LIVINGSTON, NJ — A special cooking demonstration from Matthew Smith, a 10-year-old Harrison Elementary School student who recently appeared on a season of FOX’s “MasterChef Junior," was the highlight of this year’s Livingston Area Chamber of Commerce (LACC) Thanksgiving Luncheon, where local business leaders came together to thank the members of Livingston’s various service organizations.

In the days leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday, the LACC honors Livingston’s volunteers with a buffet lunch at Cedar Hill Country Club. During the event—sponsored this year by Saint Barnabas Medical Center—members of Livingston Kiwanis, Livingston Rotary, the West Essex YMCA, Livingston Neighbors Helping Neighbors (LNHN) and others shared what each of these entities brings to the community. Guests were also asked to bring non-perishable food items to be donated to the Livingston Food Pantry. 

Following an invocation from Rabbi Simeon Cohen from Temple Beth Shalom—who spoke about moving from Canada to the United States and “discovering this incredible holiday where we just spend time together, embrace the bounty that we’ve been blessed by and share it with everyone around us”—Smith took the spotlight to prepare one of his favorite dishes for the crowd.

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In the midst of explaining how to cook pan-seared scallops with creamy polenta, fried quail eggs and a lemon vinaigrette, Smith also told the community about why he thinks Livingston is such a great place to live.

“One of my favorite things to do on Thanksgiving is to recognize all of the people and things I’m thankful for,” he said. “I have to give a shout out to all my family and friends because through all the ups and downs and challenges of my life, they have always been there for me and have always supported me. I would also like to give a big shout out to all of the townspeople who are here because they always work so hard to make sure that Livingston is the best town it can be and is always a great place to raise a family.”

In keeping with the business theme of the event, Smith was also thrilled to announce that nearly every supermarket in Livingston is always stocked with the items he needs to make his favorite dishes—including more far-fetched ingredients like the quail eggs and scallops he used for his cooking demo.

Pointing out that it was also Mayor Al Anthony’s birthday, Smith said it was only fitting to select the mayor as his special volunteer to help plate the dish. Smith was very impressed with the mayor’s skills in the kitchen, joking that Anthony was a great “drizzler” and could be the mayor of plating as well as the mayor of Livingston.

See a short video of Smith’s presentation below, or CLICK HERE to read more about his experience on “MasterChef Junior.”

After thanking Smith and sending him back to school for the rest of the day, LACC President Monte Ehrenkranz, vice president of Livingston’s Regal Bank, invited the local service organizations to share some of this year’s accomplishments and what’s to come in 2020.

“This town is really amazing, and the volunteers in this town are plentiful,” said Ehrenkranz, a Springfield resident who added that the Springfield Chamber of Commerce has “a long way to go” to catch up to the LACC. “Webster’s Dictionary defines 'community' as ‘a group of people with a common characteristic or interest living together within a larger society.’ We’re here to give thanks to this community’s volunteers that do great things throughout the year and make Livingston the best community to live and work in.”

Among some of the notable comments, Stacey Rubinstein of LNHN announced that the organization has aided 49 Livingston families, provided 28 emergency assistance grants, prevented two families from losing facilities during the winter months and more since 2016; Jay Freireich of Livingston Rotary Club acknowledged the joining of Livingston’s two Rotary Clubs and the addition of Livingston Summerfest to the Rotary’s list of fundraising events; and Helen Flores, longtime executive director of the West Essex YMCA, announced that she would be retiring at the end of the year.

Flores, who spoke on behalf of the both the West Essex Y and Livingston Kiwanis, urged those in the room to always remember that they are “the privileged ones in Livingston.”

“There are pockets of poverty in Livingston that people don’t recognize,” she said. “They come to the Y for help through Peanut Shell, for help with after care and for help with membership because they have certain problems or health issues, and they find their way to us. We, in turn, are able to help them for one reason: the fortunate in Livingston help us do the job that we need to do…

“We’re not a big Y, but we do a lot of work, and we could not do that if it was not for the generosity of people like those in this room. I’m grateful to you all, I’m happy to have been leading the Y for the last 17 years, and I’ve come to know and to love everyone here, but like all good things, it must come to an end…Livingston will always have a place in my heart.”

Anthony took an opportunity to thank all of the service organizations as well, expressing his belief that Livingston is the top volunteer town in New Jersey.

“My heartfelt gratitude goes out to all the people who step up,” he said. “If you come to our reorganization meeting on Jan. 1, there are literally 10 pages straight of volunteers and committees and boards and commissions that everyone steps up for, and it makes the council look good, it makes the town stronger, and so I’m thankful to all of [them].”

The mayor also acknowledged the presence of Essex County Freeholder Pat Sebold, members of the Livingston Board of Education, Superintendent Dr. Matthew Block, Livingston Police Chief Gary Marshuetz, several members of the Livingston Police Department and the LACC board members.  

A special thank you went out to his fellow council members and the township manager’s office.

“The town is running really well, so I thank them for giving us all an environment for our businesses to thrive,” said Anthony. “We’ve really been what developers are calling a ‘hot town’ to go to…As the son [of a small-business owner], I grew up understanding what all of you business owners go through and how hard it is [and] I always try to help our businesses in any way I can, so I’m thankful for all [the LACC] does there.”

The next LACC event is coming up on Wednesday at the JCC MetroWest in West Orange, where the LACC will join together with the Maplewood, Millburn/Short Hills, West Orange, South Orange and North Essex Chambers of Commerce for a special networking breakfast beginning at 8 a.m. Visit https://millburnshorthillschamber.org/events/jcc/ to register.

It was also announced that the business community will be hosting a “Holiday Give Back” this season, with the proceeds going toward LNHN. According to Rubinstein, participating businesses—which are yet to be determined—will be donating a percentage of their sales toward the organization’s charitable efforts.