Discussion on switch to ward system continues

Staff Writer

Staff Writer

EDISON — Opinions as to whether certain neighborhoods need better representation on the Township Council are divided.

Some local residents who feel that their section of town needs a stronger voice got together and circulated a petition to place two questions on the Nov. 4 ballot. The questions ask if voters want to expand the number of council members and if the township should be split into wards, said Louis Rainone, township attorney.

If residents vote for the ward system, the council would increase from seven members to nine members, Rainone said.

The township would then be divided into five wards. Each ward would elect one councilman with four councilmen elected at-large, or by the entire township, Rainone said.

The town’s master plan, which was accepted by the Planning Board in August, divides the town into five sections, said Kevin Duffy, a township resident who helped organize the drive to take the issue to the voters.

Four members of the Middlesex County Board of Elections and the municipal clerk would draw a map indicating where the wards would be, Duffy said. The wards will not be drawn before the November election.

At a forum to discuss the issue, held recently at town hall, several questions raised about the logistics of the transition to the ward system remained unanswered.

"In order for the ward question to be effective, both questions would have to be answered ‘yes,’" Rainone said.Flavio Komuves, attorney for the petitioners who want a ward system, said that, in his interpretation of the law, if either question is accepted by the voters the ward system would have to be implemented.

Many residents have differing opinions of what would be best for the township.

People in favor of wards want to see representation from each section of town so that issues from all over the township can be brought to the council and solved in a timely fashion and without confusion, Duffy said.

"Four of the (current) council members live in my area in North Edison," Duffy said.

Some people do not feel their neighborhoods are being fairly represented on the council.

"I do not feel represented in this system," said David Zulli, township resident. "I do not feel I have someone to vote for that represents my neighborhood."

Some residents feel there is no need to divide the town into wards.

"My main concern is that the tax rate will go up and government spending will also go up," said Ram Lavie, Edison resident. "Our system is working really good. If our system is not broken, why fix it?"

The final public forum on the ward system will be held on Thursday, Oct. 23 at 7:30 p.m. in the council chambers of the municipal complex.

Meals on Wheels serves up more than lunch

Staff Writer

Staff Writer

PHOTOS BY JEFF GRANIT staff Barbara Golden prepares meals to be distributed as part of the Meals on Wheels program.PHOTOS BY JEFF GRANIT staff Barbara Golden prepares meals to be distributed as part of the Meals on Wheels program.

Every day, a dedicated group of volunteers makes a difference in the lives of those in the community who need help most.

To honor those men and women, the Woodbridge-based Meals on Wheels program is turning things around this month. On Oct. 20 program administrators plan to thank their volunteers and serve them a hot lunch at the Convention Center at John F. Kennedy Medical Center, Edison.

This year, four volunteers are celebrating 25 years with the program and eight others will be recognized for hitting the 10-year mark, according to Barbara Lemchak, who coordinates the program in the local area.

Volunteer Maureen Jenkins has been with this program the longest — since its inception in 1974.

Marion Feliks and Mary Jane James of Edison get ready for their deliveries.Marion Feliks and Mary Jane James of Edison get ready for their deliveries.

For 29 years, people in the towns of Metuchen, Edison and Woodbridge have come to rely on the service of these volunteers.

"Our program is for anybody who can’t prepare their own meal," said Lemchak, program director, from her office in the Public Health Center Building in George Frederick Plaza.

Recipients of aid "don’t have to be seniors" to qualify, she noted.

Lemchak, an Edison resident and mother of four, has been with the program five years and credits her mother with finding her the job. Her mother learned of the opening at the Woodbridge Senior Center in Colonia.

Alison Erwinski, a Meals on Wheels volunteer from Iselin, carries a cooler of food to her car to be delivered to clients.Alison Erwinski, a Meals on Wheels volunteer from Iselin, carries a cooler of food to her car to be delivered to clients.

This Meals on Wheels program has about 130 volunteers serving meals to about 65 clients, who are divided into six routes.

"This is a lot of volunteer work," said Lemchak. "It’s amazing."

Meals on Wheels provides home delivery five days a week of a hot as well as a cold meal, which arrive around lunch time.

Clients do not know ahead of time what will be the day’s menu. On one particular day, clients received beef stroganoff, noodles, green beans and soup for their hot lunch and a tuna sandwich, applesauce and blueberries for their cold meal.

Provisions are also made for the few times each year when delivery is canceled because of inclement weather.

Clients are provided with a five-day supply of nonperishable provisions like soups, tuna and cereal to have on hand. The food is then sorted, bagged and labeled at the First Presbyterian Church in the Iselin section of Woodbridge.

New clients come to the program through recommendations from the hospital, Office on Aging, family members or neighbors.

Meals on Wheels purchases all the food it serves from JFK hospital. JFK makes all the food, with help from dietary nutritionists, who speak with clients’ doctors.

