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Tagged: Kearny

A first for Kearny VFW Post


By Karen Zautyk
Observer Correspondent 


When Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1302 elected its new commander in May, it also made local history. Jennifer M. Long, who was installed in office at the state VFW convention in June, is the first woman to head a veterans’ organization in this area.

And before any chauvinists ask: Yes, she has the credentials. Impressive credentials.

Long served in the U.S. Army for 30 years, retiring in August 2012 with the rank of Sergeant Major. Her last assignment was with the 101st Airborne in Afghanistan, where she spent nine months “in country” and received a Bronze Star.

While there, she was assigned to the French Army as an adviser on Afghan affairs, overseeing the equipping and training of local police and military in anticipation of the transfer of power from the French to Afghan forces.

She also served a combat tour in Iraq in 2008-09, worked security operations at Guantanamo Bay and is a veteran of the Gulf War.

Asked to comment on all that, she simply said, “You do your job.”

It was a job she said she “always wanted to do,” even though it was not something women thought of as a career at the time she entered military service.

And the job she wants to do now is revitalize the Post, recruit new members, work more closely with other vets’ groups, such as the American Legion and the Marine Corps League, and see the Post become more involved in the community at large.

Those are all among the reasons behind the first annual Octoberfest she has organized for this coming Saturday, Oct. 18. It will be held, rain or shine, on Belgrove Drive between Bergen Ave. and Afton St. from noon to 6 p.m.

In addition to all the aforementioned veterans’ groups, participants will include members of the Kearny Police and Fire Departments, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Kearny students of all ages and various civic-minded groups. “We wanted it to be inclusive, to get as many parts of the community as possible involved,” Long said.

There will be raffles and games and food and live entertainment — rock bands, blues bands, etc.

And everything is being provided to Octoberfest gratis.

“That’s the beauty of this, they’ve all donated their time and their talents,” Long said.

And speaking of donations: The primary goal of the event is to raise funds to send care packages to the 900 New Jersey National Guard troops who are deployed around the world. Also, to collect items to fill those packages.

Cash donations will be used to pay the postage, which, Long noted, “is our biggest cost.” According to the N.J. National Guard, it costs about $25 to ship each box overseas. For 900 troops, that’s $22,500.

You can also bring things needed for the packages. Among the suggested items:

• Lip balm

• Sunblock

• Moist wipes

• Bug spray – non-aerosol

• Bars of soap

• Small bottles of shampoo

• Deodorant – non-aerosol

•Powdered drink mixes

•Cereal/snack/granola bars

• Instant oatmeal – individual  packets

• Hot chocolate – individual  packets

• Small cans of tuna with  pop-tops

• Small cans of fruit with  pop-tops

• Microwave popcorn –  individual bags

•Athletic socks

•Batteries – all sizes

• Toothpaste

• Gum

• Candy

• Small boxes of cereal

• Small bags of trail mix,  peanuts, pretzels

• Books & magazines

There are various websites with care-package info, among them opshoeboxnj.org.

And when Octoberfest is over (we’ll see you there, won’t we?), Long can go back to planning other things. Like continuing to recruit new VFW members.

Post 1302 was once among the biggest in the state, Long said, but “as with all Posts, we’re up against a declining membership. They just age out.”

She added, “Younger veterans want to see more community projects. I’ll try to create such projects to bring in members.”

Then there’s the task of spiffing up the headquarters at 300 Belgrove Dr., a 19th-century structure that, Long noted, had been the administration building for the Old Soldiers’ Home.  That takes money, and money is raised via the Post bar and its hall rentals. “It’s like running a business,” the new commander said.

Fortunately, along with her military experience, she has business acumen. She is currently a financial representative with Primary Financial in Fairfield.

If you were to ask her how she manages all this varied responsibility, we’d bet she’d say, “You do your job.”

VIDEO: Bunny Hill in Kearny after the snow

Thanks to Vance Green for the great video.

BREAKING: 16-year-old Kearny girl shot, killed on Belgrove Drive Thursday night

Alishia Colon

Alishia Colon



A 16-year-old Kearny High School student was shot in the head and died from those wounds in her Belgrove Drive Home Thursday night, according to reports.

The victim was identified as Alishia Colon, according to reports.

Reports say Colon recently turned 16.

A fight took place earlier yesterday in the area of the shooting involving some of the victim’s relatives, according to the HCPO. The HCPO says it is trying to determine whether there is a connection to the incident and the shooting.

The Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office says that around 6:20 p.m. last night, Kearny police were called to 253 Belgrove Drive — and when they arrived, police found Colon dead in her bedroom.

Reports also say a 37-year-old Belleville man — identified as Edwin Mendez Jr. — was arrested in relation to the fight and charged with unlawful possession of a gun and making terroristic threats. It’s not immediately clear whether there is a connection to the shooting, however.

