LIVINGSTON, NJ — A musical telethon organized by Livingston residents in support of Livingston Neighbors Helping Neighbors (LNHN), which works with nearly 60 local families in need of food and financial assistance, raised more than $25,000 for the organization while also bringing joy to thousands of people who have viewed the event.
“Livingston Sings!” was designed by the husband-and-wife team of Robert Allen and Holli Ehrlich, founders of New Media Connection, in coordination with fellow Livingston residents Neeli Margolis, Martha Ackermann, Alan Karpas and Brian Bradley. Featuring appearances from 14 musicians, Gov. Phil Murphy, township and school officials, local faith leaders and well-known Livingston alumni such as “Seinfeld” star Jason Alexander and “Modern Family” Executive Producer Danny Zuker, the live event provided “an evening of music, inspiration and togetherness at a time when everyone needed a smile.”
Described by LNHN President Stacey Rubinstein as “a complete labor of love,” the event not only raised much-needed funds to help LNHN support the dozens of local families that it already serves, but also spread awareness about LNHN so that the organization can reach even more families in need.
“The Livingston Sings! event was incredible in every way,” said Rubinstein. “The evening showcased so much Livingston talent and truly made us all smile during a time when that is needed. With the event raising more than $25,000, which is a tremendous number for our organization, it represented Livingston's generosity at its finest. The event also helped spread awareness about LNHN, and we have already seen that awareness translate into referrals.”
Since the event, three new Livingston families have contacted LNHN for assistance and were connected with Livingston Township Social Worker Ana Millan, who screened the families to confirm their need and review the existing resources that may be available, such as state assistance, food stamps and utility reduction programs. According to Rubinstein, two of those families qualified and have received assistance through LNHN.
“We also had some families and seniors connect with the social worker prior to the event, and we are certain that the publicity around the event helped with that,” she said. “The awareness is so important because people can only get help from us if they are aware that LNHN exists.”
LNHN, which also manages the CHOW food pantry, has now worked with 58 Livingston families since being established in 2016.
After seeing early on that families using the food pantry often had emergency financial needs, LNHN established an emergency fund that is designed to “provide emergency assistance as long as it was short-term in nature rather than an ongoing need,” according to Rubinstein.
Prior to the current health crisis, LNHN had made 33 emergency grants over the last few years. In the last few weeks, that number has jumped to 39 as a direct result of COVID-19.
Recent grants presented to three different residents who lost their jobs due to COVID-19 included a rent payment; a utility payment to prevent utilities from being shut; and a water bill payment that prevented a lien from being placed on a home that is being sold. According to Rubinstein, those three residents have been connected to additional state assistance for help with future bills.
Since the start of the outbreak, LNHN has also delivered non-perishable and perishable items such as milk, eggs and English muffins to all LNHN families.
The heightened need has caused LNHN to make a plea for community support, and the response has “exceeded [the organization’s] wildest expectations,” Rubinstein said.
“Livingston is an incredibly generous community, and LNHN and its CHOW pantry—which is 100-percent funded through donations—is only able to do what it can because Livingston's generosity makes it possible,” said Rubinstein.
That generosity was evident from the hundreds of community members who donated following the three-hour Livingston Sings! event, which had nearly 800 people watching the event live and has since had nearly 18,000 viewers from nine states as well as Europe, more than 100 shares on Facebook and thousands of comments, according to Allen.
Allen, who produced and hosted the event alongside his wife, noted that the number of viewers is likely even higher than reported on Facebook, as many viewers commented that they were watching along with family members.
"The event exceeded our expectations at every juncture, whether it was how much money I thought we would raise, how many people would watch or the impact of it,” he said. “We were all apart, but we were all connected…After 9/11, there was a palpable feeling in the community that people were there for each other, and people have commented that there has been that same feeling of community from this. That's what we wanted to happen; that's what we were trying to conjure up."
