Jan 20, 2017
By Michael V. Crismali
HIGHTSTOWN – Every year, on the third Monday in January, the country celebrates the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., one of history’s most notable activists, whose famous “I Have A Dream” speech delivered a message of both civil and economic equality.
While Dr. King’s birthday is a day off from work and school for many, the men and women from RISE, including all of the organization’s volunteers, continue furthering their mission of servicing families in East Windsor, Hightstown and surrounding communities.
The mood at the food pantry was cheerful on Monday. People seemed genuinely happy to be there. There was teamwork, smiling faces and a feeling that they were making a difference. Even though the day brought out some extra volunteers, this is an operation that has been steadily growing over time. From a little unassuming house at 225 Franklin Street that many may have passed hundreds of times without knowing what goes on there, the community has been serviced for more than a decade.
The RISE food pantry is open every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday from 9 a.m. to noon, as well as the first and third Wednesday of the month from 5 to 7 p.m., every week, rain or shine and serves more than 600 local families throughout the year.
According to Julia Badulescu, the RISE Food Pantry coordinator, there are approximately 35 to 50 steady volunteers who make the pantry possible. Volunteers range in age from 15 to 84, and all have one goal in mind, making the food pantry a place where local families in need of assistance can come to get the supplies they need without feeling any judgment or shame.
“We fully understand that anyone could easily find themselves in circumstances to need our help, including the very people who run the pantry,” said Ms. Badulescu.
Juan Cobos is another of the RISE Food Pantry Coordinators, and he works with the volunteers on sorting the many donations the pantry receives, dividing them up into the bags that are then given to the families seeking assistance from the pantry. Mr. Cobos said that while there are certain criteria families must meet to qualify for the services RISE supplies, he believes no one should be turned away, and he tries to work with the families to see what program they may qualify for.
Ms. Badulescu said the only notable difference in operations at Rise on Martin Luther King Day was the influx of volunteers that are available. She said many of the regular volunteers were asked to take the day off because there are so many others who choose to spend their day off lending a hand.
One such individual was Ed Trancozo. He, his two children Anna, 16, and Lucas, age 14, and several of their friends from high school came to the food pantry to volunteer their time. Mr. Trancozo explained that he works for a company that every year sends out people to volunteer at various organizations like RISE as a way of giving back to the community. The company prefers to do this volunteer work anonymously.
Angie Casciano is another of the regular volunteers and has been since 2014. Ms. Casciano was also recently appointed secretary of the RISE board. She was present at the Food Pantry with her daughter Sophie, who attends Hightstown High School. Despite having a regular full time job, Ms. Casciano spoke about the benefits of sharing this volunteer experience with her daughter.
“You never know where you may end up, or what circumstances will come your way,” she said.
That seemed to be a common theme among the workers. There was an appreciation that any of them could just as easily find themselves in circumstances where they may rely on others help, so why not “pay it forward.”