FRENCHTOWN — Even in Hunterdon County, consistently counted among New Jersey's most affluent areas, about 8,000 residents can be included in the million or so New Jerseyans considered food insecure.

One couple's desire to remedy that problem has resulted in the new tradition of a friendly rivalry between two Hunterdon towns, coming together for a singular cause.

Charlie White is an elder at the Presbyterian Church of Milford, and as part of the elders' duties for their mission committee, they collect, weigh, measure, and deliver food for pantries at Saint Edward the Confessor Roman Catholic Church in Milford and the Frenchtown Presbyterian Church.

Milford and Frenchtown are both on the Delaware River bordering Pennsylvania, and several years ago Charlie and her husband Bob became concerned with how those river towns — "small-town America at its best," Charlie said — would survive in a struggling economy.

After talking with the then-mayor of Frenchtown, the Whites organized and advertised a charity softball game pitting Milford against Frenchtown, with no signups or registration and no cost or obligation to players. But the goal was to get those players, and especially spectators, to donate non-perishable items for the two church food pantries.

The pantries don't serve Milford and Frenchtown exclusively, but they do concentrate on stopping hunger primarily within Hunterdon County.

Coming to the first practice before the inaugural 2014 softball game, Charlie wasn't sure if the locals had any interest at all. But then, she said, players began to emerge from the outskirts of the field like the movie "Field of Dreams." From there, the benefit took off.

About 150 people came to see that first game, bringing with them 370 pounds of food. By last year, the fourth edition of the contest, that sum was up to almost a ton.

"The awareness is my biggest goal — the awareness of what's needed, not just emptying out your cabinets and getting rid of your expired food," Charlie said, adding she knew very little about softball itself in the beginning. "People are bringing what's actually needed for the pantries."

Preparations for the 2018 game, the fifth annual, are well underway, with Holland Township even interested in joining up to start a full-fledged tournament. Charlie White is expecting about 200 people from each of the main towns involved to attend, but said the collection effort has already begun.

"Our players bring non-perishable items to the practices. So far our people have collected 80 pounds of items just from practices alone," she said.

The players enjoy the game, of course, but they and the Whites remain most proud of the mission, one player even telling them that food pantries were "how I survived as a child."

This year's game is on Sunday, May 6, at Old Frenchtown Field, with first pitch at 2 p.m.

Patrick Lavery produces "New Jersey's First News" and is New Jersey 101.5's morning drive breaking news reporter. He wears No. 18 and plays outfield for the 101.5 softball team. Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com.

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