LIVINGSTON, NJ - On Thur. May 23, Livingston’s second annual Stuff the Bus made its rounds to collect for C.H.O.W. (Community Hunger Outreach Warehouse) in honor of Livingston’s Youth Appreciation Week. The food collected is now available to those accessing C.H.O.W. services and will also be distributed to local food pantries and soup kitchens in the area, including Interfaith Food Pantry, Apostle House, Mother Theresa’s and Oheb Shalom Bobrow Kosher Food Pantry. The bus stopped at participating Livingston public schools, the JCC preschool in West Orange and several other schools in the area.

According to Alan Karpas, who runs Livingston’s Youth Appreciation Week, the Livingston Stuff the Bus event was born in 2012 out of a conversation at a meeting where someone said that since we offer the Family Festival for free, it would be nice to ask people to bring canned items to the event.

Chris Bickel, the K-12 Social Studies Supervisor who was at that meeting added that he had heard of other towns doing “Stuff the Bus.”

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“I agreed to think about it,” said Karpas. “And then I met Stacey Rubinstein, who Chairs C.H.O.W, at a Board Meeting where she was giving a report on food pantries.”

“I didn’t know how to do a food drive, and I asked her if she would chair one for us and she agreed,” he said.

“The first Stuff the Bus was so successful that we did another one in August that year for National Night Out,”  Karpas said. “Then we did one for Ventnor, NJ, after Hurricane Sandy. That was one of the most emotional days of my life. We pulled in with two 'stuffed' busses full of food and clothes, and the people there, who had lost everything, stood up and applauded.”

“Now, Stuff the Bus is an annual Youth Appreciation Week activity," said Karpas. “We are also in conversations to do a collection for Oklahoma.”

The Results

According to Stacey Rubinstein, CHOW’s shelves were nearly empty, so the timing for the Stuff the Bus was perfect. On Thursday, the bus stopped at participating Livingston public schools, including Harrison, Riker Hill, Burnet Hill, Mount Pleasant Middle School, Heritage Middle School and Livingston High School as well as the JCC preschool in West Orange.  Harrison started off the day and kids carried many food items onto the bus. Burnet Hill presented the Stuff the Bus with $1,200, which had been raised the day before in a school walk-a-thon for CHOW.  The funds raised will be used over the next few months to purchase fresh produce, eggs, milk and poultry.  Heritage Middle School collected many items through the school’s Kindness Kitchen, which also planned to visit CHOW so the students could see the pantry for themselves.  And at Mount Pleasant Middle School, school teams completed with the winning section of classes collecting over 400 items.  In total over 1,000 items were collected by students.

The JCC preschool was new to Stuff the Bus this year and participated on Thursday.  “The 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds put item after item onto the bus with huge smiles and lots of excitement.  The kids and teachers were thrilled to have a hands-on learning experience in making mitzvahs,” said Stacey Rubinstein, a Stuff the Bus organizer. 

Stacey also spent some time speaking to the classes about where the food was going and why their generosity was so important. Rubinstein said that she was thrilled to see the JCC preschool achieve so much success with their food drive, “CHOW is grateful that the preschool’s community of children, parents and teachers care so much about helping others.  It is our hope that this experience is a lasting one and excites kids to think philanthropically as they continue on in life.” 

On Saturday, the bus made some stops before arriving at the Oval for youth appreciation.  Also, new to the event, the Crossing Church of Livingston organized a whole morning around the bus arriving at their congregation.  Director of Children's Ministry, Lee Nearpass set up a breakfast and organized games for the kids to play while waiting for the bus to arrive.  Member Lynn Tucci worked with Shop Rite to have $20 pre-filled bags made for members to purchase right at church on Sunday mornings leading up to the event.  

Pastor Tim Chicola of the Crossing Church shared his thoughts about Stuff the Buss.  "The theme of serving and helping the poor, and extending mercy to those in need is sprinkled throughout the Old and New Testaments. Acts of charity and care for the poor were not suggestions given by God to his people, but commands for those who understand how merciful God has been to them.  Instinctively we think of those needing help living in far off places, but sometimes they are right in our backyard.  Stuff The Bus was just one way that we at The Crossing Church felt that we could in a small way, help those who right now, cannot help themselves."

