EDISON — The latest donations to the Hands of Hope Community Soup Kitchen by members of the Valencia Soccer Academy will go a long way toward feeding those who are in need.
“We were looking to find a charity in the local area,” said Jason Montesinos, founder and president of Valencia Soccer Academy (VSA), who said one of their members led them to Hands of Hope.
VSA, which holds practices at the SMG SportsPlex at Metuchen and plays games at John F. Kennedy Memorial High School in Iselin, held its first barbecue celebrating its inception last year at Elder Park behind Minnie B. Veal Center on Aug. 27.
“We hope that this will become an annual thing,” Montesinos said.
With roughly 150 to 160 members ranging from 7 to 19 years old, Montesinos said they wanted to all come together from the 12 coaches to the members and their parents.
“We had some members come and go and we have had new members come in,” Montesinos said.
Among the invitees to the barbecue were Jackie Godesky, president of Hands of Hope, Pat Colletto, a board and trustee member for Hands of Hope, and Middlesex County Freeholder Deputy Director Charles Tomaro, also a board and trustee member.
In 1992, Hands of Hope, Inc., a non-profit community based organization in Edison, began to serve the community as a food pantry/soup kitchen and a limited clothes closet.
Twenty-five years later, the program continues to function from St. James Church at 2136 Woodbridge Avenue and is committed to providing an efficient and effective centralized system for distributing food to alleviate hunger in Middlesex County, one family at a time.
Colletto said it’s rewarding to see a young group of children like the Valencia Soccer Academy provide much needed donations to the food pantry.
“Not only are they donating, some of the members visited Hands of Hope,” she said.
Colletto said the organization’s Turkey Drive during Thanksgiving provides a real visual for people to realize the continual need for donations.
Godesky said on that day last year, the line of people waiting for a bag of food stretched along Woodbridge Avenue. Some 1,186 people were fed during Thanksgiving in 2016.
In 2016, supporters donated $99,135 and food valued at $152,698.
Throughout the 12 months, Hands of Hope used the donations to feed 9,464 men, women and children by distributing 3,844 food bags to families and provided hot lunches for 4,388 people.
Godesky said this year marks the 25th anniversary of Hands of Hope’s existence. She said the milestone will be recognized sometime in the fall.
She said the longevity of the program speaks volumes for the many people, groups and organizations that have volunteered and continually volunteer their time at the food pantry.
Godesky and Colletto noted that none of the staff gets paid for their work at the food pantry.
Montesinos said the VSA staff and members were divided into 11 teams. The team that donates the most food, wins a pizza party, he said.
Konjit Muchhala said even though VSA formed last year, the many members already knew each other for a few years.
“My kids, who are 12 and a half and 14 years old, love it,” she said. “They love the energy from Jason and we have grown together as a team and we continue to grow stronger.”
Muchhala said the donation drive for Hands for Hope shows that the organization is not just about soccer, but about life.
Mike Leber, who sits on the board of VSA, said as they grow, the community aspect is a very important part of the organization.
For more information about Valencia Soccer Academy visit www.valenciasoccernj.com and for more information about Hands of Hope food Pantry visit handsofhopenj.net.