George Mahlberg: At Ground Zero

Faith Bahadurian: `Foodie’ for a Cause

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This article was prepared for the December 19, 2001 edition of

U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Helping Hands, Class of 2001

Volunteers come in all shapes and sizes, and so do

the tasks they tackle. But their motivations are remarkably similar.

Whether the volunteers are responding to the tragedy on September

11 or demonstrating compassion on an ongoing basis, they are driven

by the same goal — to make a difference in someone’s life.

As is our custom in this yearend issue, U.S. 1 honors members of the

business community who give some of their time through no special

circumstances other than their own hard work — and to encourage

others to donate their time and talents.

Some volunteer in hands-on ways. George Mahlberg works for Bloomberg

Press by day but at night has been a hands-on Red Cross volunteer

at Ground Zero. Jo-Ann Hoffman, a former 4-H county agent, spends

one night a week on the Contact telephone hotline. Tom Florek is an

Educational Testing Service employee who mentors children from Anchor

House on the weekends.

Others turn their administrative skills to good use. Faith Bahadurian

has a job at Princeton University but chairs the Taste of the Nation

for Share our Strength, a feed-the-hungry program. Pat Demers directs

human resources at Dataram and also helps NAMI support those with

mental health problems and their families.

Another way to help a favorite cause is to leverage the experience

gained on a day job. Stephanie Chorney, a pediatrician, crusades for

the American Cancer Society’s anti-smoking campaigns. Susan Moss,

a librarian for CUH2A, organized other professional librarians to

make book donations to needy children.

A small task — or a big task. Every volunteer can make a

difference.

Top Of Page
George Mahlberg: At Ground Zero

It’s easy to think of George Mahlberg as a kind of

renaissance

man.

Apart from his current job as a pre-press technician at Bloomberg,

he has worked as an air traffic controller, astronomer, movie actor,

astrophysicist and sound engineer. He is also the program director

for the New Jersey Astronomical Association, has hitchhiked across

the country exploring America, and, operating under the pseudonym

Dr. Cosmo, he has been the host of "Nocturnal Transmissions,"

a show on the Princeton University student radio station (WPRB, 103.3

FM) every Friday night from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. for the past 11 years.

"I’m not someone who likes to follow the accepted order of

things,"

says Mahlberg. "I’m very passionate about living."

But his penchant for casting his net as wide as possible has now

evolved

into something more. Up until a couple of weeks ago, Mahlberg was

managing the Red Cross Tri-State Volunteer Unit at ground zero in

lower Manhattan. "I was working at the respite center the Red

Cross had set up at the Marriott Marquis Financial Center Hotel on

West Street," says Mahlberg. "They closed the center down

at the beginning of December. The City of New York wanted the local

businesses to start to fill that particular need and they also want

to start bringing some money into the local economy." He has now

transferred back into the Princeton Red Cross chapter.

Mahlberg began working at ground zero on October 7, three and a half

weeks after the World Trade Center bombing. "It was like a war

zone when I first got there," says Mahlberg. "Bombed out

buildings.

Everything along West Street, an area quite familiar to me, was alien.

There were emergency vehicles parked everywhere, people walking around

with CIA or FBI printed on the back of their jackets. It looked

chaotic

to me, and dangerous."

"When I walked into the respite center the first time, I was

reminded

of those old World War II movies," says Mahlberg. "You know,

where the occupying army would take over the local hotel. There was

an American flag and a Red Cross flag hanging in the lobby, and all

these uniformed people going up and down the stairs. It was an

overwhelming

experience. I really got a feel for the enormity of what had

happened."

Initially, Mahlberg’s job was to operate the elevators at the Marriott

respite center because the elevator’s sensors were coated with dust

from the collapsed buildings. "They then sent me out on the task

of simply walking around the building and trying to find out just

where everything was," explains Mahlberg. "This then led me

to running the local volunteers. With three shifts and 30 local

volunteers

per shift, it was my job to put them to task. Some would work in the

kitchen, some on the loading dock. Others would greet people at the

door."

"Another part of my job, and everyone’s job, was to provide the

workers with a space away from the pile of rubble they were working

in where they wouldn’t have to think about the horrible job they were

facing," continues Mahlberg. "It was our chance to say, `hey,

we’re here for you.’ We had La-Z-boy chairs there where they could

relax a while. They could E-mail their folks back home or have a good

meal. For awhile we had chiropractic and medical massage therapists

on duty. These workers could get a real refreshing massage for five

or ten minutes before having to head back out."

Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Mahlberg grew up in Wisconsin and Idaho.

His father, who had worked as a pilot, a soil engineer, and a

dispatcher

for the Yellow Cab Company, died in 1961. "I was brought up by

my mom, who was a single parent," says Mahlberg. "She is six

foot one, and actually played professional basketball for a women’s

team in Milwaukee."

He received his bachelors degree in astrophysics from UCLA in 1974.

After auditing courses at the School of Design in Pasadena and Cal

Tech, Mahlberg worked as an air traffic controller in Palmdale, CA,

an astronomer at Mount Palomar, and eventually appeared in several

low budget action films, with titles like "Naked Vengeance,"

mostly filmed in the Philippines. Mahlberg moved to New Jersey with

his wife in 1988, working for Symedco, Merrill Lynch, and finally

Bloomberg, where he has been for the past seven years. He and his

wife live in Ewing, and they have a son who lives in Los Angeles.

It was through his work at Bloomberg that Mahlberg became involved

with the Red Cross. "After September 11, the Red Cross asked a

number of people here at Bloomberg if they wanted to work at ground

zero," says Mahlberg. "I felt driven to do something positive,

so I said yes."