Many clients are on special or restricted diets. For example, some are on low-salt or restricted liquid diets or are diabetic.

Lemchak says she gets calls from people who want to donate food to the program, especially around holiday time. Meals on Wheels cannot accept outside food, and she refers all inquiries to local soup kitchens.

Many of the volunteers are retirees or stay-at-home moms. New volunteers are never sent out alone. Jenkins goes out with them. Recently, 14 new volunteers from the Wachovia Bank in Edison signed up as substitutes.

"They’re wonderful and able to come at the last moment," said Marion Feliks, a food packer.

Many of the volunteers provide more than just hot meals for the clients they serve. They provide a much-needed break from solitude.

"Sometimes our people are the only ones they see all day," Feliks said of certain clients. "Some have no family, and that’s hard."

Most days around 11 a.m. Feliks and Barbara Golden, part-time employees of the program, finish packing the meals.

"This one gets a birthday card," Feliks said while preparing meals last week.

Lemchak keeps track of clients’ birthdays and makes sure to recognize them.

To prepare for their run, Isabel and Mel Wolock of Metuchen enter through the receiving doors at JFK and pick up the two coolers, insulated bag, and basket to transport the food from the car to the home, and a binder containing clients’ names, addresses and directions.

It is "no big deal to do this once a month," said Isabel, a retired Rutgers University professor.

Mel, a retired Metuchen High School guidance counselor, is the driver and Isabel is the "jumper," or the person who goes to the door with the food.

According to Mel, the food always smells good, and there is quite a variety.

The Wolocks said they are impressed with the program, which they describe as very organized. Bags and containers are labeled and dated with the clients’ names. The hot meals are labeled the same way and put in insulated bags in order of delivery. A two-person team simply follows the order in the binder. Directions are given, as well as which door of the client’s home to go to.

On one stop, Bill, an 83-year-old Edison resident who is unable to leave his home, had high praise for the program.

"These people saved my life," he said.

"My niece and nephew took the bull by the horn and got in touch with Meals on Wheels."

Since Bill is suffering from the effects of severe kidney problems, he had to give up driving.

George, a Metuchen resident, is a retired Army corporal who served in World War II.

"One day he was so happy to see me that he gave me a kiss," Isabel Wolock said.

Virginia Patrick, who lives in the Fords section of Woodbridge, and Mary Jane James, Edison, are both retired Edison teachers who volunteer their time.

"You feel good when it’s done," Patrick said of her service. "It teaches me a lesson in gratitude. [The clients] become a part of your life."

According to those involved, Meals on Wheels is always looking for helpers. Volunteers do not have to deliver five days a week.

For more information, call Barbara Lemchak at (732) 494-4141 weekdays 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Eagle Scout project no walk in the park

Edison teen builds
information trail
to honor famous inventor

Staff Writer

Edison teen builds
information trail
to honor famous inventor
Staff Writer

EDISON — A new feature was added to the Thomas Alva Edison Memorial Tower and Menlo Park Museum recently.

The Thomas Alva Edison Information Trail was researched, organized and built by 14-year-old Douglas Wislinski as his Eagle Scout project.

"I talked with different people, but I basically did all the organization and all the planning," he said.

The information trail, located directly to the right of the museum on Christie Street, is a quarter-mile long and has 12 information posts, each with a fact about Edison, Wislinski said.

"I tried to pick facts about when Edison was working here in Edison," he said.

The museum and information trail are on the same piece of land where the Edison laboratory originally was located. Each fact on the posts relate not only to Edison and his life, but also to the history of the land.

Wislinski researched each fact and had numerous discussions with Jack Stanley, museum director and an expert on Edison, to decide what facts should be displayed on the trail.

The 12 information posts were placed 150 feet apart on the trail, Wislinski said. The posts are designed so people can walk through the beautiful scenery and learn without being overwhelmed.

When people first arrive at the trail, they will see a gateway, a large sign reading "Thomas Alva Edison Information Trail," a sitting area and a picnic area, Wislinski said.

After entering the trail, people will walk and read the information posts standing in the place where all of the inventing happened.

At the end of the trail there is another picnic area for people to sit and reflect on the life and times of Edison.

Wislinski said he has been working on the project since November and is very proud to see it come together.

On the weekend of Oct. 4 and 5, volunteers came to help Wislinski build the trail and put everything together, he said.

"There was an existing trail, but it was kind of beat up," he said.

"I definitely wanted to do something to stay permanent in Edison," Wislinski said.

The trail is educational and meaningful for all of the people who care about the namesake of Edison Township, Wislinski said.

Menlo Park museum brings history alive

Collection shows breadth of Thomas Alva Edison

Staff Writer

Staff Writer

One of the many phonographs on display at the Edison Memorial Tower and Menlo Park Museum.One of the many phonographs on display at the Edison Memorial Tower and Menlo Park Museum.

