"Highlighting Our Heroes" is an opportunity to share the stories of HOPE, LOVE and KINDNESS that Ridgecrest
has been blessed to be the recipient of. It is a behind the scenes look into the generosity of our community partners
that allows us to inspire HOPE to empower our residents to live their best lives!
Our first community partners to be highlighted are Stacey Antine and her amazing team of HealthBarn volunteers. I had the opportunity to meet the HealthBarn team during Ridgewood’s 1st annual Giving Thanks – Elder Dinner in 2016. Stacey and her team of volunteers cooked up a true thanksgiving feast. The Elder Dinner is a wonderful intergenerational event that celebrates the contributions of Ridgewood’s older adults. At the end of the dinner Stacey came up to me to learn more about Ridgecrest and the needs of our community.
Later that week, Stacey stopped by Ridgecrest for a tour and to visit with some of our residents that she had met at the Elder Dinner. During this initial visit, Stacey explained HealthBarn’s food gifting program, Healing Meals, that she had started at
St. Joseph’s Medical Center, Emmanuel Cancer Center, and Tomorrow’s Children Fund at Hackensack University Medical Center.
Stacey believed that offering Healing Meals to Ridgecrest residents would help to improve their nutritional intake and overall health. Stacey offered to host a special lunch at Ridgecrest the following week to give Ridgecrest residents an opportunity to taste test some of the Healing Meals and healthy snacks. Residents sampled chicken, lentil and minestrone soups and healthy mac and cheese. Healthy snacks included black bean brownies, healthy granola, and chickpea chocolate chip cookies. To say that residents LOVED the food would be an understatement. It was an enjoyable afternoon where residents had the opportunity to ask Stacey questions about healthy eating and recipes. Stacey made an instant connection with our residents.
In early December 2016, HealthBarn began their weekly food gifting program of Healing Meals soup and healthy snacks to Ridgecrest. Residents would be able to enjoy these delicious, nutritious, and organic meals in the comfort of their own apartments. The HealthBarn volunteers even write inspirational messages on the containers. After a few weeks of having the Healing Meals soup delivered, several residents thought it would be a good idea to deliver the soup to residents that weren’t able to come downstairs to the community room. This meant I would need to ask Stacey to significantly increase the amount of her weekly donation. When I called Stacey, she cheeringly said “of course, just let me know how many you would like”. And with that our Healing Meals “Soup Squad” took life. Healing Meals were now so much more than a healthy meal. It was an opportunity for our residents to renew their sense of purpose and passion by delivering the Healing Meals soup to their neighbors in need. Charlie,
one of HealthBarn’s volunteers, has been the main delivery person for Healing Meals to Ridgecrest since 2016. Each Wednesday
as residents would come in the community room for activities, the first thing they would ask would be “is Charlie coming today”? Their faces would light up when I confirmed that he was. The “Soup Squad” would meet Charlie out front and help to bring the soups and snacks inside. They would help me with the inventory of the soups received as well as with the distribution to their friends and neighbors. I joined the “Soup Squad” during deliveries, and it was clear to see that residents were truly overjoyed to receive the soup, as well as a visit from their friends. During these deliveries, our “Soup Squad” would invite their neighbors to come down to the community room to join in on the fun. Little by little our deliveries decreased and our in person participation in the community room increased. Healing Meals truly helped end social isolation for many of our residents.
In 2017 Stacey invited Ridgecrest residents to participate in a women's empowerment initiative video interview "Nourishing Yourself and the Community". Stacey had wonderful conversations with our residents about their lives and the importance of eating nutritious (and delicious) meals. Residents shared how the weekly donations of HealthBarn’s Healing Meals has impacted their lives. The residents that participated were treated like celebrities. The smiles on their faces during the interviews clearly showed the love that they have for Stacey.
Throughout the past four years, Stacey has worked hard to help combat Ridgecrest’s food insecurity through both Healing Meals donations and as a Ridgecrest Ambassador. She educates the greater Ridgewood community about the needs of those that are food insecure. Stacey was instrumental in having members of the Ridgewood Fire Department cook and deliver Healing Meals soup for Ridgecrest residents. Many of the RFD members did not know how severe the food insecurity was for our residents. This was the first time our residents had the opportunity to meet with Ridgewood First Responders during a non-emergency. It was a great community event!
