LIVINGSTON, NJ — Nick Santinelli, a Livingston resident whose name has become increasingly prominent in the area as he continues to dedicate his retirement to community service, has been selected as the recipient of the UNICO National 2021 Joseph P. Cianci Humanitarian Award.
Presented to a single member nationwide each year during a special meeting to be held in July, this prestigious award recognizes Santinelli for his “exceptional dedication and service to mankind.”
Many Livingston community members sang their praises of Santinelli upon this recent announcement—all agreeing with Mayor Shawn Klein’s assessment that the 39-year resident is “a paragon of selflessness and charity” as well as Livingston UNICO member Matt Ladolcetta’s declaration that he is “a true and loyal friend to all who know him.”
“For as long as anyone can remember, Nick has been dedicated on a practically 24-hour basis to feeding the poor,” said Klein. “His work takes many forms, but I marvel at stories of Nick arriving at the end of a night to pick up uneaten food at a party or event to bring it to the hungry. He is a Livingston institution and makes the entire community proud.”
Santinelli has most recently been described as “the muscle and the heart” behind the Livingston Neighbors Helping Neighbors (LNHN) initiative to collect and deliver food donations to various pantries in Newark.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Santinelli has spent countless hours driving to and from Newark on behalf of LNHN, which oversees the Community Hunger Outreach Warehouse (CHOW) food pantry, and others to ensure that more hungry people received food than ever before.
With support from his wife, Lucille, and daughter, Theresa, Santinelli said he currently spends about 10 hours a day driving to and from Newark with a van full of excess food from CHOW as well as donations from various township organizations, individual residents, local supermarkets and restaurants.
“The board of education, several towns and office buildings let me know when they have leftovers so I can bring it to food-insecure individuals,” said Santinelli, who has delivered more than 25,000 sandwiches over the last year alone. “I make 10-to-12 stops daily and log 400-to-500 miles in my car each week.”
Although Santinelli was shocked to hear that he would be receiving the national award, LNHN President Stacey Rubinstein asserted that there is "no one more deserving.”
“While our organization’s primary focus has been to serve Livingston residents in need, Nick has allowed LNHN to expand its impact and share food beyond our community,” she said, adding that hunger has no borders. “People love being able to make food and know that it will be eaten by someone in great need. He just makes it so easy for people to help.”
According to Rubinstein, LNHN rarely goes a day without arranging a pickup from the pantry, where a table marked for Santinelli is filled with excess food and often delivered to Newark the same day.
“Not only is Nick incredibly dedicated to feeding those in need, but he is also a great friend,” said Rubinstein. “We joke that if a day goes by that we don’t talk to coordinate a food pick up, it feels wrong.”
Santinelli began volunteering for CHOW in 2008 after retiring from his 32-year career as an operations manager at Waste Management Company. He noted that his 15-hour work day was good training for his retirement job, where he receives daily calls and texts from residents asking him to pick up leftover food from gatherings in addition to his regular donors.
He also mentioned that his regular donors include business from outside of Livingston, such as Sonny’s Bagels in South Orange, Sorrento Bakery in East Hanover, Rezza Trattoria in Roseland and more. Local businesses such as Ike’s Bagel Café, ShopRite and Kings also contribute regularly.
Ladolcetta explained that Santinelli will go anywhere to pick up food and has even trekked as far as the Meadowlands for donations because he knows there are so many people in need. Although the Newark native delivers to his home city most often, Santinelli also makes trips to pantries in Irvington, Orange and Morristown whenever possible.
“No matter how much food I bring, they need more due to people losing their jobs during the pandemic,” said Santinelli, whose morning begins as early as 5 a.m., when he retrieves food from the Knights of Columbus refrigerator and notices the line starting to form well before the 6:30 a.m. start time for breakfast.
As a 20-year member and former chapter president of Livingston UNICO, Santinelli has received two previous awards from the organization, including “UNICAN of the Year” and “Citizen of the Year.”
In addition to his service to LNHN and Livingston UNICO, Santinelli has also previously partnered with Livingston Philanthropies Inc. and is a member of the Livingston Kiwanis Club, Knights of Columbus Our Lady of the Mountains Council 3533 and American Legion Post 201.
Over the last three decades, he has occupied several board positions for Knights of Columbus and has participated in all fundraising activities, including managing the annual Developmentally Disabled Citizens Drive for several years. Santinelli has received the Knight of the Year Award as well as the local council Humanitarian award for his service to this group.
In 2020, Santinelli was presented with the “Four Chaplains Award” by the American Legion, where he has been a member for about a decade and currently serves as Sergeant at Arms.
Since moving to Livingston, Santinelli has also been a parishioner at St. Philomena Roman Catholic Church, where he helped manage the former CHOW site.
“I’ve done well in life, so I want to give back,” said Santinelli.
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