Visiting the Thomas Alva Edison Memorial Tower and Menlo Park Museum is truly an educational experience.

The museum and tower are located on the spot where Edison had his laboratory at 37 Christie St. in the Menlo Park section of the township, said Jack Stanley, director of the museum.

"This is where Edison and his staff worked from 1876 through 1884," he said.

Edison worked at the site with a staff of about 100 employees at a time when most inventors worked by themselves, Stanley said.

PHOTOS BY JEFF GRANIT staff Edison historian Jack Stanley stands with an 1881 bust of Edison and a C250 Edison Diamond Disk Machine from 1918 in the Thomas Alva Edison Memorial Tower and Menlo Park Museum on Christie Street.PHOTOS BY JEFF GRANIT staff Edison historian Jack Stanley stands with an 1881 bust of Edison and a C250 Edison Diamond Disk Machine from 1918 in the Thomas Alva Edison Memorial Tower and Menlo Park Museum on Christie Street.

"Edison was smart enough to know that he wasn’t smart enough," Stanley said. The inventor surrounded himself with experts and creative-thinking people, he added.

"These were highly imaginative, creative, weird people. The square pegs of society," Stanley said.

Their way of thinking and their inventions were ahead of their time.

During their time working at the laboratory, Edison and his staff invented the phonograph and the electric train, and perfected the light bulb and telephone. Edison even worked on wireless sound transmissions well before the radio was invented.

Edison and his staff obtained 400 patents for their inventions within the seven and a half years he worked in Menlo Park.

Although the inventor is most well-known for his work on the light bulb, the invention he was most proud of was the phonograph, Stanley said.

"The phonograph is the apex of Edison’s life," Stanley said. "The world went nuts because he did the impossible and recorded sound."

The museum boasts many of Edison’s early prototypes, including phonographs, light bulbs, telephone mouthpieces, and original notebooks with early sketches of inventions.

Stanley treats most visitors to phonograph demonstrations.

The phonograph at the door of the museum records sound on tin foil. After wrapping the foil around a cylinder, Stanley rubs oil on the foil to cut down on the friction between the foil and the phonograph. Then he spins the cylinder around and yells into the machine.

The machine picks up the vibration of his voice and records the sound. He can then immediately play back the sound, proving the sound was recorded on tin foil.

There is an exhibit on the light bulb that Edison and his staff perfected in the Menlo Park laboratory. Exhibits on the microphone Edison invented for use in the telephone mouthpiece and original mouthpieces invented at the site are in display cases at the museum.

The carbon-based microphone Edison invented was used in telephones until the 1990s. There is even an exhibit on the electric pen. The electric pen is now used in tattoo parlors everywhere, Stanley said.

All of the artifacts came from various collectors that lend the treasures to the museum in hopes that people will be intrigued and educated about the life and inventions of Edison.

However, there are boxes of artifacts that cannot be displayed because of the lack of space in the small museum.

Stanley hopes to tear down the mu­seum, which has been at that site since the early 1940s, and build a larger build­ing that can hold more artifacts, he said.

The museum stands next to the memorial tower that was built in 1937 and dedicated to Edison on Feb. 11, 1938. The tower has a large light bulb on top which lights up at night.

"History has to be fun," said Stanley, who is unable to hide his excitement when he speaks about the inventor and the history that was made right here.

"If it’s not fun, you’re not going to re­member it," he added.

Stanley shares his knowledge of Edi­son the inventor and Edison Township with people from all over the world. The guest sign-in book near the front door of the museum lists the names of people who came to the museum from as far as New Zealand, Poland, Korea, Ireland and China.

The museum is open to the public Wednesday through Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Grocery stores expand services

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 musthaves 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 partyplanning 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.”

Used bookstore hopes to make its mark downtown

Staff Writer

Staff Writer

JEFF GRANIT staff Abraham Wachstein recently opened Metuchen Books.JEFF GRANIT staff Abraham Wachstein recently opened Metuchen Books.

METUCHEN — Folks strolling downtown will find a new addition to the business district at 465 Main St.

Crowds taking short walks or browsing around downtown motivated Abraham Wachstein of Manalapan to open Metuchen Books. According to Wachstein, he was looking for a town where people walk.

The used bookstore opened its doors in August and so far the response has been positive, he said.

"I decided to follow my heart and open a bookstore," said Wachstein. "I’m trying to make a business out of a love."

His love of books began as a child in Brooklyn. where he was a "big customer" of the borough’s libraries. His early favorites were Mark Twain’s "Tom Sawyer" and "Huckleberry Finn," as well as science fiction.

Wachstein, the father of three college students, said he began seriously collecting books about 30 years ago. He started with leather-bound books, and when that became too expensive, he turned to other genres. He said books on art and architecture are his real love.

