This weekend, U.S. Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5) honored local frontline health care workers and first responders, veterans, students, search and rescuers, life-saving bystanders, volunteers, teachers, community leaders, and residents who worked to help the community throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
Held online over Facebook live, Gottheimer recognized more than 100 Fifth District Coronavirus Hometown Heroes Awardees for their dedication to helping the lives of their neighbors, families, and all Jersey residents during the coronavirus.
Gottheimer’s comments about the contributions of local residents are presented below:
• Atlantic Health System, Newton and Hackettstown: Brian Gragnolati who is the President and CEO of Atlantic, Dr. Jan Schwarz-Miller, Chief Medical Officer, and Trish O’Keefe have been instrumental in managing the six hospitals in Newton and Hackettstown, and averting countless layoffs. Trish is with us today. One incredible story that I hear is that hospital rooms were equipped with ipads so patients would be able to zoom with their family members. Thoughts like that are what make Atlantic Health such a great place. Not only were they able to help save lives, but they kept people working. For that, they are true Hometown Heroes.
• Kevin Mitchell and Scott Jahnke from Vernon nominated by Vernon Police Chief Dan Young who prepared free meals for more than 30 senior citizens every single day since the outbreak. As owners of The Tracks Deli, they quickly jumped into action to provide meals for those in need. What originally started as a “Hot Dog Lunch” transformed into full dinners and platters. Kevin and Scott, thank you so much, you are true Hometown Heroes.
• Linda Smigen of Vernon, the creator and facilitator of Vernon Cares. Working with Kevin and Scott of The Tracks Deli, Linda organized over 100 volunteers who delivered meals to local residents, seniors and first responders and helped to restock local food pantries. Linda also arranged for no contact drop off/pick up of donated masks. Linda, thank you for all that you have done and continue to do, I am proud to call you a Hometown Hero.
• Jim Hofmann from Newton who is a STEM teacher and the robotics coach at Newton High School who started his own 3D printing operation, “PPE Made in America”, in his basement coordinating his students, local businesses, and other community members. I am told that Jim is a pillar in the community and has worked with several members to get these facemasks to the right people. Jim, thank you for your ingenuity and dedication to the community. You are a true Hometown Hero.
• Mark Maruska from Newton who is the owner of Gravity Design Works, Inc. Mark, working closely with robotics teacher Jim Hofmann who I just recognized, made and donated 8,000 face shields, which he distributed to hospitals, nursing homes, the Newton Police, and Franklin Police. Mark organized 45 different people who had 3D printers at home to make the pieces and assemble the face shields. Each face shield that he made was engraved with the words “Lovingly crafted by many thankful hands in Newton, NJ” with the added words “USA” and “Stay safe!” Mark, thank you for everything you have done, I am proud to call you a Hometown Hero.
• Curtis Raye from Wantage who is a comedian that started a very unique charity. While using the Touchtunes app, he noticed a lone jukebox, locked inside Airport Pub, was still running. Curtis sent the word out on social media that if someone sends him $1.20 to play on the jukebox through Touchtunes, he will play a song that nobody will hear and donate $2 to a server, bartender, kitchen staff, or host who has lost work. To boost attention for the fundraiser, he recruited comedy friends Cecily Strong and Richard Kind to record videos to help get the word out. I’m told that the most requested song was Bruce Springsteen. Curtis, thank you for supporting our workers who need it most. You are a true Hometown Hero.
• Lindsay Van Zile MacAloney from Vernon. Lindsay has demonstrated once again why she had been named her Vernon High School’s teacher of the year even before the coronavirus outbreak. Seizing on the current online learning environment Lindsay let students vent their feelings of isolation amid the pandemic by creating an assignment to have her class make original lyrics to famous Broadway show tunes. The assignment gave the students something to look forward to during the day. Lindsay, we thank you for being an incredible advocate for mental health and a true Hometown Hero.
• Dennis Becker from Newton who is the owner of D. Becker Photo. To mark the 30th anniversary of his studio and to help distract those in quarantine, Dennis offered to take free family portraits at people’s homes. Dennis, thank you for making the community’s memories come to life and lifting people’s spirits. I am proud to call you a Hometown Hero.
• Father Robert Griner from the Christ Episcopal Church in Newton who collected food for Andover Subacute, the local long term care facility whose workers have been devastated by the pandemic. Father Griner delivered a truck full of food himself and one of the staff was moved to complete tears. Father Griner, thank you for supporting our healthcare workers. You are a true Hometown Hero.
• Eight-year-old Jacob Lopez from Vernon. Jacob was able to fundraise and donate food and lunches to front line medical workers and police officers in Vernon. Jacob was inspired by the police officers who sang him Happy Birthday at his doorstep, so he decided to step up and give back. He even performed and recorded “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head” by Dean Martin for the Vernon officers as he delivered them lunch. Jacob, thank you for supporting our front liners, you are a true Hometown Hero.
• Frank Leone from Newton who is a retired Pastor from Christ Community Church who assisted Bristol Glenn residents. Frank has dedicated countless hours running errands to shop for the elderly and spend time with them. I was also honored to name the Oakland Post Office after your father, Frank Leone Sr. and I’m sure he is very proud. Frank, thank you for looking after our senior citizens, you are a true Hometown Hero.
• Robert Boyle from Newton who owns Planet Networks and donated more than 450 surgical facemasks to Newton First Aid Rescue Squad, Atlantic Health, and 40 different groups. Robert, I am proud to call you a Hometown Hero. Thank you.
• Andrew Thomas from Franklin, who owns Franklin Wash n’ Lube. Andrew sanitized the Franklin Police Department’s police cars to help keep officers safe. Andrew, thank you so much for protecting our front liners, you are a true Hometown Hero.
• Darlene Pallay from Franklin, who is the owner of CKO Kickboxing in Franklin. While everyone was staying at home, Darlene provided free online fitness classes to everyone affected by the pandemic, keeping everyone active and happy. Darlene, thank you for providing such a great service to the community. You are a true Hometown Hero.
• Lois Marples from Vernon: Lois got a call from one of her friends looking for help to make masks and 5 minutes later, Lois was in her friend’s driveway with a sewing kit. Lois is the former president of the Vernon Women’s Club and also collected food, PPE, and scarves for Hackettstown medical workers to make sure they were cared for. Lois, thank you so much and I am honored to name you a Hometown Hero.
• Melissa Fortuna from Wantage, who organized the Wantage United Methodist Church to offer free Wednesday to-go meals for community members. Melissa, thank you for making everyone’s days a little brighter. I am proud to name you a Hometown hero.