Dushahra festival aims to promote Indian culture

Oct. 18 event to feature
music, dancing, food,
crafts and fireworks

Staff Writer

Oct. 18 event to feature
music, dancing, food,
crafts and fireworks
Staff Writer

Gov. James McGreevey offers his best wishes for the success of the Dushahra Festival 2003 to members of the organizing committee.Gov. James McGreevey offers his best wishes for the success of the Dushahra Festival 2003 to members of the organizing committee.

Cultural programs, music and dancing, actors in colorful costumes, Indian food and fireworks are all part of one of India’s most important festivals. That festival, the fifth Dushahra Festival 2003, is coming to Freehold Township on Saturday, Oct. 18 from noon to 8 p.m. The event, a celebration of the victory of good over evil, will be held at East Freehold Park on Kozloski Road.

Dushahra is one of the significant Hindu festivals, celebrated with much exultation throughout India, said Mangal Gupta, founding chairman of the event. "This occasion marks the triumph of Lord Ram, the incarnation of God on earth, over the demon king Ravan, or good over evil."

According to Gupta, he started the event after hearing from many Hindus living in America that they had never been to a Dushahra festival and their children had never even heard of it. The goal is to pass on Indian cultural heritage to future generations and to introduce other cultures to wonderful Indian traditions, he added.

Gupta said that one woman told him that she had been in the United States for 20 years, and her children, who were 7 and 10, had never seen the "Ramayana," the epic story of Ram and Ravan enacted by a cast of 50 actors in colorful costumes in a performance that usually lasts two hours.

The most important part of the festival is the burning in effigy of Ravan. Gupta said that one of the reasons why this may be the largest Dushahra festival in the country is because of the difficulty in constructing the effigy, which is 25 feet tall and made of bamboo covered with paper and cloth. The effigy is imported from India.

"This is the only festival being done on such a large scale, replete with dazzling fireworks. I’m getting calls from Chicago and California that they want to do it there."

Although it is not celebrated that widely in the United States, it is a festival that is celebrated all over India, north to south, east to west, Gupta said. "The schools are closed for 10 days," he noted.

He explained that "the man who does the fireworks lights the effigy. There are fire marshals present just in case, but we’ve never had a problem. In India they make it so nice. When they light it, the head goes separate from the body. I don’t know how they set it up to make that happen.

"For the children, it is fantastic. The theme is that evil is always defeated in the end. It gives the message that you should always try to be good. That is the message that children learn. Ravan dies in the end."

Gupta called it a guiding-light kind of story.

This is the third year that the festival is being held at East Freehold Park in Monmouth County. For the first two years, it was held in East Brunswick.

When Gupta first organized the festival, Middlesex County had the largest Indian population in the state with one of the highest concentrations in the Iselin section of Woodbridge. In fact, Iselin is sometimes referred to as Little India, Gupta said.

But the move to Freehold Township hasn’t hurt attendance. People come from all over, Gupta said, adding, last year, an estimated 10,000 people attended the event, including a number of state and local dignitaries.

This year, the special guest will be Lord Swraj Paul of the United Kingdom. According to Gupta, he is a lord of the House of Commons and a business ambassador of the British government. He travels worldwide with delegations to various counties, Gupta said.

"He immigrated to England a long time [ago]. He is going to inaugurate the festival with the lighting of the deepak, the inaugural lamp."

In addition to the Ram Leela performance of the battle between good and evil and dazzling fireworks at sundown, there will be a food and crafts fair, as well as rides and games, all part of a celebration of the best of Indian heritage and tradition.

Dushahra Festival

October 18

noon Festival opens

1:00 p.m. Welcome and cultural program

(organized by Uma Swaminathan and Sanjay Khanna)

5:00 p.m. Ram Leela Part I

(directed by Padma Khanna and Jagdish Sidana of Indianica)

6:00 p.m. Inauguration, lighting of the lamps, introduction

of committee members and honoring dignitaries

6:30 p.m. Ram Leela Part II

(directed by Padma Khanna and Jagdish Sidana of Indianica)

7:30 p.m. Walk to Ravan effigy & fireworks site

7:45 p.m. Burning of Ravan effigy

8:00 p.m. Fireworks display

Officials hope to redevelop Ford site

Edison plant is
scheduled for shutdown in February

Staff Writer

Edison plant is
scheduled for shutdown in February
Staff Writer

JEFF GRANIT staff The Ford Motor Co. announced it will be closing the Edison assembly plant on Route 1 on Feb. 27.JEFF GRANIT staff The Ford Motor Co. announced it will be closing the Edison assembly plant on Route 1 on Feb. 27.

EDISON— Up to 900 workers could lose their jobs or be forced to transfer out of state when the Ford Motor Co. plant shuts its doors next year.

"Employees have been notified that Feb. 27 is the last work day," said Kathleen Hamilton, a Ford company spokeswoman.

