Pictured delivering donations to the Rise Community Services food pantry following NxtUp94’s annual food collection drive are, from left, committee members Nick Allessandro, Matt Nee, Ed Cody, Joe Davis and Mike Garcia; food pantry director Julia Badulescu;
      and NxtUp94 members Mike Butler, Joe Checkley, Hal Cunningham and Shawn Sawicki.

Even though their state was among the hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic, the members of Cranbury, N.J., Local 94’s “NxtUp94” young electrical workers committee still managed in June to go ahead and conduct their seventh annual food drive.

“What they did this year — to think of people less fortunate than themselves in the middle of this health crisis — has to be one of the most selfless acts a person can make,” said Local 94 Business Manager Buddy Thoman.

The haul from the committee’s food drive was impressive, with the young members able to collect nearly $8,000 in food and monetary donations.

“Our local covers New Jersey from north to south, Bergen County to Salem County, and our office is in the middle, in Hightstown,” Thoman said “When we started NxtUp94, we would do this collection throughout the state.”

Each year, committee members place food drive collection cans at every utility and work location under Local 94’s purview. Members and others can either place their food donations in one of the cans, or they can contribute money online.

“This year, it’s no surprise that they brought in more cash than anything,” Thoman said.

Most food banks are grateful for any kind of donations, although cash generally allows them greater flexibility to buy specific food items that don’t traditionally get donated but are desperately needed, including fresh fruits and vegetables.

As always, this year’s NxtUp94 food drive helped support the Rise Community Services food pantry located next to the union hall.

“The pantry was so surprised that they were still doing it,” Thoman said. “Worried about their health, but they still help the community.”

Rise Executive Director Leslie Koppel, who also serves as a freeholder for Middlesex County, told Thoman that the donations would stay in the local community to help nearby families. Noting that the food bank’s shelves tend to be all but cleaned out by June, about the time that the typically generous mass of food donations during the winter holidays runs out, Koppel said that these timely collections would help feed 125 Hightstown families for two full months.

“We have all been affected by this pandemic, especially here in New Jersey, and these young workers sacrificed their time and wellbeing to help our community while being in the midst of crisis themselves,” Thoman said. “These selfless acts do not go unnoticed, and we are proud of our young workers, who are honorably leading the way for the next generation of Local 94 members.”

Now in its eighth year, the NxtUp94 committee was established as a local chapter of the IBEW’s greater RENEW/NextGen initiative to encourage up-and-coming IBEW men and women to become active in their local, Thoman said. “It’s a good way of engaging the younger members of our local.”

In the past, the committee has set up an agenda for the coming year, filling a calendar with social and community service events throughout the state. This year, thanks to the coronavirus, that calendar has been all but thrown out.

Thoman said that the NxtUp94 committee has been a real positive for the local. “Our executive board has two of its young workers on it, with an officer in the top five of our leadership,” he said, “and we now have our first business agent to come out of the group.”