According to Wachstein, many of the books for sale in his shop come from his personal collection. His home is filled with books.

To keep things fresh, there is constant turnover in the store, and Wachstein purchases more books each day to keep the shelves filled. He buys books from people directly in the shop or at people’s homes before and after business hours.

In one day last week, he brought in four boxes of books and had already sold the contents of two of them.

Wachstein does reject some books. He will not buy textbooks unless they are over 150 years old or library books unless he can see it was actually withdrawn from the library.

"I won’t buy mildew[ed] books," he added.

Potential customers are lured to the assortment of books lying on the table outside the store. Wachstein, sitting in the front of his store, is quick to tap on the glass window, make contact with them and wave them in.

"Once I get a person in the store, they come back," he said.

Metuchen Books is divided into three rooms with books arranged according to genre on the light-colored, kiln-dried wooden shelves – which the owner crafted himself.

He said lumberyards do not stock the kind of wood he wanted to use and that it took him three deliveries to get the amount he needed.

Wachstein refers to his selection of books as eclectic — just like the interests of people who go to bookstores. His books run the gamut from art and architecture to children’s books and leather- bound sets. He also has numerous books on New Jersey and New York and boasts a large collection of classics.

Wachstein says that the large chain bookstores like Barnes & Noble and Borders are not his competition. They often turn to the used bookstores when they have a request for an out-of-print book from a customer.

Wachstein’s books are priced from 50 cents to $650 for John Wyndham’s 1951 first edition of "Day of the Triffids."

In addition to books, Wachstein has autographed Playbills from the 1920s and automobile sales brochures from the 1940s and 1950s.

"I hope to cater to people who like good books," Wachstein said.

Metuchen Books is open seven days a week. The hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday. For further information call (732) 767-1480.

Package theft a concern

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

Board approves church expansion despite protests

Staff Writer

Staff Writer

METUCHEN — A local church that wants to expand its facilities got the blessing of borough officials last week.

Despite relentless opposition from Rose Street residents over the course of the hearings on the application, the Metuchen’s Zoning Board unanimously granted the Metuchen Assembly of God Inc., 130 Whitman Ave., variances to expand their 20-year-old combined church, day care and elementary school into a more contemporary and spacious facility on Thursday.

The applicant, who will return to the Zoning Board next month for site plan approval on the application, proposes to remove the existing freestanding day care facility, relocate the modular classroom building to the rear of the 2.8-acre property, and construct a 165-by-82-foot, two-story addition to the north side of the school building. The expanded facility will include a gymnasium and four new classrooms, an expanded 112-space parking lot, and an outdoor recreation area.

The Rev. Donald McFarren and his wife, Cynthia, the principals in Metuchen Assembly of God Inc., testified that the expansion was necessary to meet the school and day care’s high student demand.

If site plan approval is granted, the facility could accommodate a roughly 25 percent increase in student and day care enrollment.

Thursday marked McFarren’s the 11th appearance before the Zoning Board this year. Due to the size of the expan­sion, the board rejected his pre­vious application several months ago. The current application is a scaled down ver­sion of the original plan.

"All they want to do is teach, all they want to do is help children," the appli­cant’s attorney, George Otlowski Jr., of Stark & Stark, Princeton, told the board. "I don’t think we should have to compro­mise anymore."

But a slew of roughly 25 residents, who have seen the church expand its fa­cility several times in the past two decades, said enough is enough.

"In all these years, I have never
op­posed the church. But I see no reason for the expansion other than the fact that the applicant has a simple desire to expand," said Pat O’Neil of Rose Street.

"Not only are parents going to drop their kids off, driving over 25 mph down Rose Street, I’m worried about the first aid squad getting through the street. … Also, there are kids who live in the neighborhood who bike and walk to the pool. I’m concerned about the safety in the neighborhood," another Rose Street resident, Sarah Arnhardt, said.

Heightened noise, inadequate buffers, carbon monoxide, flooding, suburban sprawl and homeowners’ rights were also on the residents’ roster of concerns.

In rebuttal to the concerns, licensed planner Peter Steck, Maplewood, told the board that the proposed area, which is bordered by Route 287, is already very noisy.

"Being that this is a church, this
ap­plication automatically meets positive cri­teria," Steck said. "Nobody will have a view of the whole composition. … If this application is dismissed, you could get a row of single-family homes instead."

Greg McFarren, the applicants’ son and the church’s assistant pastor, told the residents to get used to development.

"Metuchen is a fastly growing commu­nity," he said. "Development and progress is happening, and any progress comes with a price at any time," he said. "This application is not extraordinary, and I caution you to be understanding."

As the board reached its verdict, Cynthia McFarren let out a sigh of relief.

"That’s one step in the right direction," she said. "We are very thankful."

However, area residents, hoping to appeal the board’s decision, said McFar­ren’s relief might only be