There are about 800 hourly and 100 salaried workers currently employed at the Edison site, located on 102 acres at 939 Route 1 south, Hamilton said.

"While [the closing of the plant] is unwelcome news, the good news is that Ford has worked with the UAW (Unified Auto Workers) to address employee concerns and provide employee assistance programs, benefits and early retirement options," Mayor George Spadoro said in a statement issued Oct. 2.

Ford is looking to sell the 102 acres where the plant currently sits, Hamilton said.

"Marketing and environmental studies are under way and we are working with the township of Edison to find a use that fits in with the township’s master plan and its concerns about such things as traffic congestion and land use," she said.

The site offers a "unique redevelopment opportunity" for the township, Spadoro said.

"My office has been made aware by Ford that they have seen an active interest in the marketing of this property for redevelopment," Spadoro said.

"Indeed, I believe, based on our conversations with Ford, our own research and the plant’s location, this site, when it is redeveloped, will generate even greater tax revenue for Edison than we currently collect from Ford," he said.

Spadoro said he hopes for the redevelopment plan to be started in 2004.

"We are making every effort to find jobs for all employees who choose to transfer. Some will retire and some will want to stay in the area for family or other reasons, and we hope that employers in the area will consider these highly motivated and trained people," Hamilton said.

The company hopes most of the employees choose to transfer to other plants, she said.

Employees who want to be transferred to other Ford plants will be put on a preferred hiring list. As jobs become available around the country, the former employees of the plant will have preferential treatment, said Jim Shaw, president of the United Auto Workers Local 980 chapter. "As positions become available, they will be able to go to different locations," Shaw said.

Ford also will hold a job fair later this year to introduce the workers to the community, Hamilton said.

One shift was eliminated in 2002, Hamilton said. The loss of the shift eliminated about 700 jobs from the Edison plant.

"Even though we lost a shift, we didn’t have anyone at laid off," Shaw said. Everyone was either transferred or retired.

There are many reasons why Ford has decided to shut down the plant, Hamilton said.

"Worldwide overcapacity in the auto industry and a particular decline in the small truck market" are just two reasons for the closing, she said.

"This closing is part of Ford Motor Co.’s revitalization, in which we pledged to eliminate 1 million units of capacity and improve our financial picture," Hamilton said.

The plant has been operating since 1948. Last year it produced 172,390 cars.

Since 1991, the plant has produced Ford Ranger pickup trucks. In the past, the plant has made Lincoln/Mercury, Falcons, Comets, Mustangs, Pintos, Bobcats, and Escorts.

"The Ford Ranger will continue to be assembled at Ford’s Twin Cities assembly plant in St. Paul, Minn.," Hamilton said.

According to Shaw, the mood at the plant is down.

"It’s a traumatic thing," he said. "People are down about it, but they continue to make good Ford products."

Upcoming events to honor community’s rich heritage

Staff Writer

Staff Writer

EDISON — October is the time for the community to celebrate its rich history.

The Township Council designated October as Edison Heritage Month in 2001, said Ian Durand, executive director of the township Center for Community Renewal.

According to Durand, this month was always special in the township because on Oct. 21, 1879, Thomas Alva Edison perfected the first light bulb that would last more than just a few minutes in his Menlo Park workshop. That day is designated Thomas Edison Day in remembrance of the accomplishment.

Several events are scheduled throughout the course of the month to honor the history and people of the township.

The township celebrated the second annual Multi-Cultural Fair Saturday at Thomas Jefferson Middle School on Division Street.

The fair was "a mix of educational displays, food and entertainment," Durand said.

The fair focused on all of the different ethnic groups in the township. There were educational displays on different cultures, ethnic foods and performances showcasing many types of dance and song from the various cultures.

"We’re really trying to get representatives from the different ethnic groups to come out [to the township events]," Durand said.

On Oct. 18, the third annual Edison History Day will take place at the Historic Stelton Baptist Church on Plainfield Avenue. Artifacts, photographs, maps and documents that span from the pre-Revolutionary War era to the end of the 20th century will be on hand, Durand said.

Members of the Metuchen/Edison Historical Society will also detail the rich history of Edison, he said.

The types of artifacts shown will range from a trunk that someone who fought in the Revolutionary War would have car­ried with him to the roster of the first Edison Fire Company which dates back to 1916, Durand said.

Selections from the Edison Tower Mu­seum, located on Christie Street, will also be available for public review, he said.

At the end of the month, the township will be honoring its namesake with edu­cational school programs on Oct. 21 and 22.

Jack Stanley, director of the Edison Tower Museum, will give presentations at Thomas Jefferson Middle School on Oct. 21 and to John Adams Middle School on Oct. 22 to teach sixth- and seventh-grade students about the inventor.

