SPARTA, NJ- On Tuesday, in the cold rain, members of the Sparta  Girls of the Run participated in a Stuff the Bus event at Dale's Market, to benefit the Sussex county food pantry.  Newly elected Senator Cory Booker joined them, speaking with the girls about the service project and encouraged them to be healthy.  Booker even joined the girls in their cheer, "Girls on the Run is so much fun!" 

There were approximately 15 girls from the Sparta chapter at the event, having been invited by Jamie Lombardi and Leslie Huhn of the Northwest New Jersey Democratic Women's Caucus.  "Booker is famous for his 'Run with Corey' events," explains Huhn.  "He says running is a wonderful way of building the community.  Those sentiments are very much aligned with the mission of Girls on the Run. " 

A representativefrom the food pantry spoke with the girls about the workings of the food pantry and  impact their efforts would have on the needy in Sussex county.  "She could not have been more gracious, even in the cold and rain," explains Deb Siipola, a coordinator of Girls on the Run in Sussex county.  

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State senator Steven Oroho was also on hand for the event. 

Girls on the Run is a ten week program culminating in a 5K run.  Girls meet as teams several times a week with trained volunteer coaches to talk, learn and grow stronger.  The girls are coached not only in running but in how to deal with real life issues such as how to stand up to peer pressure, bullying and gossiping. 

Community service is an integral part of the Girls on the Run experience.   Several of the Sussex county teams have donated to the Stuff the Bus campaign over the course of the ten week program.  This event enabled them to learn more about the food pantry and see the importance of their efforts with so many high profile people on hand. 

Another part of the mission of Girls on the Run is to serve as many girls as possible.  Currently there are chapters in Bergen, Hudson, Passaic and Sussex counties.  Siipola would like to extend the reach of the program, noting not every community has the ability to fund a local  chapter.  She is hopeful that, " in the future people like Senator Booker and Senator Oroho will be able to help with the funding necessary to make this program available to more girls."

When it came time to actually stuff the bus, the girls formed an assembly line, passing food along to be put into the white Sussex County shuttle buses.   Booker lifted up one of the younger girls and brought her to the front of the line.  "Let's start with her," he said as he placed her by the bus.

The first "Stuff the Bus" food drive was hosted by Rob Moorhead in 2008.  That effort collected over ten thousand pounds of food to benefit the Sussex County Department of Human Services, Division of Social Services' food pantry.