Giving Thanks, Giving Back


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Don Smartt, in yellow, presenting the Town Council with a check for the Verona Children's Fund.

For the past two weeks we’ve been telling you all about Thanksgiving in Verona, and most of that has revolved around food. Now it’s time to tell you about how people here are giving thanks and giving back.

More than a few of us are giving thanks to the people who got us through the Halloween weekend snowstorm. For Carine Zemokhol, that meant the neighbors, friends and Rescue Squad volunteers who rallied when her husband Nick Fradette was hit by a falling branch in the first hours of the storm. He had ventured out near their home on Fairview Avenue to help a neighbor’s mother into her car and the falling branch put a gash in his head that required attention at Mountainside. While the Rescue Squad transported him, his wife drew on some of the friends that the Fradette-Zemokhol family has made since they moved to Verona 12 years ago from Montreal. ” My babysitter was on Hillside, but Hillside was impassible,” she recounts, “so a friend from Morningside walked over to get her so she could watch my children.” Then a neighbor drove Zemokhol to the hospital, where doctors had closed her husband’s wound and diagnosed  a concussion–after the hospital got enough power back to run a CT scan.  “We were lucky in our unluckiness,” says Zemokhol. “So many people helped.”

Don Smartt also felt he had a lot of people to thank. Smartt, who heads the company that brings Verona its Fair in the Square every winter,  was without power for six days during the storm, but was humbled by the magnitude of what was happening around him. He came to the Town Council meeting this past Monday to thank  Verona’s municipal employees and volunteers for “the tremendous effort they expended during the storm.” He punctuated his thanks by turning over a check made out to the Verona Children’s Fund.

That fund is managed by Connie Pifher, the Verona Health Department employee who is Verona’s unofficial clearinghouse for charitable giving. Pifher said her thanks for the season three weeks ago, when she was trying to live without heat after the storm. “As I sat in bed in sweat pants, sweat shirt, two pairs of socks, hoodie and gloves under my down comforter, a quilt and two blankets in the dark I was at least grateful for the bed, a relatively safe environment and a roof over my head,” she said in an email. “I was grateful to have work to go to although there was no heat there either but at least there was companionship and something useful to do.”  It was hard to be cheery during the many days that it took Verona to recover, but Pifher put it in perspective. “… although this will be over shortly for me it never goes away for the countless number of persons who are homeless or cannot afford heat/electricity.”

All of which brings us to some of the needs in town that would have been here even if we had not had a monster storm. For the past 17 years, the  Verona United Methodist Church has been serving and delivering meals to Verona individuals and families in need. Food is donated by church members, a food drive at The Children’s House (the Montessori preschool that operates at the church), and other families. Last year, about 120 meals were vserved.

The food is prepared by parishioner, who view it as their opportunity to give back while giving thanks for their own blessings.  There is a lot pf preparation the night before so that on Thanksgiving day, the assembly line of people packing, bagging and delivering food runs smoothly and efficiently. To give the deliveries a personal touch, each meal is delivered with a card made by the children volunteers.

Michele Bernardino’s family is now in its second year of volunteering.  “My husband took my oldest son delivering with him last year,” she says, “and it was a wonderful experience for them both.”


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Virginia Citrano
Virginia Citrano
Virginia Citrano grew up in Verona. She moved away to write and edit for The Wall Street Journal’s European edition, Institutional Investor, Crain’s New York Business and Since returning to Verona, she has volunteered for school, civic and religious groups, served nine years on the Verona Environmental Commission and is now part of Sustainable Verona. She co-founded MyVeronaNJ in 2009. You can reach Virginia at [email protected].


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