Cram the Cruiser
Local police offered their free time to help erase hunger this week, with help from Mohawk House and other local businesses, through 'Cram the Cruiser' efforts.


Local law enforcement officers unloaded thousands of pounds of food at the Sussex County Food Pantry on Monday, April 22, 2019. The items were donated during the annual Cram the Cruiser food drive. Members of the Newton, Andover Township, Vernon, Byram, Sparta, Hardyston, Franklin, and Ogdensburg police departments, the Sussex County Sheriff’s Office, and the New Jersey State Police volunteered their time to collect and deliver the items. The Mohawk House restaurant donated storage space for frozen goods and the use of the utility van they sponsor for local animal rescue O.S.C.A.R. (Photos by Mandy Coriston)

By Mandy Coriston
The generosity of Byram, Sparta, Stanhope, Andover, Newton, and other residents was on display once again as local law enforcement officers and residents banded together to stock the shelves at the county food pantry. In the week leading up to Easter and Passover, all local police departments, as well as the state police barracks and the Mohawk House restaurant, accepted donations of food, cash, and gift cards. On Saturday, Apr 20, seven Cram the Cruiser locations were established at grocery stores from north to south, manned by officers volunteering their time to help erase hunger in our communities. Law enforcement in Sparta, Newton, and other municipalities throughout the area worked hard on Cram the Cruiser.
In Byram, the effort was led by Byram Chief of Police Pete Zabita; his department was joined by the Andover Township Police Department at the ShopRite in Byram. Members of the Sussex County Sheriff’s Office, the New Jersey State Police, the Vernon Township Police Department, the Sparta Police Department, the Franklin Borough Police Department, the Hardyston Township Police Department, the Ogdensburg Borough Police Department, and the Newton Police Department all participated in Saturday’s collections.
The collection event began at 10 a.m., and within the first hour, the Byram Township Police Department’s Chevy Tahoe SUV was half-full. The truck was stationed outside of the ShopRite, and was the southernmost drop-off location.
“We’re off to a really good start,” Byram Ptl. Kevin Perry said, “and hopefully more people will come by when the rain stops.”
At the northern end of the county, three Vernon Township police officers were parked at the Acme supermarket with an ambitious goal for their afternoon.
“People have been so generous all week,” Ptl. Nicholas Gonzalez said, “We’ve already brought our trailer to the pantry and emptied it once. We’re hoping to fill it again today.”
A motley fleet of official vehicles descended on the food pantry Monday morning to deliver the yield of the collection drive. Over the course of an hour, a small pile grew into a veritable mountain of supplies as police officers and food pantry volunteers emptied cruisers and trailers. Pick-up trucks from the Mohawk House and the Byram PD pulled up bearing full loads of frozen hams and turkeys. All told, thousands of pounds of food were donated, as well as several thousand dollars in cash and gift cards.
Chief Zabita was grateful for the support of his fellow law enforcement agencies and the altruistic spirit of those who donated.
“This was a good year,” Zabita said, referring to the annual nature of the drive, “It’s so necessary. It looks like a lot, but the pantry goes through it quickly. We’re glad to do our part to help.”
The Sussex County Food Pantry is located at the County Services Building, at 83 Spring St., Newton, and is open to all residents in need of food during regular business hours, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. The pantry directly served 18,000 residents in 2018, and replenishes staples at a dozen other local food banks. Additionally, Weekend Bags are supplied to over 400 food-impoverished Sussex County schoolchildren each week.