South Orange Village President’s Birthday Party Raises $12K+ to Tackle High School Food Insecurity

From “Sheena Collum’s Birthday Party with a Purpose”:

On Saturday, November 18, Village President Sheena Collum hosted her annual birthday party with the South Orange and Maplewood community and announced that more than $12,000 was raised by 200 donors in two weeks to tackle food insecurity at Columbia High School.

“I think many of us often take for granted that despite being seen as affluent towns, we have neighbors in our community who live below the poverty line, and the struggle is real,” Collum told the crowd of over 100 guests. “This isn’t a hand out, it’s a hand up. Our students—and all students—deserve all the love and support in the world to help them achieve their goals, and in this case, we’re helping do that one meal at a time.”

A collaborative effort of the South Orange Maplewood School District Parenting Center, MAPSO Cares, the Rent Party, and SOMA Justice, proceeds raised will be utilized to pay down lunch debts and establish a weekend program for high school students faced with food insecurity.

Sophie Bard, a Columbia High School student and co-president of the student group MAPSO Cares, noted that that organization started with just three students and now has more than 15 members who have partnered with community groups to launch ‘Cougars Cares,” a lunch-for-all and weekend pack program and said, “the first set of backpacks overflowing with food went out to six students this past Friday.”

“In our school district, about one in five students receive free or subsidized lunch, and we believe many more are food insecure,” said Susan Bergin and Shannon Cuttle, SOMA Justice members and program co-leaders. “It is on us, all of us, to fight hunger. The generosity shown through this fundraising effort models for our youth how we can work together to support community members in need.”

Speakers also specifically thanked Marilu Gregory and Karen Weiland of the SOMSD Parenting Center for their continued support and providing guidance to students.

Attendees and donors included a myriad of elected of officials from the two towns: South Orange Trustees Stephen Schnall, Walter Clarke, Deborah Davis Ford, Karen Hilton, and Mark Rosner; Maplewood Township Committee members Nancy Adams, Greg Lembrich, and Committeeman-Elect Dean Dafis; and Board of Education representatives Elizabeth Baker, Anne Marie Maini, Susie Adamson, Donna Smith, Madhu Pai, and Stephanie Lawson-Muhammad. Columbia High School Principal Elizabeth Aaron was also in attendance.

In closing, David Wagner noted, “Our mission to fight hunger in our community was met with a generosity that was hard to believe. Let’s keep the momentum going to fight food insecurity for our Columbia High School students by visiting and donating online. Please put CHS in the note so we know where this money should go.”

The event was generously hosted by Patty and John Brown-Christenson with food and desserts provided by Diana Hart.

Photos by Matt Peyton.

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