Allen said that after the overwhelming feeling of support set in, he realized he shouldn’t have been too surprised, as this level of generosity and community-minded spirit is “something you see all the time in Livingston at town-wide events and celebrations.”
"I have to say a big thank you to everybody, no matter what part they took in this,” said Ehrlich. “To me, this was community at its best. I do believe, and I will shout it from the rooftops, that we are stronger together, we are better together, and we need to be there for each other. It really gave Robert and me great joy to be part of something that was such an emotional experience."
Among those that the couple thanked were resident and Essex County Freeholder Patricia Sebold, who helped recruit the governor to share a message during the event, as well as Margolis and Ackermann, who were able to pull together an impressive cast of performers in less than two weeks.
In addition to the appearances from Zuker and Alexander, the event also included performances from Livingston High School (LHS) Class of 2014 graduate Jared Goldsmith, who is currently playing the role of Jared Kleinman in “Dear Evan Hansen” on Broadway, and several other musicians—more than half of whom were Livingston graduates or faculty members.
Additional cast members included Brian Bradley, Cris Colicchio (LHS 1976), Kimberly Egipciaco (teacher at Heritage Middle School), Bailey Grey (LHS 2017), Lee Scott Howard (1977), Livingston Leo (1982), Matthew Lahm (1989), Brian Maloof (LHS 1993), Jennifer Raz (LHS 1991), Megan Rossilli (LHS Class of 2020), Joshua Salzman (LHS 1998 and LHS Choral Director), Kelly Schultz and Jeff Sternstein.
Allen and Ehrlich also thanked local officials such as Mayor Rudy Fernandez, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Matthew Block and Police Chief Gary Marshuetz for addressing the community in between performances.
"People like to see and hear from their town officials,” said Allen. “We're used to having our leadership in town be front and center all the time, and that needs to continue to happen because it brings a level of comfort to the community. Livingston’s leadership is a part of who we are, and that needed to be a part of this event.”
Ehrlich added that selecting LNHN as the benefactor “was a key component from the beginning.”
Noting that the donation page went live a week before the event, the couple stated that $6,000 had already been raised by the time the first note was played and that the total had increased to $23,000 toward the end of the event. At that point, Allen and Ehrlich promised an encore performance from Alexander if they hit $25,000, and a generous donation from Livingston Kiwanis ultimately helped surpass that goal.
Shortly after the event, LNHN reported that at least 75 percent of those who donated were brand-new donors, proving that Livingston Sings! helped generate awareness within the community about an organization that these donors may not have known about before, according to Ehrlich.
“We probably would never have gotten the support that we did had this not been as hyper-focused on Livingston as it was,” said Allen. "People like to give, but they also like to give knowing where their money is being used. When you give to LNHN, you know exactly who you're helping. Just look out the window—it could be the person who lives across the street from you.
“You know that you're directly helping someone in need and that it's someone in town, and I think that's really important to people…It just goes to show that the whole saying that ‘charity begins at home’ has never been more true. We have to think about those closest to us first right now, and we'll get to the rest of the world a little bit later.”
Ehrlich added that it has been extremely rewarding to hear about the letters LNHN has received in appreciation of the organization since the event, as those messages of gratitude have demonstrated the direct impact of the funds raised through Livingston Sings!
"Holli and I like to leave a mark in everything we do, and we like to leave a lasting impression, whether it's physical or emotional,” said Allen. “I think people need to go through life and leave a mark so that people can look back at the good, and that's how we live our life. All I can say is, watch for what we are doing next, because now we are looking to top this."
CLICK HERE to watch a replay of the Livingston Sings! event.
According to Rubinstein, the best way to support LNHN at this time is by making monetary donations toward the emergency fund BY CLICKING HERE.
Although the typical drop-off sites for LNHN are currently closed due to safety concerns, some residents have coordinated shipments of supplies by contacting the organization via Facebook or at LNHN07039@gmail.com.
Residents in need can also contact the township social worker directly at 973-535-7961 ext. 231 or email@example.com.