Giving Back

UC-STEP Program Donates Thousands of Pounds of Food

Union County Freeholder Linda Carter (left) visited Debra Vizzi, President and CEO of the Community FoodBank of New Jersey, last Thursday to view a “canstruction” project. Credits: James Lowney/County of Union

Union County, NJ – Union County Freeholder Linda Carter visited Debra Vizzi, President and CEO of the Community FoodBank of New Jersey, on Thursday to view a “canstruction” project of 3,536 cans of tuna assembled with the assistance of local high school students. The project highlights a 5,120-pound food donation to the FoodBank organized by students participating in the Kans 4 Kids food drive under Union County’s annual UC-STEP youth leadership program, with the sponsorship of Sysco and ShopRite.

More than 100 students from 14 high schools participated in the friendly competition. The school collecting the most donations will receive a Start Now grant sponsored by the Freeholder Board.  The Start Now recipient will be announced on May 25.

“I would like to thank UC-STEP students, and our sponsors and supporters, for providing the Community FoodBank with this outstanding volunteer service. Food donations are especially important heading into the summer, when can be more difficult for children and families in need to access school meals and other resources,” said Freeholder Linda Carter, who initiated the first UC-STEP program in 2013 when she was Chairman of the Freeholder Board.

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UC-STEP is a unique youth development program that brings together high school students from different parts of Union County. The program provides students with the opportunity to engage the whole community in a county-wide service project. UC-STEP participants design the projects themselves, and carry them out with the support of the Freeholder Board and local sponsors.

“Union County is fortunate to have a rich reservoir of talent, drive and heart among our students. They are willing to take charge and get the job done when there is an opportunity to help those in need, and they inspire all of us to keep working for a better tomorrow,” said Freeholder Chairman Bruce H. Bergen.

“It’s always great to see students unite to make an impact in the community,” said Debra Vizzi, President and CEO of the Community FoodBank of New Jersey. “These Union County high school students worked together to collect 6,000 pounds of food and build structures out of cans to represent the collaboration between the FoodBank and UC STEP. The FoodBank is so grateful for their efforts to help end hunger and for the freeholders who lead UC STEP – a wonderful initiative that gives students the opportunity to brainstorm and implement ideas to better the community.”

High schools participating in UC-STEP this year are:

  • John E. Dwyer Technology Academy
  • Linden High School
  • David Brearley High School
  • Union County Vo Tech
  • Union Catholic Regional High School
  • Roselle Park High School
  • Rahway High School
  • Cranford High School
  • The Barack Obama Academy for Academic & Civic Development Charter School
  • Jonathan Dayton High School
  • Arthur L. Johnson High School
  • Governor Livingston High School
  • New Providence High School
  • St. Mary of the Assumption High School
  • Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School

The UC-STEP program begins with an annual summit, held each year in December. In addition to workshops on leadership and life skills, the participants form teams that blend together students from different high schools.

Each team is tasked with creating a countywide community service project for the following spring.

Before the summit is over, all participants vote on their favorite projects. The top vote getters are then put online so members of the public can join in the final voting and help choose the project that will be implemented.

Each year, the Freeholder Board joins with local sponsors to help the students publicize and conduct the winning project.

This year’s winning project, Kans 4 Kids, was created by the “Orange” team at the UC-STEP summit last December to benefit the Community FoodBank. 

“This was an ambitious and imaginative undertaking that involved the food drive, the “canstruction” project, volunteer opportunities and a virtual food drive,” said Bergen. “The Orange team really set a high bar for next year’s UC-STEP participants.”

To see a stop-motion video of the “construction” project under way and more photos, visit the Union County main website at ucnj.org/uc-step.

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