WEST ORANGE, NJ – The 42nd annual UNICO Sports Awards Breakfast, which was held on Feb. 21, bestowed a number of honors on local residents. Cynthia Cumming received the Ben L. Spinelli Award for Community Service for her work with the Holy Trinity West Orange Food Pantry.
In addition, many West Orange students were honored for their athletic achievements, including West Orange High School senior athletes Sarah Perez Plaza and Anthony Charles, who were presented with the Brian Piccolo Award. In addition, the 11- and 12-year-old West Orange PAL football team was honored for winning the league championship.
NFL Hall of Famer Harry Carson was the guest speaker at the event. He spoke about bringing awareness to traumatic brain injuries, which he said are a frequent occurrence with current and former players.
“It was an honor and pleasure to meet Mr. Harry Carson,” said Hayden N. Moore, principal of West Orange High School. “I am a fan from childhood. I really appreciated his work ethic on the field. He was a true role model to me as a young man.”
He added, “I am thankful to the UNICO organization for choosing Anthony Charles as the Brian Piccolo winner. Anthony is an outstanding young man who has a strong work ethic on and off the field. The female recipient for the same award was Sara Perez, and she is an outstanding player who plays with a lot of heart and exhibits a strong work ethic both on and off the field.”
Moore wasn’t the only local who enjoyed the event. Attendees Laura Lab, president, West Orange Board of Education and Assistant Vice President and West Orange Office Branch Manager for Regal Bank Tina Parsons also lauded the event.
"The UNICO breakfast was extremely well attended,” said Lab. “Mr. Spinelli presented his community service award to Cynthia Cumming for her outstanding work with the Trinity Church Food Bank. Ms. Cumming has been an integral part of this initiative for years and after the passing of Alice Hoffman a few years ago, and it is my understanding that without her—the food bank, which provides life's essentials to so many, would not exist. I know her efforts are 24/7 365 days a year. Ms. Cumming was certainly an excellent choice for this year's recognition.”
“The wonderful part of the UNICO awards for the student athletes is that they are not necessarily looking to recognize the best athlete but the team member, who, without fail will always support the team and do the best for the greater good,” said Lab.
She added, “Also, this year, the PAL was recognized for their continued leadership in our community. This group of volunteers has been there for the children of West Orange for many generations and is an intricate part of West Orange's fiber. As always, UNICO each year provides numerous scholarships to our students and as always we are forever in their debt."
Parsons echoed Lab’s sentiments and said, “It was an outstanding event. I am proud to support as a member of UNICO and a representative of Regal Bank to show community support. Congratulations to the student athletes, and their families and also to Cynthia Cummings for her contribution in the West Orange community with the food pantry.”
She added, “Cumming, who works as a public relations consultant for the West Orange Public Schools, received The Ben L. Spinelli Award for Community Service from UNICO, which stands for Unity, Neighborliness, Integrity, Charity and Opportunity and is an organization that prioritizes itself on the objective of “’service above self.’”
While Cumming is known for doing many things around the township and offering a helping hand wherever it’s needed, UNICO chose her for the award specifically for her work with the Holy Trinity West Orange Food Pantry, which on average feeds 150 needy families per month, with nearly 6,000 people being fed by the panty in the year of 2015 alone. As such, guests were asked to bring canned goods for the Food Pantry. Cumming’s responsibilities include ordering food and arranging deliveries, community outreach, fundraising, and more.
Cummimg said, “I was so appreciative of receiving this award from UNICO. It is, unfortunately, a reality that there are people in our own town that don’t know if they will have three meals today. There is a certain satisfaction that comes from knowing you have helped to provide people with a very basic need.”
According to Cumming, her work with the pantry began seven years ago when in 2013, its founder, Alice Hoffman, passed away. From that point on, Cumming took over administrative and operational duties.
While the food pantry is seen as a positive for the community, Cumming spoke frankly about the emotions that get involved when dealing with the needy.
“Sometimes people come in crying, saying how they can’t believe how they have had to wind up needing help from us,” she said. “Part of our job is to be encouraging, accepting, and to make them feel better. Knowing that we have helped people that have run out of food makes it worth all the effort.”
Cumming said that the raw numbers say the pantry is providing approximately 6,000 pounds of food a month, which is challenging, but she pointed out that the pantry is not without help.
“We manage somehow, thanks to the Community Food Bank and West Orange Community that help us with food, and most importantly, with donations to purchase food,” she said.
Cumming also expressed her gratitude for the friendships she’d formed in West Orange over the years and the opportunity she’s had to help others.
Aside from Cumming’s award, West Orange High School senior athletes Sarah Perez Plaza and Anthony Charles received the Brian Piccolo Award, which is awarded annually to “courageous and outstanding athletes” that epitomize the memory of football player Brian Piccolo, who passed away from cancer in 1970 at the age of 26. Each year, a male and female athlete from West Orange High School, Orange High School, Golda Och Academy, and a male athlete from Seton Hall Prep receive the award.
Plaza, a member of the WOHS Girls Soccer Team, received her award from WOHS Girls Soccer Coach Sean DeVore.
“Sara is a four-year member of the West Orange girls’ soccer team,” said DeVore. “Her dedication and commitment to the program will be missed as she has represented our team with pride and dignity.”
He added, “Her great attitude and ability to put West Orange first is what our program is about. Sara will be attending Iona after graduation and majoring in nursing.”
Charles, a member of the West Orange High School Football team, received his award from WOHS Football Coach Jim Matsakis.
“When thinking about unsung players, Anthony captured everything one looks for in that player,” said Matsakis. “As a three-year letterman, he accepted his role as a special teams’ player and a backup running back/wide receiver and linebacker. His ability to put the needs of the team ahead of his individual glory was evident this year v. Nutley, where he played his best all-around game, blocking for touchdowns, scoring touchdowns and then being able to contribute defensively in stopping a team that would eventually win their division.”
He added, “It was a pleasure to coach Anthony the past three years and his unselfish play will serve as an example of the type of player we need in order to turn this program around, and be one that represents the ideals of West Orange High school and the community in a manner befitting all previous players and members of the West Orange community.”
Photos taken by Buzz1441 and Cynthia Cumming. Click HERE for more photos taken by Buzz 1441.