LIVINGSTON, NJ — Local teen Andrew Laveman and his mother, Robyn, have become valued volunteers for the Community Hunger Outreach Warehouse (CHOW) food pantry, a project of Livingston Neighbors Helping Neighbors (LNHN).

When he recently became a Bar Mitzvah in front of friends and family, Andrew spoke about hunger and needs in the Livingston community that he has seen firsthand through his work with the CHOW pantry.

"I didn't believe my mom at first when she told me people in our community needed help and didn't always have enough to eat, but I have since learned it is true,” he said. “Since I love to cook and help others, this was a great way to do both and meet a need."

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In addition to baking for an elderly woman in town who received emergency financial assistance through LNHN to keep on her utilities and currently receives food pantry assistance, Andrew has also helped the woman prepare her pantry deliveries. 

Earlier this year, Andrew also make Valentine’s Day bags for all children served through CHOW as a special treat and has also previously held a lemonade stand to raise money for the pantry.

With money earned through his Bar Mitzvah in March, Andrew purchased $300 in grocery gift cards and kids snacks for CHOW and also collected kids snacks throughout the month.

“I think it is important for everyone to have access to food, and I want kids in my community to be able to enjoy snacks just like I do,” he said. “I have enjoyed working with CHOW, as it feels really good to help others and give back since I realize I have so much.”

According to LNHN board member Stacey Rubinstein, there are currently 29 kids in Livingston who are being served through CHOW. Stating that “being able to enjoy snacks is part of being a kid,” Rubinstein said she appreciates community members like Andrew who donate snacks and other non-perishable items to the pantry.

After working with Andrew and his mother over the last year, Rubinstein said she was impressed with his desire to help. 

“What was great about working with Andrew is that you could tell he felt very strongly that no kid should go hungry in our community and this was a long term volunteer relationship,” she said. “In the past, he had raised money for CHOW and had gone shopping for the pantry with funds raised. His picking out food for the pantry with his mom had started a discussion. 

“He spoke with me when visiting the pantry to deliver his food and you could tell he was amazed that kids didn’t have access to food, something he admittedly took for granted as all kids should. It was wonderful to see his knowledge and commitment to food insecurity increase over time and his selecting our organization to receive support in honor of his bar mitzvah is a real honor for us.”

LNHN, which supports township residents struggling with unexpected financial hardship, has helped 41 Livingston families to date with fresh produce, clothing, grocery gift cards, household supplies, emergency assistance and non-perishables through the CHOW pantry. 

LHNH has also provided 17 emergency assistance grants. Most recently, LNHN paid to keep a family with children’s utilities from being shut off, according to Rubinstein.

She noted that families are screened by the township social worker to confirm their needs and to see about existing assistance programs that they may qualify for in order to maximize resources by not duplicating aid.

LNHN has also served as a vehicle for kids like Andrew to learn about community and giving back.  

Livingston High School students Jamie Mager, Alex Liebman and Charlie Seid are among those who work to bring kindness into their community through service projects. In addition to hosting a kid snacks drive as well as a collection for winter coats and prom dresses, the teens recently selected LNHN’s CHOW pantry as the beneficiary of their recent collection through the "Kreating Kindness" initiative.

“Food is something we taken for granted, and we were sad to learn that there are children in our community who don’t have the same access to food as we do. It meant a lot to us to be able to help kids in our own town,” said Liebman. “It was also meaningful because something like cookies or granola bars can really make a kid feel like a kid.”

Kids are also getting involved at younger ages, such as a group of 7 and 8 year olds from Livingston are currently working to give back to their community. The five girls currently get together on a weekly basis for "Bake & Bond," where they connect as friends and learn about baking. They recently donated chocolate chip banana bread to CHOW.

“Some were enjoyed by our local families and some extras were delivered to the homeless in Newark,” said Rebecca Lederman, LNHN board member. “These girls are spending time together as friends while also learning to give back to their community. It is a win-win all around.”

The girls have also baked cookies and made other sweets for LNHN’s CHOW and they have been enjoyed by all who have received them.

Additionally, Livingston’s Ryan Greenberg cooked meals for LNHN families last year after appearing on an episode of “Chopped Junior,” and recently volunteered again to make a chicken parmesan and pasta dish for a LNHN family.

“It is wonderful to not only see a teen with such a passion for cooking but also see him have a strong commitment to community,” said board member Martha Ackermann. “LNHN is so lucky to have volunteers with such big hearts and having cooking skills and interest at such a youg age is also very much respected."

Kids have also helped CHOW through local collections at schools including Mount Pleasant Middle School, Burnet Hill, Harrison Elementary and The JCC MetroWest Preschool.

According to Lederman, many of Livingston’s schools held “souper bowl” collections to help stock the CHOW shelves with soups, which are “always a favorite during the winter months,” she said.

“We value the partnerships we have established with all of our area schools and are so appreciative of all of the families that participate in these drives,” said Lederman.

Additionally, the West Essex YMCA and the Clergy Association also held a collection for CHOW and they were very much appreciated.

In addition to support from youth, LNHN also receives support from community organizations, such as the West Essex YMCA and the Clergy Association, which have both held collections for CHOW; the Livingston Kiwanis Club, which supports LNHN regularly by shopping for the most needed items in the CHOW pantry; and the Livingston Sunrise Rotary, which recently presented LNHN with $3,500 raised from its annual food-tasting event held in October. 

According to LNHN, the money from the Sunrise Rotary, which also donated more than 1,700 meals through a day-of-service event, will be directed to the LNHN emergency fund.

Recognizing that there is need in the Livingston community, Livingston Elks Lodge #1855 also gifted LNHN a large donation for the emergency fund. Most recently, Livingston AARP Chapter 3663 donated money that will be used to purchase gift cards to the CHOW pantry.

“It is wonderful that these organization’s recognize that LNHN is positioned to help and they have been able to support our emergency fund and CHOW pantry in such a meaningful way,” said Lederman.

The most-needed non-perishables include boxed milk, canned fruit, paper towels, toilet paper, granola bars and kids snacks. The pantry is also in need of laundry detergent, shampoo/conditioner, toothpaste, hand soap, brown rice, jelly and canned chicken. 

Items can be donated at any time dropping them off in the CHOW collection bins located at town hall, the Livingston Public Library, the Livingston Senior and Community Center, the West Essex Tribune building, St. Philomena’s Church or the Northland community center.

Monetary donations can also be made via the LNHN Facebook page.

For more information on LNHN and CHOW, contact the Livingston Township Social Worker at 973 535-7961 ext. 231 or contact LNHN directly at LNHN07039@gmail.com.