‘Lantern’ lit for Project Graduation

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UNION, NJ  — On Saturday, May 6, Union residents were invited to “light up the night” at the township’s first annual Lantern Run 5K and Food Truck Festival.
The family-friendly event featured a nighttime 5K, for which residents dressed up in costume, decorated themselves with glow-sticks and flashlights, and ran a certified course. The run culminated with a festival, complete with food trucks, a beer tent, music and a battle of the DJs.

Proceeds from the event benefited Union High School’s Project Graduation, an annual alcohol-, drug- and tobacco-free celebration for seniors on graduation night. Activities and events are held throughout the year to strengthen classmates’ bonds as well as raise funds to cover costs.

The run kicked off from Hendricks Drive and followed a route through Union that ended at Rabkin Park, where the festival was held.

All participating runners received a “swag bag” filled with glow gear, a T-shirt, snacks, a commemorative race bib and a complimentary entrance pass to the festival.

Participating food trucks included El Lechon de Negron, Luke’s Lobster Truck, Mama Dudes Food Truck, Aunt Dee Dee’s Baked Goodness, Tacos Al Carbon, Big John’s Gourmet Burgers, Hawaiian Husky Shaved Ice, Tropical Taste, Hot Rod’s Real Pit BBQ and Gina’s Food.

Musical performances included the 9:53 Music Group and Alden Street, as well as a step performance by the Hillside Showtime Strutters, a taekwondo demonstration by Union’s United Taekwondo Academy and six DJs battling it out for a cash prize of $1,000.

Township spokeswoman Natalie Pineiro told the Union Leader that she’d participated in the run.

“I took a couple of recoup days after the Lantern Run — I actually ran and somehow survived,” Pineiro said in a May 10 email. “The race was phenomenal. Between runners and festival-goers, we had close to 2,000 people participate in the event throughout the day. We also had some phenomenal entertainment and an epic DJ battle with six DJs. It was truly an amazing event which we’re hoping to continue and build upon for next year.”

Megan Kaplan, an English teacher at Union High School involved in Project Graduation, discussed the initiative in a May 10 email to the Union Leader.

“Project Graduation is an all-night event that takes place after high school graduations all across the country, as a way to keep students safe and in an alcohol- and drug-free environment,” Kaplan told the Union Leader in the email.

“Our students will come back to the high school after they graduate and will be bused to a secret location only known to the administrators and the chaperones.

They will spend time enjoying their last moments together as a class with the fun-filled night we have planned for them. Upon returning early the next morning, the students will say goodbye to their friends and be off to their future.”

According to Kaplan, the halls of UHS were buzzing the week before the festival.
“It was a fun way for our students to spend a Saturday, and many of our students volunteered for community service hours,” Kaplan said. “UHS students were the first ones there in the morning and the last ones to leave at night as they spent their day not only working, but enjoying some delicious food.

“As a teacher in the high school it was amazing to see not only our students but our staff, community and UHS alumni come together to create and attend an event that would benefit Project Graduation. Saturday was an amazing day to be part of the Union Community.”

Kaplan expressed thanks to PTA President Lidia Arietta, the UHS administration and teachers and staff for their help, support and dedication to Project Graduation.

Union Mayor Suzette Cavadas praised the fundraiser. “We’re so excited to bring this event to our residents,” Cavadas said in an April 17 press release. “The township is always looking for new and innovative ways to bring our residents together, and there is no better reason than to support our very own students at Union High School.”