Kearny’s Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1302 held its annual awards night Friday, paying tribute to local teens and their teacher, public safety employees, community workers and business people for supporting patriotism.
Rich Pawlowski, a decorated Kearny police officer, was recognized as the VFW’s Citizen of the Year for spearheading a drive to send care packages to his stepbrother Matthew McGilis’s N.J. National Guard’s 2-113th Infantry Battalion unit deployed on a humanitarian mission to Africa last year. (McGilis just returned from his mission last week.)
In support of that effort, the VFW enlisted the aid of many resources in the Kearny community to organize an Octoberfest fundraiser on behalf of the members of the battalion.
With the funds collected, “we shipped 37 large boxes totaling 1,116 pounds” to the deployed soldiers,” said VFW Commander Jennifer Long, “and some funds paid for a Christmas party for the families of the soldiers at the Jersey City Armory.”
“For six weeks, we were running around but it all came together for the event that benefited 900 N.J. National Guard soldiers that deployed,” Long said.
Pawlowski credited all the volunteers who participated in the Octoberfest, including members of the Kearny Fire Department who set up the tents where food was sold. “And the amount of support I got from my own agency [the KPD] was amazing,” he added. “I hope we can keep it going.”
Indeed, it will. Later this month, Long said, “We’ll do a Mother’s Day party for the soldiers’ mothers and wives at the [VFW] post.” And there are plans for an official welcome home for the returning soldiers “so it goes full circle,” she said.
Others who contributed to the Octoberfest’s success who were singled out for recognition were:
• Harrison Elks leader Larry Bennett, for his “guidance and knowledge” in helping run the event. The Elks’s Army of Hope extends rent or mort gage subsidies and holiday gifts to families who’ve lost loved ones in combat.
• Carlos Iturralde, of Ap plebee’s, and Mike Liegel and George Carfora, of NuWay Concessionaires, for their as sistance with food vending.
• Amir Djubani, of Minute man Press, whose business printed materials that helped promote the fundraiser.
Other honorees were: Police Sgt. Paul Bershefski as Policeman of the Year; Firefighter Jason McCabe as Fireman of the Year; Kathy Williams of Lincoln School as Teacher of the Year; Samantha Levers of Kearny High School as the Voice of Democracy winner; and Garret Gualtieri, Jillian Boyle and Tiffany Sun, all of Lincoln School, as third- , second- and first-place winners, respectively, of the Patriots Pen essay contest.
Profiles on Bershefsky and McCabe published in The Observer’s March 31 issue.
Mayor Alberto Santos credited all the civilians feted by the VFW for being “role model citizens,” lauded the KPD and KFD for “being among the very best in the state” in protecting the citizenry, commended Bershefsky and McCabe for showing “bravery in the face of danger” and thanked the VFW for bringing “all the different age groups together” to be celebrated “for serving our country.”
And, the mayor said, Kearny will pay homage to those soldiers who made the supreme sacrifice for their country when it holds its annual Memorial Day Parade on May 21.
– Ron Leir