BASKING RIDGE, NJ - Rod Hirsch, founder and executive director of Operation Shoebox New Jersey, was one of six honorees at the annual Boy Scouts of America Patriots’ Path Council Toast to Scouting Awards Dinner held at the Olde Mill Inn in Basking Ridge Nov. 21st.

The other honorees were Frank DelCore, Maryjane Hydro, John Kitchen, Anthony Raffino, and Neil Van Cleef.

The event recognized the recipients for their community service, as evidenced by their leadership and interests within the community, and for their embodiment of the values of the century old Scout Oath and Law in their personal and professional lives.

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The event chairman was state Sen. Kip Bateman, R-16th.

Hirsch founded Operation Shoebox New Jersey in February, 2005. It is a broad-based volunteer organization based in Hillsborough that solicits donations and financial support from the community to help send personal care packages to US troops deployed around the world. The organization and thousands of volunteers throughout New Jersey have packed and shipped over 165,000 personal care packages overseas.

Operation Shoebox New Jersey will commemorate its 15th year of service to US military personnel deployed around the world in 2020.

Hirsch is the former executive editor of The Messenger-Gazette and Reporter newspapers in Somerville and spent 30 years at the Home News Tribune as reporter, news editor and assistant managing editor. Today he is the owner and editor of the TAPinto Hillsborough and TAPinto Somerville online news sites and an assistant professor of Journalism at Rider University.

Hirsch earned his Eagle Scout badge in 1970.

Somerset County Freeholder Brian Gallagher, the former mayor of Somerville, introduced Hirsch:

"So for about 20 years now I have been the topic of headlines and news articles written by Rod Hirsch, well Rod it’s payback time...it is my turn!

"I can tell you that Rod is an old fashioned journalist who values real journalism, building trust, obtaining facts for a story - not opinion, and relishes the positive human interest story. And when you go off the record...it is held off the record!

"But most everyone knows Rod as the Operation Shoebox guy...or that guy over there with the beard!!

"Operation Shoebox New Jersey, sends personal care packages to US troops deployed in locations all over the world.

"Founded in February, 2005, the organization has mobilized thousands of volunteers throughout New Jersey . . . Rod has brought together county agencies, local businesses, global corporations, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, public and private schools, civic and veterans’ organizations, houses of worship, families and individuals across New Jersey, all working towards bringing a bit of comfort and support to our men and women in the military.

"People from all walks of life volunteer time, money, and materials to be a part of something that is wonderful, and it is because of Rod’s vision, caring for community, and never ending level of energy. Rod makes people feel fantastic when they are doing good things for our troops.

"Scout spirit is an attitude that Scouts around the world are supposed to show, based on adherence to the ideals of Scouting. Scouting's founder, Robert Baden Powell, once said, "The spirit is there in every boy; it has to be discovered and brought to light."

"So 50 years ago, in 1969, a young boy from Merrick, NY, was earning his Eagle Scout badge. He had friends who had shipped out to Vietnam, and he wanted to support them.... so as his service project,  he organized a supply line of care packages that were then sent to his friends and other American troops in Vietnam....that young Eagle Scout was Rod Hirsch.

"Thirty-six years later Operation Shoebox New Jersey was begun...this is Rod continuing the ideals of Scouting which he learned in his younger years."

Frank DelCore is a 5-time Mayor of Hillsborough Township and has been a member of the Township Committee for the past 12 years.  Mayor DelCore also served on numerous local boards and commissions including the Hillsborough Township Planning Board, Parks and Recreation Commission, Sustainable Hillsborough Commission and the Open Space Committee. He is a Corporate Real Estate and Finance professional having served in several senior leadership roles within the telecommunications and banking industries. 

Mayjane Hydro is the Executive Vice President at New Jersey Risk Managers & Consultants. In working alongside the President with regard to such decisions, she has supported numerous organizations, in addition to her personal time and resources dedicated to such worthy causes, including: Somerset County 200 Club, Somerset County Business Partnership Women in Business, Somerset County Governing Officials Association, Somerset County Park Foundation, Adult Day Center of Somerset County, and Raritan Valley College Foundation.

John Kitchen was involved in the Branchburg Township Committee from 1977 to 1982, and became Mayor of the township in 1978 and 1982. He went on to become a Somerset County Freeholder in 1983, where he started the Somerset County Recycling Program. He also served as Freeholder Director and was on the New Jersey State Planning Commission from 1988 to 2004.  He the co-founder and chairman of the Board of Somerset Valley Bank; president of Title Central Agency; and a member of the Somerset County Park Commission. Kitchen is still active in the community as a member of the Somerset County Improvement Authority; chairman of the Somerset County Park Foundation; and president of the Somerset County 200 Club, where he has served as a Trustee since 1991.

Anthony (Tony) Raffino is Assistant Vice President at RWJ Barnabas Health-Mobile Health. Raffino is tasked with streamlining and unifying RWJ Barnabas system wide operations, clinical practices, dispatch initiatives and strategic growth. He is responsible for logistics and efficient implementation of emergency services as well as achieving national accreditation standards for EMS. A paramedic by trade, Raffino has additionally overseen all aspects of EMS including: EMS Operations, Dispatch, Training Centers, SCTU, Clinical, Air Medical Program, Mobile Integrated Health as well as Community Relations and Business Development. 

Neil Van Cleef founded Van Cleef Engineering Associates (VCEA) in 1972. Under his leadership, the firm has grown to 12 offices throughout New Jersey, eastern Pennsylvania, and Delaware with more than 190 employees. VCEA is consistently ranked as one of the top engineering firms in New Jersey. Neil has served as a Director of the MidAtlantic Chapter of AAA, and on the boards of Team Capital and Montgomery National Bank.  In addition, Van Cleef has provided strong support to many local organizations, including the Boys Scouts, the Adult Day Care Center, Steeplechase Medical Center, Hillsborough Raiders, Hunterdon Medical Center, Raritan Recreation, Raritan Valley Community College, Resource Center of Somerset, Somerset County 4H Association, Rotary Club of Hillsborough, Project Graduation, and the Hillsborough Baseball League. 

Boy Scouts of America is dedicated to building character, providing training in the duties of citizenship and, in so doing, building a more conscientious, responsible, and productive society.  This year’s honorees embody that very same dedication.  By demonstrating, time and again, exemplary leadership, model citizenship, and steadfast commitment to the community, each of the six honorees reflects perfectly all that Boy Scouts of America represents.

The Boy Scouts of America, Patriots’ Path Council serves more than 16,000 youth in over 400 Scouting units in communities like ours throughout Morris, Middlesex, Somerset, Sussex, and Union Counties.