BRIDGEWATER, NJ – There was a pause in Sunday’s celebration of Irish music and dance to acknowledge the charitable work of two Hillsborough women who help their husbands and the Ancient Order of Hibernians St. Patrick’s Division 1, Somerset County help their less fortunate neighbors at Thanksgiving and Easter.
Grace Burns and Eileen Esposito were awarded plaques for their “Outstanding Service” at the Hibernians’ annual picnic held at the Eagles Aerie off Route 28 on Woodside Lane.
Hundreds of Hibernians, family members and guests camped out at picnic tables beneath the shade of huge oak trees adjacent to the pavilion where the Willie Lynch Trio performed traditional Irish music.
The annual event is a celebration of Irish traditions and culture, bringing hundreds of families of Irish heritage together.
Irish dancers from the Lynn Academy in Hillsborough also performed, as did the Pipes and Drums of St. Ann’s of Hampton.
The women help their husbands – Tom Burns and Dan Esposito – and other Hibernians collect and distribute Thanksgiving turkeys and more recently, Easter hams with all the trimmings to families in Somerset and Hunterdon counties.
Their daughters, Rosie Burns and Bridget Esposito, are students at the Lynn Academy.
Burns and Esposito organize and supervise the annual food collections.
“That’s how I got involved, just wanting to help my husband,” Grace Burns said.
Last Thanksgiving, the Hibernians distributed close to 100 turkey dinners with all the trimmings and this past “Easter Hamgiving” delivered 50 Easter dinners.
“Grace and I get the word out to everyone doing the food shopping, we send out e-mail blasts and tell people we’ll find their turkey a good home for Thanksgiving,” Eileen Esposito said.
The Monday before Thanksgiving is when the two women help to organize the packing of each turkey in a basket, with vegetables, pie filling and cranberry sauce. The collection and assembly line comes together again on Good Friday, in time for Easter Sunday.
The packing is done at the Knights of Columbus hall in Somerville; the Thanksgiving and Easter projects are a joint venture with the KoC.
Once the gift packages are ready to go, Hibernians and members of the Knights volunteer to make deliveries to several different social welfare agencies and churches in central New Jersey.
The Hibernians have a small budget to ensure there is enough food to meet the demand each year, but donations are accepted, according to Eileen Esposito.
“If we know of a family going through hard times, we make sure we get to them,” she said.