A pandemic couldn’t keep Barney Corrigan, who ran a catering business in South Jersey, from feeding people.
Weddings were on hold. There wasn’t a corporate event in sight. But Corrigan’s first instinct was to feed people, so he started a food pantry in his front yard. What started out as a little box in his lawn (the same kind of box as a Little Free Library) has grown into a Google Business certified bi-weekly operation out of his garage in Westville.
“Mr. Peanut has a new perspective on life, and that’s why we’re celebrating people like Barney,” explained NutMobile driver and Branchburg native Ally Toolan. Brand icon Mr. Peanut was killed off in a SuperBowl commercial last year and was reborn at a celebration of his life a week later out of a tear shed by Mr. Kool-Aid. He’s spent the last year growing—really rapidly, Toolah noted, celebrating his 21st birthday by this past August.
“Because Mr. Peanut has within the last year recognized the importance of little acts of kindness and the impacts they have. His new mission is to reward those extraordinary acts of kindness,” Toolan said.
She is one of nine peanutters—yes, that’s an official title—that drive three NutMobiles around the country as brand spokespeople, planning and executing events, and creating smiles along the way.
Aside from the event at Barney’s, the NutMobile spent the weekend driving around central and south Jersey. The last time the NutMobile was in New Jersey was for the Hot Air Balloon Festival in Whitehouse Station in July 2019. The event was cancelled for the first time in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This year, events have looked very different from years past. Peanutters have had to adapt to the COVID environment and create events that are safe for us and for those in the communities we visit. Instead of large-scale sporting events and festivals, these events are socially distanced and more community-focused,” Toolan said. “Peanutters have realized the growing need for cheer and positivity in communities nationwide and have committed to serving the communities they visit in a more impactful way. We have visited nursing homes, hospitals, animal shelters, delivered meals to community members, and shown appreciation for volunteers. We also have done birthday and neighborhood holiday cheer drive by visits.”
“While this year has definitely proven to be a challenge, I can say wholeheartedly that it’s been an honor to drive the NutMobile and help make this time a little bit easier for people across the country,“ she said.
The week that COVID-19 shut down normal operations everywhere in March is the same week as Toolan’s birthday; and last year, it was the same week she found out that she’d nabbed the peanutter gig. Her stint started in July, later than expected due to pandemic closures and travel restrictions, and she’s in the driver’s seat of the 26-foot-long legume until June.
“This has been the greatest job that I ever could have imagined myself right out of college. I have to pinch myself. While this year has been a bit of a challenge, I think we all need some of this silliness a little more, and it’s been an honor to bring that to people for this past year,” she said.