By: Megan Roche
Denville Township has always had a special sense of community and that special sense of community has not been lost during the coronavirus pandemic. If anything, that special sense of community has grown stronger than ever. What started out as individuals wanting to help has turned into a major volunteer effort throughout the township.
Mike Andersen, one of the coordinators for Denville Strong, started this endeavor when he saw local businesses shutting their doors because of coronavirus. Wanting to support them, Andersen contacted Ryan Gleason from the Downtown Denville BID. Together, the two are working tirelessly with volunteers to help keep businesses afloat.
“As everything started progressing, we realized there were going to be some frontline workers who were going to be putting themselves at risk. We also saw businesses close that were going to be affected financially. After talking with a few folks about what we could do, I thought that there had to be a way to combine these two together. We are working to help our frontline workers and at the same time, helping our local businesses,” Andersen said.
What originally started out as just a service to offer grocery and pharmacy pick up for the elderly has since turned into the volunteers fulfilling any need that they can. The Denville Strong team has also aided in providing meals for frontline workers, donations of masks and PPE, all while supporting the local economy. Andersen is working in tandem with leadership at St. Clare’s Hospital.
“We’ve had requests for surgical caps, D batteries, and more where we’ve bought those things from local businesses and donated them to the hospital. We’re trying to figure out ways to include our local businesses whether it be through meals, meal nights, and it’s not just limited to restaurants, we’re trying to involve everyone. We’ve done a pizza night where workers could pick up a pizza for their family. We’ve paid for portions of meals. We’ve also done a taco night for first responders as well,” Andersen shared.
Kids have also not been forgotten. The Denville Strong team heard of a Facebook post to see if the Easter Bunny would be arriving in town. Other local towns had done similar things to bring joy to the little ones at this time, so Andersen began contacting local officials to see if the request could be met. What started out on the Saturday before Easter at 3:00 in the afternoon became a much needed bright spot for many local children and adults on Easter Sunday.
“Somebody posted about it on Facebook and asked if Denville was considering doing something similar. I saw it and thought it was a great idea. Our volunteer firemen love doing these kinds of things. We observed appropriate social distancing and we put it out there and the residents were awesome. We put together a specific route that hit most neighborhoods in town. It was awesome to see the smiles on both the kids and adults faces. I think we all needed a little bit of normalcy and a little bit of time to get outside. It was amazing to see the community get out there and come together, but still keeping everyone safe,” Andersen said.
While monetary donations are extremely helpful and encouraged, kids can also get involved. There is a mailbox downtown where kids are being encouraged to write and drop off thank you letters that will be delivered to frontline workers. This is an easy way to get the kids to get creative and at the same time, support the Denville Strong mission.
“The feedback from frontline workers has been incredible. They have been extremely appreciative of everything. They are grateful for us for making their lives a little bit easier while they are out there battling on the front lines to keep us all safe,” Andersen said.
Looking to help frontline workers? Andersen and the team want to hear your ideas. Andersen asks that you reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit their Facebook page at Denville Strong. No idea is too big or too small. This simple project has become bigger and better than Andersen could have ever imagined when he started it a few weeks ago.
“The outpouring has been way more than I ever expected. From every area within Denville, everyone is stepping up to say ‘what can I do to help?’ I think at first I set this up as a way to tackle an immediate need in the short term, and with the amount of money we’ve raised and the people that have offered ideas, this could go on for a while now. We’ve raised over $25,000 and every single cent is going to go back to a local business,” Andersen said.
For more information on Denville Strong, visit www.denvillestrong.com.