WOODBRIDGE – Jack Reilly knew his group of friends, who came together to create Colonia Cares, would be able to do great things.
And great things the friends did – Jack, Harrison Brindley, Emily Christie, Jordan Derkack, Mia Kruysman, Kerri Lishak, Emily Melendez, Nate Manente, Victor Perosi, Antonia Pierce, and Jose Ribiero – to help those in need during the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“A lot of us are on student council and are involved in school,” he said. “So I think that’s why we had a lot of success … we put a lot of effort into it.”
Colonia Cares began on April 18 and garnered media attention and praise from Gov. Phil Murphy and local officials. To date, the group has raised $20,000-plus for the local food banks.
Mayor John McCormac and Ward 5 Councilwoman Debbie Meehan gathered the friends – with proper social distancing – in front of Colonia High School (CHS) to recognize the group on May 22. The friends are juniors at CHS.
“We’re all in a very good position to help people who aren’t as lucky as we are,” Harrison said.
With that impetus, the friends decided to sell shirts and signs to raise money. To date, the group has sold 2,000 signs and shirts, which were made by A and B Promotions in Cranford. The shirts sold for $15 each.
“We found the most effective way was to buy gift cards [with proceeds from the shirt and sign sales] from local businesses and donate the gift cards to the food banks and families in need,” Harrison said, noting they made a list of local businesses in the Colonia section of the township and some places in the Avenel section of the township.
The group held a collection drive on May 16 at the Evergreen Senior Center. Kerri said many people came by to drop off food donations and the group also raised donations through a coin toss.
Jack said they received support from the entire CHS community: from Principal Ken Pace, teachers and fellow students.
“I can’t be prouder as a parent, as your principal. What you guys did is part of who we are as far as giving back to the community,” Pace said, adding the efforts made by the students keep him “optimistic and hopeful” for what the future will bring.
Peter Barcellona, who chairs the We Feed Food Woodbridge Food Bank, said the 11 food pantries in the township on average feed 600 families a month.
“Now the pantries feed more than 800-plus families a month,” he said. “The need is great … people who generally donate are now in a situation because of COVID-19 in need.”
Barcellona said We Feed Woodbridge also receives food donations from the state food purchase program and MCFOODS network, the county’s regional food bank.
As for the future, the students said they will continue their efforts to make a difference.