to perform 500 hours of community service on Oct. 4, 2013.

Contact Jennifer Amato at jamato@gmnews.com.

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