ELIZABETH, NJ - Thousands of restaurants have closed for good because of the coronavirus shutdown, but one New Jersey nonprofit agency is a buoy for Union County area restaurants, making over $15,000 in food orders thus far during the crisis.

The food orders are part of the CAU Challenge, an initiative to help keep Community Access Unlimited members engaged and active with enriching activities at home while our normal lives are interrupted by quarantine. CAU is a statewide nonprofit that strives to integrate people with disabilities and at-risk youth into the general community through comprehensive supports.

Each week, CAU provides challenges to over 350 members being served in 60 residential programs. Past challenges have included creating a song and poem, making a craft with recycled objects and participating in a Zoom scavenger hunt. The winning program gets to cash in a $250 prize from CAU for a deluxe takeout meal. 

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“Honestly the challenges have been lifting all the members and staff’s spirits up and they definitely look forward to winning because then we can ‘dine out,’” said Shaquita Cook, a residential program director at CAU. She named Algarve in Elizabeth as one restaurant everyone enjoys. 

“It makes a difference, it’s a good program to be a part of,” said Greg Ocello, owner of Old Glory restaurant in New Providence, which CAU has also supported. “We have had people in the community buying gift cards to support us as well.”

The challenge is a true win-win for the well-being of people with disabilities and youth at risk in the community and the restaurants they enjoy. CAU would like to continue to hold the challenge throughout coronavirus restrictions and is asking for support from the community to do so. Donations can be made on Facebook, and on the agency’s website. Art supplies, educational activity items, and tech such as tablets will also help members continue to enjoy the challenge.

CAU member Peggy Knouse said she enjoys working with her hands on the CAU challenges and has made a mask and a necklace with her program. 

“Anything I can do to keep busy,” she said. “And we like ordering the food.” 

Member Berta Ramirez said she has been struggling with missing her family, friends and boyfriend at home, but she is keeping herself relaxed by talking to them on the phone and participating in the challenges. 

“I do my own nails and I do art,” she said. “We won the bingo challenge and got a nice meal out of it.”