A group of high school students in Summit has collected more than 500 pounds of groceries for a local food pantry this year and continues to collect more, with the assistance of generous local families, Jersey City residents and the NJ-based real estate company The KRE Group.
The collection effort began in February when Summit High School junior Joe Gingeleskie founded the group “Hilltoppers Helping” with like-minded friends Leo Brandt, Devin Kairam and David Shunk. The pandemic was still raging and food insecurity was high for many people due to job loss. The teens noticed longer than usual lines at a local food pantry, Loaves and Fishes at St. Teresa of Avila church, and started brainstorming ways that they could help.
They soon launched the Hilltop Food Drive and asked Joe’s father, Justin Gingeleskie, the Director of Leasing for The KRE Group, if they could place a donation box and poster in the lobby of one of KRE’s residential buildings. KRE welcomed the opportunity and agreed to place the box at 485 Marin, a luxury rental building on Marin Boulevard near Hamilton Park and the Newport PATH station. With hundreds of people passing through the lobby every day, the donation box would receive a lot of exposure.
The drive was a huge success. Hilltoppers Helping collected more than 200 pounds of food in a matter of weeks, with residents of 485 Marin contributing the bulk of it. The boys sorted the food and delivered it to Loaves and Fishes in mid-March. A second collection weeks later yielded even more. It was a welcome Easter gift for a food pantry that serves up to 90 families every week.
“We were trying to think of ways that we could help and the first thing that came to my mind was when my summer swim team did a food drive for Loaves and Fishes a couple of years ago,” said Joe Gingeleskie, who has also volunteered at Loaves and Fishes in the past and is a member of the St. Teresa’s parish. “The pandemic has been hard on a lot of people, but on the positive side more people are giving and more people are doing what they can to help, so we wanted to do our part.”
Hilltoppers Helping is hoping to hold more food drives in the near future, expanding its efforts to collect donations from other KRE-owned residential buildings in downtown Jersey City and also locally in Summit. Their plan is to continue contributing to Loaves and Fishes food pantry, but also to the Community Food Bank of New Jersey, which serves thousands of soup kitchens food pantries and feeding programs across the state.
“It’s been a great experience working with my friends to put this all together, and we are thankful at how generous everyone has been,” Joe Gingeleskie said. “We hope to do even more in the future.”