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The Rise Pantry: Follow that Milk

Juan Cabos, left, and Pete Silowka fill up the Rise Food Pantry van.

Milk is a favored but sometimes limited commodity at the Rise Pantry. The USDA provides milk to be distributed to Rise-registered families who meet the in-need requirements.  Whenever there is extra, additional clients at the pantry benefit, but lately, an unexpected windfall of milk has appeared.

How? Repurposing. Approximately 40% of students enrolled in the East Windsor Regional School District are eligible for the Free and Reduced-Price Lunch Program, which also includes breakfast. Due to the coronavirus crisis, the schools in the district have closed, but Chartwells Food Services, the district’s food supplier, has ensured that those meals are still available and packaged “to-go” for students to pick up at the schools. Any leftovers are held for Rise, and the “Milk Men” deliver the extra food and milk to the pantry each week.

“The milk is a welcomed addition to the pantry these days,” said Julia Badulescu, the director of the Rise Pantry. “We are experiencing a large increase in the number of families coming to the pantry each week who are affected by the economic impact of the virus. We are in critical need of additional donations, and the school district and our Milk Men are making a difference.”

The Milk Men – John Sullivan, Pete Silowka and Juan Cabos, pantry coordinator – pile into the Rise van most days to make their round of pickups. 

“I started out volunteering one day a week – and I’ve worked the last six days in a row,” Sullivan said.  

Silowka knows the drill as a 5-year veteran volunteer at Rise. 

“This is the new, refrigerated truck that was recently bought by Rise, and not a moment too soon,” he said. “We are now picking up from both the East Windsor and Cranbury schools, and refrigeration space is tight.”

Leslie Koppel, executive director of Rise, said the purchase of the van was made possible via a grant from the Princeton Area Community Foundation and with help from iDeal Auto USA in East Windsor.

It’s critical that donations to Rise are properly handled and stored – they are too precious to be environmentally compromised. So just this past week, when Rise was in danger of running out of refrigerator space to store the school milk, The Milk Men made a lunch run through the Wendy’s drive-thru and Sullivan asked if the restaurant could help. Enter Boris Rojas, the region general manager at the Wendy’s on Route 130. Rojas readily offered space in his restaurant’s refrigerator.

“We’re here for the community. We need to help each other out,” he said. 

Nancy L. Egan, a Hightstonian offering tailoring and therapeutic massage at her Garden of Egan, lives within a stone’s throw of the Rise Pantry.  She has occasionally visited Rise in the past, “But right now,” she said, “with the threat of the coronavirus – and if you are older like I am, you’re just afraid to go out – I know the people at Rise are the best, so I went the other day and there in my bags was just what I needed: milk. The tiny cartons of chocolate milk brought me right back to my childhood. Thank you Rise, for the milk and the memories.”

Food donations are accepted at the Rise Thrift Store, 114 Rogers Ave., Hightstown. For those in need of assistance, visit The Rise Pantry at 133 Broad St., Hightstown. Operating hours are 9 a.m. to noon Monday to Wednesday, and the first and third Wednesday of every month from 5–7 p.m.

This article was written by Wendy McDade and submitted by Leslie Koppel, executive director of the Rise Food Pantry.

Boris Rojas, the region general manager of Wendy's on Route 130, offered space in the fast food chain's refrigerator to store donations for the Rise Food Pantry.
Nancy Egan of Garden of Egan in Hightstown enjoyed receiving chocolate milk cartons.
John Sullivan packs the van for the Rise Food Pantry.
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