“We were thrilled that the Crossing Church asked to be a stop on the route. It was amazing to see members organize into a long assembly line and just load bag after bag of healthy food items onto the bus. Children as young as two years old helped out and it was obvious that a lot of planning had gone into the day and that the event was supported by many in the congregation.  What an astounding success and a real display of community service and community building,” Rubinstein said.

The bus also stopped at Spencer Ashkinazy’s home, where many gluten-free items were loaded onto the bus after Spencer, who has celiac disease, organized a gluten free collection in honor of his bar mitzvah. Spencer was able to work with Kings which allowed him to run a food drive at the store.  He also ran one at his temple, B’nai Jeshrun. 

“This is the true meaning of becoming a Bar Mitzvah," said Spencer’s mom, Marni Askinazy. “I am so proud.  What a great way to bring awareness to C.H.O.W. and to help C.H.O.W. create a gluten-free resource for those in need.”

She added, “I am so grateful to Harrison School for collecting so many healthy food items, including gluten free ones, in honor of my son Spencer Askinazy’s Bar Mitzvah, for Stuff the Bus. Spencer has one fantastic sister who encouraged her Harrison classmates to ‘wow’ us.”

“Spencer had a special purpose for bringing awareness to the need for some people to eat gluten-free foods,” said Rubinstein. “Eating gluten free can be expensive, especially for people who are having trouble making ends meet and Sister Barbara was excited to be able to tell other pantries that we have these types of foods available for those who need them.”

In honor of its first anniversary at the expanded store, Kings presented CHOW with $1,000 in gift cards which will also be used over the next few months to purchase fresh produce, eggs, milk and poultry. Sister Barbara Howard, who runs CHOW, accepted the gift cards and praised Kings for always being there to help CHOW and for continually serving as a wonderful community partner.

Livingston C.H.O.W. (Community Hunger Outreach Warehouse) is an inter-faith project of the Livingston Clergy Association. C.H.O.W., which was started in 2008, serves as a resource for both those who wish to share what they have and for those who are struggling to make ends meet. Supported by many Livingston houses of worship, C.H.O.W. is an inter-faith ministry of the Livingston Clergy Association. It is housed at St. Philomena's Church and run by Sister Barbara Howard. C.H.O.W. is open to local residents of all faiths, on a drop-in basis. Anyone interested may contact Sister Barbara at (973) 992-1382 for additional information.

For those who are looking to give, the following is a list of non-perishable items needed: canned tuna, peanut butter, napkins, toilet tissue, paper towels, breakfast cereal, condiments, canned beans, dried beans, pasta, white or brown rice, pasta sauces, macaroni and cheese, powdered milk, canned fruit, canned vegetables, baby food, jelly and jam. Items should not be expired. Healthy items are appreciated. Donations can be dropped off at St. Philomena's Church, in the main building (a collection area is on the right by the main entrance- inside the building) or at many collection areas throughout town. For more information and pictures, see the C.H.O.W Facebook page.

Rubinstein, who also manages the C.H.O.W Facebook page said, “I love C.H.O.W. so much because I believe that everyone should have access to food—it is a basic necessity.”  She added, “There are so many children in our country who don’t know where their next meal will come from. They need to be able access food privately with dignity.”

Rubinstein said, “Parents should explain to their children that although Livingston is an affluent town, there are still people who may struggle.  People may have lost their jobs or had an emergency, and they may need help. It is good to let children know that there is a food pantry available in town for them to donate to and for those in need.  And this pantry also helps those in surrounding towns."

“Sometimes it is hard in this community to ask for help,” said Rubinstein. “It is important for people to know that the pantry is here and available to Livingston families in need.  People just need to make an appointment with Sister Barbara to visit the pantry, and those visits are confidential. Hunger has no boundaries.”

“There was a recent article on NJ.Com that said that NJ families are worse off than ever and it mentioned that the St. Ann’s Pantry in Newark was almost bare, said Rubinstein.”  I was so glad to hear, today, that someone from there was at C.H.O.W. collecting food for that pantry.”