Although Mahlberg initially was assigned to volunteer two days a week,

from 4 p.m. to midnight, it was often necessary to extend his schedule

— sometimes working an extra shift, sometimes working four days

straight. "Fortunately my supervisor at Bloomberg, Gerry Burke,

is very understanding," says Mahlberg. "I’d call and say they

need me to work extra time, and he’d say `Okay, we’ll cover you.’"

Mahlberg admits that his experiences have altered his outlook on life.

"The entire experience has been transformative for me,"

explains

Mahlberg. "It really changed my life. Being able to contribute

something positive to a horrible situation, to say thanks to the men

and women who were doing the rescue work, to be able accept thanks

from them, all these experiences were valuable lessons to me."

Since the respite center at ground zero was closed, Mahlberg has

continued

to put the same dedication into his work with the local Princeton

chapter. "I’m currently on the Disaster Action Team here,"

says Mahlberg. "We respond to fires, floods, hurricanes, any sort

of disaster. We’re the first line of defense. We recently worked at

the arson fires in the apartment houses in Union City."

With the nation at war and "USA, USA" being chanted at

sporting

events, Mahlberg has put his experiences at ground zero into a

personal

context. "I’m not really a person to wave flags and sing

anthems,"

says Mahlberg. "But I do believe strongly in the principles of

this country. I believe, as a citizen, I have the responsibility to

help make this a safe environment, and to help those less fortunate.

The Red Cross has given me the opportunity to do just that. To aid

somebody in a disaster, to provide a measure of comfort, is to display

what I think are the best qualities of America — compassion and

caring."

— Jack Florek

American Red Cross of Central New Jersey, 707

Alexander

Road, Suite 101, Princeton 08540-6331. Kevin Sullivan, chief executive

officer. 609-951-8550; fax, 609-951-9787. Home page:

www.njredcross.org

Top Of Page
Faith Bahadurian: `Foodie’ for a Cause

Using gourmet foods to feed the hungry? That’s the

mission

of "Taste of a Nation," an all-volunteer organization with

an annual event held in April or May all over the country, with more

than 100 events in 75 cities. American Express sponsors the event

nationally.

"Here in Princeton," says Faith Bahadurian, "we have `A

Grand Gourmet Food and Wine Tasting,’ which is usually 20 to 25

restaurants

all at once, each with a table, serving tastes of whatever dish they

prepared that night, and there are wine distributors offering wine

tasting. Sometimes beer, too." The restaurants participate by

invitation and donate their food, skill, and staff. Ticketholders

come and eat. "Taste" does a big mailing to past attendees

and to names provided by American Express. Some 700 people attend,

including volunteers, chefs, and staff, but there is room for 1,000.

Billy Shore, founder and director of Share Our Strength, the umbrella

organization for Taste of a Nation, thought that "to fight hunger,

let’s mobilize the food industry." Princeton’s event earns between

$50,000 and $60,000 annually.

"Every penny of ticket money goes to our beneficiary

organizations,"

says Bahadurian. She has been volunteering for Taste/Strength since

1996 and received honorable mention in the 2001 "Governor’s Award

for Volunteering" lineup.

Seventy percent of the ticket money goes to Mercer County

beneficiaries,

which include HomeFront, Isles Community Gardening Program, Mercer

Street Friends Food Cooperative, and TASK, the Trenton Area Soup

Kitchen.

The rest is divided, 17 percent to international programs (Strength

has been active in Ethiopia), 10 percent to other New Jersey food

banks, and 3 percent to Operation Frontline, an inner city food and

nutrition education program.

For the past two years — 2000 and 2001 — Bahadurian has

chaired

the Princeton event. For 2002 she’s will once more be public relations

chair for "Taste." Her day job is an administrative assistant

in the Department of Molecular Biology, Princeton University, This

is not the stretch you may think. Both jobs use her organizational

skills. Previously she was events coordinator for Encore Books and

she also does freelance promotion and freelance writing.

Bahadurian got involved in "Taste of a Nation" by eating.

In the first few years, when tickets were a working-woman-affordable

$35, she would go to the event. "I’ve always been a foodie,"

she admits. "I love food." Now tickets cost $65 in advance

($75 at the door, if any are left), and for 2002 there’s "A Friend

of Taste" ticket for $125. This ticket carries a listing in the

program and a pre-event reception at Trepiani, just up the Forrestal

Village Street from the Marriott.

Truly a movable feast, the Princeton event began in ’92 at the

Marriott,

moved to Forsgate Country Club, then to the Doral, and for 2002 it’s

back at the Marriott.

While at Encore, Bahadurian discovered that "Share Our

Strength"

had another event, a literary event, in the fall, called "Writers’

Harvest." She had three authors doing readings and charged

admission

to a special section of the store. (The event still takes place at

bookstores and colleges around the country.) After "Harvest"

she stayed on the committee for "Taste of a Nation," each

year becoming more active.

Both Bahadurian and her parents were born and raised in Princeton.

She went to junior college in Massachusetts, and majored in philosophy

at Boston University but did not complete her degree. She got

interested

in community and volunteering, mostly in the arts, when she lived

in Aspen. Back in Princeton since 1985, this foodie volunteers her

skills to help feed the hungry.

— Joan Crespi

Taste of the Nation, Box 3154, Princeton 08543.

Diane and Emil Efthimides, co-chairs. 609-924-3663. Home page:

www.strength.org<


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