Stacey is an advocate for individuals with disabilities. She was a champion for making HealthBarn handicap accessible with the new ramps. This enables those with disabilities to have the ability to enjoy special programming provided in an enriched educational, therapeutic, and supportive environment. Stacey partnered with Ridgewood Parks and Rec on the NJ Recreational Opportunities for Individuals with Disabilities (ROID) grant. The ROID grant enabled HealthBarn to deliver special events and comprehensive recreational services for individuals with disabilities. Stacey also partnered with Bergen County through the “Bergen County Access for All” to provide recreation for individuals with and without disabilities. Ridgecrest residents of all ages loved being part of these special events where they learned how to cook healthy meals.
Stacey has a talent for bringing so many in the greater Ridgewood community together to learn about healthy eating and to help combat food insecurity. Stacey promotes living a healthy lifestyle at every age. She promotes learning opportunities for all ages. She promotes intergenerational volunteer opportunities. Stacey partners with Whole Foods on their 5% day to help raise funds for HealthBarn’s Healing Meals program. It is amazing to see the community rally together to help combat food insecurity for some of Ridgewood’s most vulnerable residents.
I had the opportunity to be part of a Healing Meals healthy snack making event with Age Friendly Ridgewood and Ridgecrest volunteers. Although it was hard work, we truly had a lot of fun making healthy snacks for Ridgecrest residents. After volunteering personally, it was clear to see how HealthBarn’s volunteer program is so strong and vibrant. There is a waiting list of volunteers to help prepare healthy, nutritious, and delicious meals for those most in need. The amount of regular volunteers that participate with making Healing Meals speaks volumes about HealthBarn’s volunteer program. In 2018 over 250 HealthBarn volunteers logged over 3,000 service hours to make over 9,000 meals!!! In 2019 over 300 HealthBarn volunteers logged over 3,500 service hours to make over 10,000 meals!!!
In early March of this year, Stacey reached out to me about getting Ridgecrest residents ready to shelter in place. This was not something new for Stacey to do. She would call me to arrange special deliveries in anticipation of snowstorms or other weather emergencies. What was new was the amount of Healing Meals soup that we received. Stacey coordinated a special Healing Meals cooking session where she and her amazing team of volunteers prepared a triple order of soups to ensure that our residents could have healthy and nutritious meals while they shelter in place. When it became clear that COVID-19 was shutting down NJ, Stacey called and asked, “What can I do to help”? I let her know that I was organizing emergency food drives to be able to have care package distributions of food items, toiletries, cleaning products and paper products for our residents. Without hesitation, Stacey assured me that I could count on HealthBarn’s help. Whenever we had our care package distributions, Charlie would drive up with crates of Healing Meals soup and snacks. Seeing Charlie deliver soups created a much needed sense of normalcy for me and our residents.
It was not surprising to learn that Stacey volunteered her time, and the HealthBarn Foundation, to partner with the Ridgewood Chamber of Commerce and local volunteers to help with Ridgewood’s Feed the Frontlines initiative. The unified effort of Feed the Frontlines was a call-to-action to provide meals to first responders and community groups during the Coronavirus pandemic while supporting local restaurants who have been hit hard economically. The Feed the Frontlines initiative enabled Ridgewood residents to make tax deductible donations to help their neighbors and local businesses. It is not a small task to have a nonprofit organization partner in an endeavor such as this. It is so much more than accepting donations. There is a significant increase in paperwork and record keeping. In Stacey’s typical way about her, she was doing whatever she could to help those in need. Over $106,000 has been raised by Ridgewood’s Feed the Frontlines initiative. Over eight thousand meals have been delivered to the frontline workers at Valley Hospital, Ridgewood EMS/FD/PD Departments, our neighbors at the SHARE Houses, Ridgewood Social Services, West Bergen Mental Health Center, and those who were displaced by the Broad Street Fire.
