LIVINGSTON, NJ — The shelves of the Community Hunger Outreach Warehouse (CHOW), Livingston’s local food pantry, are now fully stocked thanks to members of the Livingston Fire Department (LFD) who provided a safe way for residents to drop of much-needed items during a two-day food drive this weekend.

The event was held in collaboration with Livingston Neighbors Helping Neighbors (LNHN), which manages the food pantry in addition to providing financial assistance to Livingston families in need. According to LFD President Thomas Cooney, LNHN is already working with the fire department to organize a second food drive following the success of the first one.

“Like everyone else, I watched news segments about the economic impact of the virus and lockdown and how so many people were being furloughed or even losing their jobs,” said Cooney. “The reports showed long lines of people seeking assistance with getting food and detailed the shortages many organizations were reporting in their efforts to help them.”

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When Cooney reached out to residents Stacey Rubinstein, Alan Karpas and Nick Santinelli, who are all heavily involved in LNHN and have a long history of helping families in need across the area, they advised him that “the need has never been greater” and that “the pantry shelves would soon be empty.” He was immediately determined not to let that happen.

“While not something we normally do, there was little doubt that the fire department has a unique ability to quickly mobilize and help out in any situation,” said Cooney. “Our membership was notified to see if enough volunteers were willing to help; and sure enough, we had plenty.”

In order to make donors feel comfortable dropping off items, the department members arranged it so that drivers could pull their vehicles up to the door and open their trunk or hatch while volunteers retrieved the items without anyone getting out of their cars and risking contact with others.

“We were confident the community would respond and rise to the occasion—especially with the fire department being involved,” said Cooney, who added that the response was “absolutely tremendous” and estimated that nearly 100 cars dropped off items on Saturday and more than 50 came by the event on Sunday. “We also had some 15 firefighters loading carts all day Saturday and Sunday despite the heat and humidity. Quite sure the shelves are full now.”

On behalf of the entire fire department, Cooney thanked community members for their support in this latest LFD endeavor.

“We're just glad we were able to help,” he said. “Hopefully the families in Livingston will have what they need, and others in the area can also benefit from this effort. The need will be great for some time until the economic situation returns to some form of ‘normal,’ so we do plan to hold additional drives in the months ahead as needed.”

Cooney concluded that the LFD vows to “never allow the shelves to be empty” at Livingston’s community food pantry and will announce the next event once details are finalized.

All food donations should be non-perishable and must be canned or boxed. Other items, such as toiletries, will also be accepted.

Suggested items include cereal, peanut butter, baked beans, canned chicken, laundry detergent, paper plates, canned fruit, jelly, canned vegetables, chicken noodle soup, mac and cheese, plastic utensils, apple sauce, tomato sauce, rice, canned soup, dish detergent, boxed pasta, oatmeal, kids’ snacks, granola bars, breakfast bars, napkins and water/soda.