LIVINGSTON, NJ — As cases of COVID-19 begin to surge again within the township and throughout the state, the Livingston Township Council took an opportunity last week to honor the many Livingston-based service organizations that helped local first responders, long-term care facilities, hospitals and families in need get through the first wave and have also vowed to continue supporting those most heavily affected by the ongoing pandemic.

The mayor and council invited representatives from the West Essex YMCA, Livingston Neighbors Helping Neighbors (LNHN), Livingston Rotary Club, Livingston UNICO, Sanskriti of New Jersey, the Livingston Chinese Association, the Livingston Taiwanese Association, Livingston Philanthropies Inc. (LPI), Knights of Columbus and the Livingston Lions Club to accept a citation honoring them “for their thoughtfulness and generosity” during the pandemic. The citation states that these organizations and the services they provide “are emblematic of Livingston” and “serve to improve the quality of life in our town.”

“Pandemic numbers have been rising again, and the needs are still there, so it's really one of the things that makes this town so wonderful is all the volunteers,” said Mayor Rudy Fernandez. “We appreciate everything that you've all done individually and through your organizations and look forward to continuing to work with all of you.”

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During last week’s township council meeting, some organization representatives spoke about what has been done since March to help those in need and alerted the community to some upcoming endeavors to continue supporting the fight against COVID-19.

Having worked with most of these organizations over the last several months, Cheryl Tuturice, the new executive director at the West Essex YMCA, said she has been honored to build such strong relationships with community members during the pandemic.

In addition to raising nearly $200,000 to help support staff members that had been furloughed, Tuturice said the YMCA has also donated more than 84,000 pounds of fresh produce to various food pantries; consistently supported its senior members with regular check-ins and goody-bag deliveries; conducted a successful summer program with about 85 campers per week; and provided emergency childcare for essential workers at the height of the pandemic.

“We had 65 children that were involved with this initiative, and we are proud to say we had zero cases of COVID during that time,” said Tuturice, adding that the YMCA continues to provide early-childhood education opportunities on site. “We've expanded our programs to help support the needs through full-day kindergarten and also before and after school at our Peanut Shell location. Currently, we're serving close to 100 children at that location after being almost 90 percent full during COVID.”

Additionally, the West Essex YMCA hosted two successful blood drives—collecting 64 pints of blood and saving 192 lives—and also collected more than 1,300 diapers for families who were not able to access or afford them during the pandemic.

LNHN president and co-founder Stacey Rubinstein stated that in addition to assisting dozens of families with their finances during the pandemic—bringing the organization's total to 59 families that have received grants since LNHN was established in 2016—the organization has also been able to keep its food pantry stocked thanks to community contributions.

Rubinstein specifically acknowledged the Livingston Fire Department and the Livingston First Aid Squad for hosting two highly successful and safe food donation drops to help stock the pantry, noting that she was “blown away” by their efforts and amount of food collected. The food pantry, known as the Community Hunger Outreach Warehouse (CHOW), is located at Livingston Town Hall and managed by members of LNHN.

She also recognized community partnerships with many of the other organizations honored during the meeting, stating that the YMCA has provided fresh produce from its gardens; the Livingston Rotary Club has funded needed products such as milks, eggs and bread; and Livingston Kiwanis recently donated $3,000 worth of ShopRite gift cards to be distributed to families assisted through LNHN.

According to Rubinstein, much of the financial assistance provided during the pandemic was possible thanks to the “Livingston Sings” telethon that was held on the organization’s behalf in April. She noted that the event brought in about $30,000 for LNHN, contributing significantly to the more than $50,000 that has been raised throughout the pandemic.

Livingston Rotary Club President GiGi Fleming explained that although this past year has been challenging, the local Rotary was able to host a cleanup event to collect litter throughout the community in addition to pooling its resources to purchase iPads for Saint Barnabas Medical Center (SBMC) so that patients could speak with their loved ones during the pandemic.

According to Fleming, the club is currently focusing on its next event so that the organization can “continue to give to Saint Barnabas and to the other organizations in town.”

Livingston UNICO, which has continued to meet via Zoom on a monthly basis, is currently working in conjunction with other local organizations to put together Thanksgiving baskets for those in need and also recently hosted a walk around the Livingston Memorial Oval to assist in the fight against breast cancer.

“We are also conducting a 50/50 trying to make up for donations that we lost due to COVID,” said Kevin Francione, immediate past president of Livingston UNICO. “We were able to also donate money for a laptop for Saint Barnabas, and we’re trying to work in conjunction with all the nursing homes in town to get puzzle books and everything for all the patients.”

The Livingston Kiwanis Club raised funds early in the pandemic to donate more than 10 iPads and baby monitors to the SBMC intensive care unit (ICU) as well as trays of food for the hospital’s overnight staff. A few months ago, the club was also able to host a golf outing that raised more than $3,000 for LNHN.

Kiwanis President Lance Rogers added that the organization is currently organizing a Thanksgiving drive in order to donate gift cards to 42 local families that are in need of meals. He also said Kiwanis hopes to be able to host the annual Kiwanis Karnival in order to raise more funds to give back to the community.

Jeff Friedman, founder of LCI, stated that the local organization has continued collecting coats, diapers and other toiletries for those in need, but has begun shipping them directly due to COVID-19 restrictions as well as collecting monetary donations. He also noted that LCI has established a personal shopping initiative for homeless individuals.

Speaking on behalf of Sanskriti of New Jersey, Punam Bhargava thanked the township council and members of the community for their support in the endeavors of all Livingston-based organizations during the pandemic.

Representing the Livingston Chinese Association—which was able to use monetary donations and connections in China to provide thousands of face masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) directly to Saint Barnabas early in the pandemic—resident George Shen echoed Bhargava’s sentiments and also expressed gratitude toward those on the front lines.

“We want to take this opportunity to thank our heroes from the hospital, medical professionals, and the first responders,” he said. “We will continue to support the fight against COVID.”

Members of the Livingston Taiwanese Association also collected enough money to distribute more than 6,000 masks between SBMC, the Livingston Fire Department and the Livingston Police Department early in the pandemic.

“We are part of the community, and we are so happy that we are able to give back to our community to help you in this difficult time,” said Melody Huang on behalf of the Livingston Taiwanese Association. “We believe that we can fight this, and we have seen the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Representatives of the Livingston Lions Club and Knights of Columbus were not in attendance, but were acknowledged for similar helpful programs, such as food donation events

The Livingston Township Council also acknowledged the work of the medical professionals at Saint Barnabas, which was represented at the meeting by Dr. Eric Handler.

Handler, who was on the call to address the recent uptick in COVID-19 cases throughout the community, took the opportunity to thank “all of those volunteers who provided meals and PPE,” adding that these organizations “really kept [the hospital workers going before [they] were able to get the supplies that [they] needed.”

To read Handler’s perspective of the recent surge, CLICK HERE.