NJ ‘Unsung Heroes’ Recognized with Russ Berrie ‘Making a Difference’ Awards

Sources: Ramapo.edu; ROI New Jersey

Established in 1997 by the late Russell Berrie and managed and hosted by Ramapo College of New Jersey, the Russ Berrie Making a Difference Award honors Garden State residents whose outstanding community service and heroic acts have made a substantial impact on the lives of others.

Since 1997, nearly four hundred of New Jersey’s most dedicated citizens who have made substantial impact on the lives of others have been honored with this prestigious award. On Friday, May 7 2021 starting at 11:30 a.m., the 25th anniversary celebration of the Making a Difference Award will recognize a number of these unsung heroes at a virtual awards ceremony. Among this year’s recipients:

Dionisio “Chef Dion” Cucuta, Jr., Teaneck is a military veteran with a culinary background, who recognized that the COVID-19 pandemic created devastating food insecurity for many vulnerable residents in Bergen County. He created Hot Wheels, hot dinners prepared from scratch to families at Bergen Family Center, and Table to Table Tuesday, a raw food distribution donated by Table To Table food rescue organization.

Maria Torres, Newark, became the manager of the United Community Corporation Champion House food pantry just weeks before the onset of COVID-19. In spite of pandemic lockdowns and the resulting unemployment leading to a huge rise in food insecurity, not to mention her diagnosis of the autoimmune disease lupus, which put her at extremely high risk for Covid, she oversaw the serving of 150,000 people in 2020.

Emma And Quinn Joy, South Orange, are founders of Girls Helping Girls. Period, which addressed one of the most overlooked and underdiscussed issues facing low-income women today – period poverty. Emma and Quinn embody the spirit of making a difference while advocating and educating others to erase the stigmas surrounding menstrual health.

Kim Gaddy, Newark, raised three children who suffered from chronic asthma and lost a brother-in-law to a fatal asthma attack. Thanks to her work on the front lines, New Jersey now has the strongest environmental justice legislation in the nation.

Donna York, Hillsborough, is founder of HARK ALS, which provides financial and emotional support for families affected by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. York’s daily acts of heroism exemplify commitment, courage and leadership to the ALS community.

Lynn Regan, Farmingdale, founded CFC Loud N Clear Foundation after witnessing her loved one’s agonizing struggle with addiction. She created a successful relapse prevention model that has helped thousands of young people achieve long-term sober living.

“As challenging as 2020 was for so many of us, these selfless individuals answered their communities’ call for help,” said Angelica Berrie, president of the Russell Berrie Foundation. “From activists fighting systemic inequities to neighbors helping neighbors during the pandemic, it’s an honor to celebrate this remarkable group of individuals as part of our 25th anniversary celebration of the awards and Russ’ legacy.”

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