Ridgecrest was offered the option to have regular meals delivered for our residents as part of the Feed the Frontlines initiative. At the time we did not have a safe distribution process set up to ensure the safety of our residents and volunteers, so we had to decline the offer. However, during the power outage in August, Feed the Frontlines generously provided delicious meals complete with an appetizer and dessert for our residents. Power outages provide their own set of issues and problems due to everything at Ridgecrest being electric. During a power outage, residents lose their lights, heat and AC, stove and oven, and refrigeration. Typically residents would gather in our common areas which are on a generator backup, or go to a relative’s house and wait the power outage out. Add a pandemic to the mix and that causes all our common areas to be closed and residents not being able to go to family member’s house. Residents were left with the choice of staying in their apartments with no AC or sit outside in the heat. Our power was out for over 24 hours which meant all the food in residents’ refrigerators and freezers had spoiled. The meals provided by Feed the Frontlines was a welcome treat! These meals lifted the spirits of our residents while at the same time provided much needed business for local restaurants. It let our residents know that they were not alone.
November 8, 2020 will mark the 5th anniversary of Ridgewood’s Giving Thanks – Elder Dinner. It marks five years of HealthBarn, Ridgewood Parks and Rec, the Village of Ridgewood, Age Friendly Ridgewood, Old Paramus Church, HILT, SHARE, and Ridgecrest partnering to celebrate Ridgewood’s elders. During a pandemic, it would be understandable for Stacey to say that she isn’t able to do all the food planning, prep, cooking and serving for this special event. Instead, Stacey did just the opposite. She advocated for the Elder Dinner to be set up as a “Grab and Go” event. The meals will be prepared ahead of time and frozen, but they will still be delicious!
In addition to Ridgewood’s Elder Dinner, Stacey partners with the Ridgewood Health Dept, Parks and Rec Dept, the Women Gardeners of Ridgewood, and Valley Hospital on special community events including the Mayor’s Wellness Challenge, Ridgewood Weight Loss Challenge, and the Daffodil and Earth Day Festival. I honestly do not know of any other business owner that partners with so many organizations in the village to help improve the health and wellness of Ridgewood residents. Ridgecrest residents attend and enjoy all of these activities and special events.
While food insecurity is still a reality for many Ridgecrest residents, HealthBarn’s meal gifting programing of Healing Meals has helped to bridge the gap. It also let residents know that they are not alone. They are seen, they are valued, they are important, they are cared for, they are loved! Stacey genuinely enjoys spending time with our residents and learning more about their life stories. Stacey celebrates birthdays, anniversaries, and the birth of new grandchildren at Ridgecrest. Stacey mourns with us when one of our residents passes away.
Stacey is an accomplished author, has been featured on the CBS-TV Morning Show, has been recognized by Bergen County as a Woman Trailblazer, and was recognized jointly with Ridgewood Parks and Recreation by NJ Recreation and Parks Association for “Excellence in Programming Award, Therapeutic and Wellness Category”. However, if you ask Stacey which recognition means the most to her, among her top picks would include “THE OWL” Award from Ridgecrest. Each year Ridgecrest community partners are presented with special recognition for their generosity towards our residents, "THE OWL" Award. THE OWL stands for
Thank you for Helping to Enhance Our Wonderful Lives! Stacey and her team of volunteers have received THE OWL award for the past 4 years. Also among Stacey’s top picks for awards would also include “The President’s Volunteer Service Award”. It was my honor to present Stacey and her team of volunteers the gold level of this award during the 2019 Giving Thanks – Elder Dinner. Stacey was also so excited to receive a special “HealthBarn Garden of HOPE” from Ridgecrest’s Circle of Love. While all of this recognition is impressive, I am confident that Stacey's #1 pick of which recognition means the most to her it would be two thumbs up from those enjoying healthy and nutritious food.
I hope you will join me in celebrating Stacey and her HealthBarn team for their dedication to promoting healthy lifestyles, healthy eating and ending food insecurity. They are all true assets to the Ridgewood community.
With much appreciation,
Social Programming Director