GLEN RIDGE, NJ — Adapting to the pandemic, the volunteer Glen Ridge Community Fund has managed to continue its assistance to borough residents and even improve on one of its fundraising efforts.
The annual letter-writing campaign requesting contributions, which begins at year’s end and continues into the new year, was once a snail mail and postage stamp endeavor. But last year, by necessity, it went virtual, and the results were promising.
“We call it a letter-writing campaign,” explained GRCF President Caren Pennington, “and historically, it was. But we couldn’t do it last year and raised quite a bit of money and think we’ll keep it virtual.”
Members of the Girls’ Club of Glen Ridge had previously assisted with the envelope-stuffing letter-writing activity and continue to volunteer with the annual Fitzgerald’s 1928 Lager Run. The GRCF has only two annual fundraisers: the letter-writing campaign and the Lager Run. According to Pennington, the virtual letter-writing campaign for 2020-21 made $22,500.
“We raised as much virtually as we did the year before with actual letters,” she said. The letter-writing campaign is at the end of the year, when people are not only in a holiday-spirited mood, but also thinking of tax deductions, she added.
In 2021, the Lager Run, which took place at the end of August, raised $26,000, an amount that Pennington said was great. In 2020, the racers participated in a virtual race.
“In 2020, because large, in-person races were not safe to have,” Pennington said, “the Lager Run, a 5K, and the associated Nipper Mile, a 1K, were held virtually.
“This meant that people signed up for the race online, paid a fee, which was totally a donation to the community fund, because something like this has no associated expenses, and ran or walked the normal route individually, on their own, recording their times for themselves if they wanted. They received no prizes or official recognition. A virtual race like that was unofficial and just for fun, and a bit of relative normalcy for the participants.”
The 2020 event generated $7,000; in pre-pandemic 2019, it made $33,000. The upcoming Lager and Nipper races are scheduled for Tuesday, June 12.
“The pandemic had an impact on everything,” Pennington said.
In 2020, a group of individuals even organized their own fundraiser, a “Peloton challenge,” and donated part of the proceeds to the GRCF. “It was a novel idea and we appreciated it,” she said.
Pennington has been GRCF president for five years. The term of office is three years. Prior to being president, she was a trustee. Current trustees, in addition to Pennington, are Susan Hughes, Paula Ely, Kyle Howland, Jennifer Hutchinson, Kathy Marhan, Ann Marie Morrow, Carolyn Twitchell, Lois Waldman and Masha Waters. Meetings are virtual and monthly. Before the pandemic, the group met at the train station.
The community services organizations receiving support from the GRCF are the Neighbor-to-Neighbor Network in Bloomfield; the YMCA of Montclair; the Human Needs Food Pantry in Montclair; The Arc of Essex County, which supports individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities; COPE, which provides mental health care; Crill Care, which provides home health care; the Glen Ridge Ambulance Squad; and the jitney service for borough seniors.
Hughes said the effect of the pandemic on fundraising made the group reconsider what organizations to support.
“We wanted to concentrate on Glen Ridge residents,” she said. “We didn’t have the race last year, but we did this year. Glen Ridge residents are extremely generous.”
As it turned out, United Cerebral Palsy, which previously received support without any borough resident receiving assistance and was being reconsidered, did not apply for a grant.
“For the Neighbor-to-Neighbor Network, we bought a lot of ShopRite gift cards,” Hughes said. “They have social workers in Bloomfield. We do not. The social worker determines emergency needs.” Hughes has been a member for 10 years and had been a member years ago, but took a break. The GRCF is always looking for new members, she said, and the Lager Race, a fun event, is an excellent opportunity to get involved.
Pennington, who grew up in Glen Ridge, said she was always aware of the fund.
“My father was involved,” she said. “Like most people in Glen Ridge, I know it’s fun to volunteer and my two sons have volunteered for the Lager Run.”
Other school-age volunteers are from local Boy and Girl Scouts troops and the Glen Ridge High School Key Club.