They’re being called “hunger-fighting heroes.”
But six employees at three ShopRite supermarkets, in Vineland in Cumberland County, and Middle and Upper townships in Cape May County, say they’re just trying to help those in need of a meal.
The employees — Mike Alvarez, of Vineland; Diana Kurtz, of Franklin Township; Jennifer Ashbridge, of Lower Township; Beverly Nixon, of Woodbine; Samantha Lepor, of Dennis Township; and Pier DeRiggi, of Upper Township — helped their stores raise $39,311 in five weeks last year. Their efforts to support ShopRite’s initiative to feed the hungry got their pictures on boxes of Cheerios.
“It’s so exciting,” said Lepor, who works at the Marmora store in Upper Township. “My entire family bought boxes. My mom went crazy.”
One family member made the mistake of opening one of the souvenir boxes, she said.
“It won’t happen again,” said Lepor, whose duties at the Marmora store include bookkeeping.
And the pictures have made the employees something of supermarket celebrities.
“People are asking for our autograph,” said Alvarez, who manages the Vineland store.
“They’re coming up all the time.”
Even better than the celebrity status is the work the employees accomplished, said Kurtz, who works the customer courtesy counter at the Vineland store.
“It makes you feel like you’re doing your part. You feel like you could do more,” Kurtz said.
The three ShopRite stores are part of 29 ShopRites operated by Village Supermarkets Inc. in New Jersey, Maryland and Pennsylvania. Employees in two other stores, both in Morris County, also got their pictures on Cheerios boxes.
The money, raised as part of ShopRite’s Partners in Caring program, totaled $15,484 for the Vineland store, $13,970 for the Marmora store and $9,857 for the Rio Grande store.
The stores raised the money from events including hot dog and bake sales, golf tournaments, bowling nights, beef-and-beer dinners and from customers during a five-week period that stretched through September.
Lepor even went to the extreme of dressing like the Honey Nut Cheerios bee mascot and dancing in front of the store to attract donations.
“It was so much fun,” Lepor said.
The serious part of the whole program is that there are many families that can’t afford to buy food, said Orien Reid, a spokeswoman for Wakefern Food Corp., a cooperative to which ShopRite retailers belong. Many of those families have members working multiple jobs, she said.
The situation is particularly bad for children, who face learning challenges because they’re hungry, she said.
“It’s so hard to focus and learn when your stomach is empty,” Reid said.
Nixon, who works at the Rio Grande store, said she has participated in the program for eight years. Nixon said what made the fundraising so successful was all the cooperation from store workers.
“This is like a family here,” she said.
And all the employees said they owe a lot of the program’s success to their customers.
“Every time they came in, they gave what they could afford,” said Ashbridge, a stock clerk at the Rio Grande store in Middle Township.