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Community comes together to restock shelves at Joint Base food pantry

After an infestation of mold forced the food pantry at a regional military installation to dispose of its supplies, three groups in Freehold Township have come together to resupply the pantry.

Members of the Sunrise Optimist Club of Freehold, the Co-Cathedral of St. Robert Bellarmine, Freehold Township, and Lead for Diversity at Freehold Township High School took part in a collection for the American Red Cross at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in south central New Jersey. The Red Cross offers assistance to military families in need.

“We were honored to be a small part in helping our military,” said Maureen Fasano, president of the Sunrise Optimist Club. “The best thing about the Sunrise Optimist Club of Freehold is that when a need arises, we do our best to fill it. Our club’s mission is bringing out the best in children.

“The purpose of our club is to develop optimism as a philosophy of life using the tenets of the Optimist Creed, to promote an active interest in good government and civic affairs, to inspire respect for the law, to promote patriotism and work for international accord and friendship among all people, and to aid and encourage the development of youth, in the belief that the giving of one’s self in service to others will advance the well-being of humankind, community life and the world,” Fasano said.

The collection was organized because a mold infestation in the American Red Cross building necessitated the food that was being stored there to be discarded.

The Sunrise Optimist Club’s involvement began when Jessica Richardson, the regional manager at the Joint Base, spoke at a club meeting and said there were active military personnel at the base in need of help.

Club members began to organize and informed others about the need for assistance. Donations were provided by the Freehold BNI Group, Investors Bank and more. Fasano said the largest group to participate in the collection drive was the youth group at St. Robert Bellarmine.

“We all worked so well together because we were united for a goal,” said Jeanne Marinello, the coordinator of the St. Robert Bellarmine youth group. “Every year, the kids top themselves. That is what makes this group so inspirational.”

Marinello said the youth group, which is comprised of students in grades eight through 12, collected items and brought them to Fasano. One member of the youth group is Freehold Township High School senior Kayla Lodges, who is also a member of Lead for Diversity at the high school.

“I joined the youth group because I wanted to volunteer and become more involved in the community,” Kayla said. “For Lead for Diversity, I was nominated as a potential candidate by a staff member at my high school. I filled out an application, went on an interview and was chosen as one of five people in my grade. I wanted to be a part of the group because I wanted to help create a more inclusive environment in my school community.”

To get Freehold Township High School involved in the collection drive, Kayla notified Lead for Diversity about the project. After gaining approval, a collection at the high school was held during the annual Battle of the Classes, which a competition among grade levels.

“The collection was made part of the Battle of the Classes and the grade that collected the most would earn points for their team,” Kayla said. “Maureen Fasano came to collect the items that night and with the help of faculty members all of the items were loaded and Maureen delivered the items to the base the next day. I am so proud of my peers for helping to make our part of the collection a success and I am grateful we were able to be a part of it.”

Fasano delivered the donations to Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in late November. She said so much was collected that she had to make two trips to deliver everything.

An event that is usually a competition between classes also became a community service labor of love,” Marinello said. “Bravo, Kayla, for having a heart of gold and uniting all our groups together. It is a proud youth group leader moment when I get to see one of my youth group members selflessly take the ball, run with it and score a touchdown.”

The Sunrise Optimist Club will hold another collection for Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in March.

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