WEST ORANGE, NJ — The West Orange Police Department’s Community Services Unit is collecting leftover Halloween candy for the West Orange Elks Club, which will distribute it to soldiers serving overseas as well as local veterans hospitals.
Residents interested in donating can bring candy to the Police Officer Timothy Groves Community Substation at 90 Washington St. According to Officer Brad Squires, the unit will continue to accept contributions through Nov. 18, though that deadline may be extended if there is a continued demand.
And there certainly has been a lot of interest so far. In fact, Squires said the take-back program has been a bigger success so far than he ever imagined.
“It’s been very overwhelming,” Squires told the West Orange Chronicle in a Nov. 10 phone interview, saying that the campaign,which started out as just a Facebook post, took off. “I thought we’d get a couple bags here and there, but it’s been a lot.”
Squires said the unit has collected approximately 50 bags of sweets so far in addition to a recycling container full of confectioneries. He said one woman even showed up with her car trunk filled with candy. In all, the officer estimated that about 200 pounds have been donated so far.
That is a good thing, Squires said, because the troops deserve to get as much as possible.
“They are our heroes,” Squires said. “They are the people who protect our country. And with the holidays upcoming, they won’t be home with their families. So I think it’s necessary that we show support and thank them.”
Colleen Blasi of the Elks Club believes the soldiers will be grateful, and she should know. As the north central district veterans chairwoman, Blasi sends care packages four to six times per year to Elks members’ enlisted children and their units overseas in places such as Afghanistan and Kuwait. She said they love receiving the candy — especially chocolate.
Blasi said she thinks the WOPD’s candy drive is a fantastic idea. And while she is not exactly sure at this point how the sweets will be divided among everyone — there are currently six children of West Orange Elks in the military, and the Elks also regularly give to the veterans hospitals in East Orange and Lyons — she promised all the candy would go to soldiers and veterans.
Of course, candy is not the only item the Elks Club ships to the troops. Blasi said she also sends everything from toothbrushes to soap to tuna fish and playing cards. She said socks are always in high demand, as well. And when she is not giving supplies, she said the Elks often host returning soldiers for meals to show appreciation for their service.
It may be a lot of work, but Blasi said seeing the smiles on the soldiers’ faces makes it all worth it.
“I feel great,” Blasi told the Chronicle in a Nov. 10 phone interview. “It’s an experience that I’ll never forget. I’m glad I was given the opportunity to do this because I really enjoy it.”
As for the Community Services Unit, Squires said he is sure the candy take-back program will become an annual event after seeing its success so far. He pointed out that many residents have candy that they either did not want their children to have or that was leftover from trick or treating, and this is a way to put it to use. Plus, he said, the candy drive is a great way for the community to come together for a good cause.