There is something remarkable happening in Scotch Plains and Fanwood right now. These two communities have come together like never before to help feed the over 100 veterans at Valley Brook Village. What started off as a one-time request for food has turned into a recurring outpouring of love and respect.

The residents and business owners of these two towns have consistently been extremely supportive of Friends of Valley Brook, an organization that assists previously homeless veterans living at Valley Brook on the VA campus at Lyons. Containers can often be seen in delis, pizzerias, butcher shops, barber shops, pet food stores and other establishments in these towns, and donations have always been generous.

Business owners who collect this money give back 100% of these donations in the form of food, products or services. Every cent donated is used to help our veterans, and many of these business owners give back even more than collected. Money is never handled by Friends of Valley Brook volunteers; all donations go directly to the small businesses that support its causes.  

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Now, however, due to COVID-19, patrons are no longer allowed into the stores and therefore do not have the ability to donate in this way. Unfortunately, this is also the time when the veterans are in greatest need. Since many don’t have transportation, they have always relied on weekly van excursions to supermarkets. These trips have been temporarily discontinued due to the virus. To make things even more dire, many of these veterans are also now out of work. These combined events created a scarcity of food for these brave men and women.

When the founder of Friends of Valley Brook , Steve Hackenberg, approached a local realtor, Maria Ackerman (whose entire family was already actively involved with the organization) for help with feeding the veterans, an amazing phenomenon was born.

Maria put out the word and set up a table in her driveway for people to drop off donations on Tuesdays by 4:00 pm. Within a week, over 200 meals were picked up and distributed at Valley Brook Village.

The second week, an additional day (Friday) was designated for drop offs. Before long, there was a line of cars outside Maria’s house on Mountain Avenue in Scotch Plains. Many of the meals and desserts were homemade, and some were also donated by restaurants, including one in Cranford. People also selflessly donated hard-to-find items such as paper towels, toilet paper and home-made masks. Since Friends of Valley Brook also includes the Help Vets Pets program, people dropped off cat litter and dog and cat food as well.

To ensure everyone’s safety, everything is done while practicing social distancing. Along with the adults taking part in this remarkable undertaking, many local teenagers are also volunteering their time. They help pack up individual meals in their homes, and then load them into the vehicles making the deliveries. Some even take part in handing out the food to the veterans. Seeing the gratitude on the veterans’ faces is one of the greatest rewards for all their hard work.

The veterans at Valley Brook Village are overwhelmed with the outpouring of love and support, and appreciate everyone involved, from those who spend hours cooking, to those buying supplies, to the people and the restaurants who so generously donate. They are also thankful to the volunteers who transport it all to their facility.

To find out how you can get involved, go to the Friends of Valley Brook Facebook page.

THANK YOU again for a delicious meal for me and my fellow Valley Brook Village residents! We just finished up the meals from the other day and some were wondering, ‘NOW what do we do?’ And lo and behold, here comes Hackenberg and Co. with more food!!! We don't have the words to be able to thank you enough. God bless you and everyone involved ....Semper Fidelis (always faithful.)  - Dave Merchant, U.S. Marine, and Valley Brook Village resident.