BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ – Taking part in SAGE Eldercare’s “March for Meals” reminded local officials of the number of elderly people who are isolated and living alone.

During the Tuesday, April 3, council meeting Council President Jeanne Kingsley and Mayor Bob Woodruff both spoke about how their experience of delivering Meals on Wheels caused them to think about the township residents who are elderly and alone, and how to help them.

Kingsley said the experience reminded her how “it’s really important that people pay attention to their elderly neighbors. We have a good amount of people in Berkeley Heights, who are still living in their houses,” and are senior citizens. “There is nobody (working) within the town who can check up on everybody,” especially in bad weather, she said. As a start, she suggested neighbors check in with their elderly neighbors and exchange phone numbers, so if there is bad weather or other problems arise they can check in with each other.

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Woodruff said he has asked officials with Meals on Wheels if it would be possible for the township to get information on those receiving the meal delivery service in town who might be especially vulnerable in the event of bad weather. He thought there could be between 30 and 40 elderly people who live alone in town and he would like to see if some people in town could volunteer to help their actual neighbors.

Kingsley said she had already spoken with Meals on Wheels Volunteer Coordinator Amy Stuart about the possibility of working with the “cadets at the Rescue Squad,” to perhaps create an “adopt a senior” program.

Woodruff said he thought that program would be “a good thing for all involved,” and welcomed anyone in the audience or watching the meeting on the web to help out.  

In a change of subject, Woodruff held up a clipping from the Star-Ledger about “Victoria Vanriele, who continues to just break record after record. We honored her last year, halfway through her freshman year,” he said. She had been named “Athlete of the Year” by the Star-Ledger.

He recalled that when her freshman year ended, “she had compiled all sorts of awards and I said, ‘We could probably do this on a seasonal basis with Victoria.’ I’ll wait.” The mayor knows Vanriele, having taught her in eighth grade confirmation class, and he said he knew she was special then. “Some of you who follow sports may recall the young female athlete from Union Catholic who is a phenomenal track star. I think we are going to see Victoria” do the same thing in the coming years, he said. “I saw her mom at church and told her, ‘We’re not ignoring her, we just don’t know where to plug in.’”

What he does know is, “At the conclusion of her career, we (the council) will take whatever steps we think are appropriate. It may take more than one document – We’re all proud of her,” the mayor concluded.

In other news from the council meeting:

Berkeley Heights Walks had its first walk two weeks ago and “It was very successful,” said Kingsley. Between 15 and 17 bags of garbage were collected. The next walk will be on a weekend, Saturday, April 21, and the group will meet at 10 a.m. at the train station. Everyone is welcome to come walk and help clean up the township – remember to bring gloves. Garbage bags will be provided or, bring your own. 

A tub grinder will be rented by the township to help dispose of the branches and other debris collected by the DPW after the winter storms. The numerous piles of brush are more than 20 feet high, said Township Administrator John Bussiculo. It should take about three days for them to be “all ground up,” at a cost of $4,500 a day. The mulch from the grinding will be used around the town and, if there is any left over, could be sold to residents, he said.

A township-owned home at 23 Horseshoe Road, at the corner of Mountain Avenue, adjacent to the Littel-Lord home has been deemed unsafe and the tenant must move out. The tenant reported the floors were sloping, so the township engineer investigated and discovered the supporting rafters are “either split or have bellies on them.” The damage is the result of the rafters having been placed directly on the dirt – there is no basement on this structure. Estimates to repair the damaged rafters and foundation, were in excess of $100,000, said Bussiculo.  

The tenant, who has lived there 18 years, has been told she must vacate the home. The township has met with the tenant and she has agreed to vacate the home by June 1, three months from when the property was deemed to be no longer safe for occupancy. If she is out by June 1, the township will waive any rent due and owing from that three-month period. The township is assisting the tenant with finding a new home within the township.  Bussiculo said, “We all feel terrible, she has been there eighteen years.”

Progress on the Community Garden continues. Chairman of the Environmental Commission Richard Leister has asked the township to place a resolution on the agenda authorizing the establishment of a community garden at the Littel-Lord Farmstead. The council had previously approved the location but not passed a resolution.

The garden will not have a nearby water supply, being quite far from the Littel-Lord Farmstead. There is a $1,500 grant available which will help facilitate making water available at the garden, but before the commission can apply for the grant, there must be an approved resolution on the books.  The deadline to apply for the grant is April 23.

To help the commission meet the deadline, Kingsley suggested the commission could make a presentation on the Community Garden at the beginning of the special meeting on the budget on March 10. The council could then place the resolution on the agenda of its March 17 meeting. 

To find out about the plans for the community garden and more about the budget, members may attend the special meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 10, at Town Hall, 29 Park Ave.