Newark didn’t forget restaurant owner’s generosity when COVID hit. Now, he’s giving back again.

Newark didn’t forget restaurant owner’s generosity when COVID hit. Now, he’s giving back again. Walter “Willie” Green gave out free food from his new BBQ restaurant last summer as a last hurrah before he thought his business would close during the coronavirus pandemic.

“I was gonna lose my restaurant, but I knew I had to give back to the community,” said Green, who owns Uncle Willie’s Wings at 945 Frelinghuysen Ave. in Newark.

It turns out that last-ditch attempt at giving back wasn’t the end for the Uncle Willie’s Wings, which opened weeks before the pandemic hit New Jersey.

People took notice of Green’s generosity. And after an outpouring of support, his business is starting to gain steam again.

“If that’s the last thing we do, we’ll go out with a bang,” recalled Kere Thomas, one of the co-owners of Uncle Willie’s Wings. “But it really was a spark.”

Newark Working Kitchens, a food delivery program that began around April last year, partnered with the restaurant. Audible, which moved its headquarters to Newark in 2007, launched the program last year and began paying restaurants for meals that are then delivered to those in need of food.

The program received even more funding, including $2 million from the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, a $500,000 grant from the City of Newark and donations from PSE&G and the New Jersey Devils.

The program celebrated 1 million meals delivered earlier this month.

Newark Working Kitchens is what kept Uncle Willie’s Wings afloat after Green came down with the coronavirus and the restaurant closed for three months. He was making anywhere from 1,000 to 1,500 meals a week for the program.

He bought a used van with more than 130,000 miles on it to make food deliveries, too. “The Today Show” in December took notice of his work and gifted him with a brand new truck.

The program is also what enabled him to give back to Newark residents in an even bigger way this Saturday, one year after he thought his business would end. Instead of giving out food from his storefront, he got a larger venue to throw an even bigger barbecue.

Green worked with the city to get permits to set it all up in the parking lot near the Training Recreation Education Center on Ludlow Street. He had a bouncy castle, games, face-painting, music and health screenings in addition to the free food.
2nd annual Willie’s Day in Newark

Uncle Willie’s Wings, a BBQ restaurant in Newark, held its second annual food giveaway on Ludlow Street in Newark. Face painting, games, and a bouncy castle were in tow. June 12, 2021.Rebecca Panico | NJ Advance Media for

South Ward Councilman John Sharpe James celebrated the second annual barbecue by presenting Green with a city resolution at the bash, honoring him for using his own resources to feed residents last year.

“We need to show support for people who have heart and love for the community,” said James.

Uncle Willie’s Wings was created out of Green’s love for cooking after he got out of the Army and moved to Newark from Chicago. But it was also about creating financial independence for himself while giving back to Newark.

“Anything we do, we want to be focused on the community,” said Derrick Wright, who was Green’s landlord before he became a co-owner in Uncle Willie’s Wings. “We want to show, ‘Hey, here’s a bunch of entrepreneurs who want to give back to the community.’”
2nd annual Willie’s Day in Newark

From left to right is Uncle Willie’s Wings owners Kere Thomas, Derrick Wright and Walter “Willie” Green. South Ward Councilman John Sharpe James presented them with a resolution from the city at a BBQ they organized on Saturday, June 12, 2021 to recognize the restaurant’s generosity.Rebecca Panico | NJ Advance Media for

That’s the focus, even as the restaurant continues to grow and expand.

The Newark Community Health Center on Ludlow Street was on site Saturday to give health screenings and let people know where they could get COVID-19 vaccines. Primerica, an investment company, was also on hand to promote financial literacy.

Saturday was the first time Uncle Willie’s Wings showcased its new – albeit, used – food truck. It was so new that it still had the words “Latin-Asian on the go” written on its side from the previous owners.

The truck will help bring the Chicago flavor in the restaurant’s chicken and waffles, fried catfish filets and mac-n-cheese to other parts of the city soon.

“I’m gonna do this every year I get,” Green said in between setting up sanitation stations and starting up the grill in his food truck.

Pedestrian struck by car in Burlington County

A pedestrian was struck by a car in Burlington County Friday afternoon, police said.

At 2:25 p.m. Friday, a pedestrian, whose name was not released, was struck by a car driving in the area of Wynwood Drive and Winding Lane in Cinnaminson Township, Cinnaminson Township Police said. The pedestrian was taken to the trauma center at Cooper University Hospital, in Camden, police said.

