SOUTH ORANGE, NJ - If you dropped by the Stop & Shop in South Orange Saturday night, you might have wondered who those people were roaming the store seeking donations and buying supplies for Hurricane Maria victims in Puerto Rico.
It was none other than South Orange Village President Sheena Collum and Maplewood Township Committeeman Frank McGehee.
The duo, who’d been together earlier in the evening at Above talking shop, had a spur of the moment idea to collect needed food and other groceries for those devastated by the storm.
“I was just driving over, thinking what is the way we can try and generate interest in helping Puerto Rico,” Collum recalled. “Seeing the mayor of San Juan on Fridaybegging for help, I wanted to do something. As a mayor, I really empathized with the situation.”
So, at about 8:45 p.m., Collum, McGehee and local activist Larry Hirsch showed up unannounced at the Valley Street supermarket, checked in with the manager and staffers, and hit the aisles to load up on canned goods, paper products and any other non-perishables to ship south to the island dwellers.
At the same time, Collum -- who has taken Facebook livestreaming to a high art form -- switched on her smartphone for a mini-telethon asking her followers to pitch in with goods or cash. (See it HERE.)
Many customers in the store who came upon the pair as they traversed the aisles in search of donation items also offered up contributions.
“We’re shopping for Puerto Rico, we’re shopping for Puerto Rico,” Collum could be heard announcing as she roamed the store, with McGehee alongside. “Let’s fill it up, let’s do it,” McGehee directed as they nearly emptied a shelf of Campbell’s Soup into one of many carts.
Like a scene out of the old Supermarket Sweep television show, the elected officials raced the carts up and down Stop & Shop’s aisles with determination.
Channeling their inner Jerry Lewis, both Collum and McGehee mixed requests for donations with a play-by-play of their food store surge on Facebook Live.
At one point, Collum was almost giddy about getting feminine hygiene products: “Tampons are always good, Frank.” She later made the serious point that they are “very important as women and young girls of Puerto Rico seek to recover, they are important for cleanliness.”
In the end, after about 90 minutes, the take was more than $4,826 in donations at the store and via Facebook to cover the groceries – at $3,198 – and the shipping cost for some half-dozen bulging carts of groceries. They will be sent via the South Orange UPS Store to a Florida site where collections are being made for further shipping to the devastated island.
“I want to personally thank each and every Maplewoodian and South Orange resident for their generosity from pledging to physically donated items as well as money,” McGehee said later. “I also would like to recognize the wonderful staff at Stop & Shop for their assistance. We are so humbled by the response of our great residents.”
The supplies were added into more donations made at the Hot Hot Hot Event Sunday celebrating South Orange’s designation by New Jersey Monthly as the “hottest” town in New Jersey.
Collum said the balance of $1,628 in donations was going to be spent on shipping costs. But then she heard from Temple Sharey-Tafilo of South Orange that they would pick up the tab to transport the items to the Caribbean.
Now Collum plans to spend the remaining funds on more supplies during a Costco visit this week.
“I'm so blown away by everyone's generosity!” Collum wrote on Facebook. “I told Frank McGehee in advance this could be a hit or miss opportunity and guess what? South Orange and Maplewood - we hit it out of the park and I'm just feeling overwhelmed and blessed to live in this community of incredibly generous and caring people.”
She added that all contributors would receive detailed receipts of their contributions and other specifics on what was raised and how.
Those wishing to further donate cash or supplies can do so at the South Orange UPS Store, 4 South Orange Ave.; or the South Orange Frame Shop, 6 Sloan St.