The sixth- and seventh-graders were chosen for the program because the stu­dents are at "an age where they’re old enough to understand but young enough to still listen," Durand said.

Stanley will go to Herbert Hoover Middle School and Woodrow Wilson Middle School next year, Durand said.

Each year the program will rotate among the four middle schools so that the program will be taught in two schools per year.

"Our intent is to have every public school student in the township know more about their town’s namesake," Du­rand said.

Increased truck noise irks Edison residents

Officials hope measures
will reduce impact
on Silverlake Avenue

Staff Writer

Increased truck noise
irks Edison residents
Officials hope measures
will reduce impact
on Silverlake Avenue
Staff Writer

EDISON — Changes that officials hope will help offset an increase in truck traffic on Silverlake Avenue are on the horizon.

On Thursday, the Township Council introduced an ordinance to reduce the speed limit for trucks weighing more than 4 tons to 15 mph on Silverlake and Glendale avenues.

Ordinances that would restrict access to these streets between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. are also being discussed, said Louis Rainone, township attorney.

Once these ordinances gain approval from the council, they will be sent to the state Department of Transportation for review.

"This is not a two- or three-week process," Rainone said. "It has to go to DOT and come back."

Residents of Silverlake and Glendale avenues have attended township meetings to complain about the increased truck traffic on the residential streets after the Railroad Construction Co., Paterson, opened a warehouse on Glendale Avenue on the Raritan River. The company houses trucks and equipment at the site.

"This morning at 4:13 a.m., 4:23 a.m. and 4:50 a.m. were the first three heavy tractor-trailer trucks going down the street. It’s basically turned this neighborhood upside down," Richard Pastor of Silverlake Avenue said at the meeting.

To combat the problem, the township health department will be enforcing current noise ordinances that restrict loading and unloading of equipment between certain hours and restricts the decibel levels of noise, Rainone said.

The road was not made for truck traffic, and work is already required to fix potholes and bumps, said Jennifer Graci, a resident of Berrue Court.

The township is trying to put Silverlake Road on the list for the next round of road improvements, said Jonathan Capp, business administrator. That list will be completed by the beginning of next year.

According to Graci, trucks come down the road in the early morning and continue throughout the day.

There are three school bus stops on Silverlake Avenue, and parents are worried about the safety of their children, she said.

The Edison Police Department is in the process of conducting traffic surveys to find out the number of vehicles that travel down the road and their average speed, said Police Chief Edward Costello Jr.

"The survey that was done counted both the volume of vehicles and the speed" in a 24-hour time period, Costello said.

The average speed was 25.1 mph with about 2,000 vehicles traveling on Silverlake Avenue, the chief said. The survey did not distinguish between the number of cars and trucks traveling on the road.

Another survey will be done within the next few weeks to ensure the validity of the survey, Costello said.

The council has also proposed that an ordinance be passed to change the notification responsibilit.ies of applicants before the Planning and Zoning boards.

State law requires all residents within 200 feet of an application be notified of an application before the board, Rainone said.

The residents of Silverlake Avenue were not notified when Railroad Construction went before the township because they do not live within 200 feet of the property.

A new township ordinance that would require notification of all residents within 300 feet of an application is being reviewed by the Planning Board and the Zoning Board, Rainone said.

"The extra 100 feet that we’re adding is for informational purposes only. Information is power," Councilman Parag Patel said.

There are few houses within 200 feet of the Railroad Construction warehouse, Pastor said.

More people would have been at the Planning Board public hearing in July had they been notified about the application, he said.

Edison, Metuchen vote to continue agreement

Staff Writer

Edison, Metuchen vote
to continue agreement
Staff Writer

EDISON — The township will continue to provide emergency medical services to neighboring Metuchen.

The Edison Township Council unanimously approved a resolution Oct. 9 to continue the interlocal service agreement which authorizes Edison First Aid to take calls from residents of the borough.

The Metuchen Borough Council passed a similar resolution at its Oct. 7 meeting.

The agreement between the two municipalities has been ongoing for about five years, said Metuchen Mayor Ed O’Brien.

Metuchen has to renew the agreement annually, he said.

The resolution issued by Edison authorizes the agreement for a time frame not to exceed five years.

The borough needs help providing emergency services coverage during the day, O’Brien said.

"We experience a lack of coverage during the day from our volunteer squad," he said, due to volunteers’ work schedules and the amount of training that goes into being an emergency medical technician.

Each time the Edison First Aid Squad is called into the borough, Metuchen will pay $100 for the service.

Interlocal agreements like this one "is how we try to save taxpayers money," said Edison Councilman Parag Patel.

The township will not have to hire any new staff or purchase any new equipment to provide services to the Metuchen area, said Jonathan Capp, township business administrator.

The township tries to enter into these agreements for either cost-saving or revenue-generating reasons, Patel said.

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.