As of Saturday afternoon, the condition of the victim was unknown. Police did not say if any summons had been issued relating to the hit.

‘Hero of empathy’: N.J. LGBTQ icon Emily Sonnessa dies at 91

Emily Sonnessa was the most fair person Jan Moore had ever met.

As a lesbian couple for 52 years, it was hard to be fair. More times than they could count, their union was met with derision, ridicule and outright opposition.

But Sonnessa never flagged. She’d always hear the other side out. No matter what.

“An unsung hero of empathy,” her wife Moore told NJ Advance Media on Saturday. “She’d say, ‘Let’s look at it this way.’ She always said to walk in the other man’s shoes.”

Sonnessa died at age 91 Friday morning in the Ocean Grove home she shared with Moore, surrounded by her closest friends and family and Moore, the love of her life. She died after a battle with late-stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Sonnessa was a LGBTQ icon in New Jersey and across the country, fighting for marriage equality, senior health, residential living and LGBTQ and AIDS’ patients rights in her later years, alongside Moore. The couple was also the subject of the 2017 award-winning PBS documentary “Love Wins,” which chronicled their relationship over more than 50 years and the hardships in living closeted before finding true love.

Born in New York City in 1939, Sonnessa lived a bohemian lifestyle in her younger years, letting her love of jazz music and art take her through the city streets, in jazz clubs and underground gay bars, even following her favorite musician Ella Fitzgerald at one point, her family said.

Like many people from the LGBTQ community those years ago, Sonnessa lived for years as a closeted lesbian, keeping who she was a secret, dating women as covertly as she could.

But it was a job as a technician in the product testing department at Macy’s that would lead her to Moore, the woman that would become her wife.

At the time, Moore was married and had three children, according to the documentary. Her husband worked with Sonnessa at Macy’s, and she and Sonnessa would eventually meet and become good friends. They formed a bond that started with a company bowling league and blossomed into something more.

After beginning a secret relationship with Sonnessa, Moore and her husband would eventually divorce in 1970. Moore and Sonnessa moved into a house with Moore’s children in Rutherford.

“My life began when I got married and had kids,” Moore said in the documentary. “But I began to live my life when I fell in love with Emily.”

The couple began a life fueled by love, laughter and support for each other. Without fail, Sonnessa was there for Moore and her children, who would call Sonnessa “Aunt Em.”

“I used to tease Emily that she should get the congressional medal of honor when she moved in,” Moore, now 84, told NJ Advance Media. “She always was on call for above and beyond the call of duty. She always went that extra. She’s an amazing person.”

For decades, the two lived as a couple but were never able to marry or form a civil union. In 2007, the couple first came under a national spotlight when they were denied the use of the Ocean Grove boardwalk to have a civil union.

After countless rallies and pushing for their love to be accepted, and more than 40 years into their relationship, the two were finally married on November 20, 2013, two months after a New Jersey Superior Court judge ruled that same-sex marriage was to be legal in the Garden State.

In her later years, Sonnessa, alongside Moore, advocated for the rights of senior citizens in residential living facilities and for AIDS patients and LGBTQ residents in living facilities, said Moore. With Sonnessa’s death, Moore intends to continue her wife’s work.

“I think Emily would say, ‘We’re not done yet,’” said Moore.

Sonnessa’s legacy, to Moore, is as much about the people she filled with laughter as it is the work she’d done for the LGBTQ community, a community that opened their arms to the couple so they could the life they had always dreamed of.

It was a legacy defined by fighting for equality. No matter what.

“I’d say her legacy was, number one, her sense of humor,” Moore said. “And number two, never being too old to stand for things.”

Sonnessa is survived by Moore, her twin sister, Jennie Sonnessa, her niece and goddaughter Arlene Silver and her family, the children she raised with Moore: Scott Moore, Donna Hughes and Adrian GreyBuffalo, and their families, John Batelli and five generations of Sonnessas.

She is pre-deceased by six of her siblings.

At Sonnessa’s request, there will be no public memorials or services, though Scott Moore, the couple’s son, said there would likely be a private cocktail party to remember the wise-cracking Sonnessa.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to Garden State Equality, the state’s largest LGBTQ education and advocacy organization.