(MAHWAH, NJ) – After seeing a plea from the Flemington Food Pantry asking gardeners to bring excess produce to the pantry to feed those in need, Chip Paillex of Pittstown started Grow-a-Row, an organization based in Hunterdon County that grows fresh produce to feed the hungry. For his efforts, Paillex was awarded a $50,000 Russ Berrie Award for Making a Difference. Started in 2002 with the help of Chip’s then 4-year-old daughter, the first season netted 120 pounds of food that was given to the pantry. Last year, Grow-a-Row donated 317,000 pounds of produce throughout New Jersey with the help of more than 900 volunteers, many from Bethlehem Presbyterian Church, whose members gave more than 5,000 hours of help.
Taking home the $35,000 award was Natasha Rodgers of Somerset. She created a non-profit organization to honor her grandfather. The Simuel Whitfield Simmons Organization continues the legacy of a minister who believed that it takes a village to strengthen a family. During the past 10 years, without collecting a salary, she has conducted clothing, food and furniture drives and created a youth mentorship program. Her approach has been to help less fortunate members of the community know that every dream can be realized through hard work and determination.
Joan Schaefer of Bergenfield received the $25,000 award. In 1959, she realized there was a need for a girls’ sports league. Determined, she contacted 20 towns to assess an interest. Six responded and the United Girls Athletic League Suburbia, UGALS, was born. UGALS began as a basketball and softball program for girls ages 10 through 17. Softball became the focus in 1978. Schaefer has overseen the league’s growth and there are now 82 town-based teams from 37 towns in Bergen, Passaic and Hudson counties. As UGALS’ only president, Schaefer, a spry 95-year-old, is a visible presence at all UGALS activities, including games.