The Hudson County Prosecutor’s office is working with the Kearny Police Department on the investigation. Neither a suspect nor motive have yet been identified, the prosecutor’s office says.

Anyone with information on the incident is asked to call the prosecutor’s office at 201-915-1345 or send an e-mail to hcpotips@hcpo.org. All reports are kept confidential.

Mayor Alberto G. Santos released the following statement earlier today:

“The Kearny Police Department is diligently working with the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office in the homicide investigation.  We are utilizing all available resources to apprehend the individual responsible for this tragic death.  We will leave no stone unturned until we bring this individual to justice.

“The Township of Kearny would like reassure its residents that their safety is paramount and that is why increased police patrols have been implemented.  We would like everyone to understand that this is an isolated incident.

“The Township of Kearny and I would like to express our deepest sympathies to the family of the young victim.

“If any resident has any questions concerning safety issues they can call the mayor’s office or the Kearny Police Department.”

Please check back with The Observer for updates to this story. We’ll update our website as soon as more details are available.



Kentucky Care moves along

By Karen Zautyk
Senior correspondent

Last week, Americans learned that  $1.9 million worth of computers donated by the United States to the schoolchildren of Iraq ended up sitting in  an Iraqi port, where a senior Iraqi official then auctioned them all off for a mere $50,000.

It’s stories like this that have soured a lot of folks on long-distance charity. That’s unfortunate, but the Kentucky Care project currently being sponsored by The Observer is designed to alleviate any misgivings about giving.

Photo by Karen Zautyk — Volunteers form human assembly line to load trailer with donated items bound for Kentucky.

“When we lock that truck,” said publisher Lisa Pezzolla, “we know where it’s going. And we’re the ones who open it up when we get there, to make sure that the donations get into the right hands.”

What she’s talking about is the massive 53-foot-long trailer which now sits in The Observer parking lot and will be heading down to Knott County, Ky., in a few weeks, filled with food, clothing, household goods, toys, furniture, you-name-it, contributed by Observer readers. This year’s collection began Aug.12, and the trailer appears to be at least two-thirds full already.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays only, from 2 to 6 p.m., volunteers are in the lot, accepting the donations and loading boxes into the vehicle and stacking them floor to roof. (Please make sure all your donations are boxed. Thank you.) It’s a solid wall of cartons in there.

On the collection days, there is also a steady stream of traffic into the lot (please be alert!), as readers deliver their donations. “Some people have come three, four, five times,” Pezzolla said. “And there are more and more every year.”

This is the third year The Observer has been involved with the project, but Kentucky Care is actually much older. It was launched 20 years ago by Gino Montrone, who still organizes everything and ensures delivery of the items.

Montrone, having made a success in business, wanted to give something back in gratitude for his good fortune. But he wanted to give back to this country. So he started doing research, and he found that Knott County, in the Kentucky Appalachians, was one of the poorest in the nation. Montrone got the name of someone in the local school system down there and phoned them. “They thought it was a prank call,” Pezzolla said. But Montrone explained and then traveled to Knott County and met the people and forged a bond.

Pezzolla flew down to Kentucky a couple of years ago and was deeply moved by what she encountered. The living conditions can be abysmal. And life in the mountains can be isolating.

“Some people have never even been to a store,” she said. “They don’t even know what size they wear.” Part of her job when she was in Knott County was to be a sort of “personal shopper,” helping the folks pick out the right clothing for them and their families.

Poverty plagues Knott County as much today as it did when Montrone “adopted” it. According to the latest figures available from the U.S. Census Bureau, 30.2% of the county’s population of 17,126 lives below the poverty level. The average per capita annual income is $11,297.

A 2006 PBS “Frontline” report on Appalachian Kentucky noted that “the region’s overall population is becoming an older population as a result of a falling birth rate and an exodus of many of its best young workers.” The best and the brightest who manage to get a high school diploma often flee the poverty-stricken mountains and hollows, where employment opportunities are nil anyway.

And now, the people of Appalachia are even being deprived of the natural beauty that had surrounded them. Coal companies, “improving” upon strip-mining, are practicing something called mountaintop removal. Which means exactly that: Leveling each mountain from the top down. Removing it. Until it’s virtually flattened. Additionally, the process is polluting the streams and rivers, foes of the process report.

Kentucky Care cannot cure Knott County’s ills, and it doesn’t promise or expect to. But it can sure help alleviate them. And can you put a price on the smile of a child who is getting his first good winter coat? Or her first pair of snow boots? Or their first real toys?

The Kentucky Care trailer and volunteers are waiting for your donations. See the notice on p. 18 of this week’s paper for a list of the items that are needed.

And rest assured that they all will be delivered directly to people who desperately need them.