Pizza Store Owner’s Generosity Honors Late Area Teen, Frontline Healthcare Workers

June 22, 2020pizza

For those that knew him, 14-year-old Austin Muckenfuss was a great teammate and friend — someone who always strove to be better, both on and off the football field. Known as someone who lifted the spirits of everyone around him, he was a well-loved teenager and the heart of his Washington Township family.

Austin’s parents were divorced adults — each with two young sons — when they met in 1998. Austin, born within a year of their marriage, became “the glue” that brought this blended family together, says his father, Rich, and mom, Kimberly Brody-Muckenfuss, a Jefferson nurse.

Tragically, when Austin was a freshman at Washington Township High School (WTHS), he was struck and killed by a car when walking in a crosswalk in early November 2015. The tragedy stunned the community and his school.

And what followed was a vast outpouring of love for the Muckenfuss family. Thousands of people — including friends, family, classmates, coaches, and teachers — came out to pay their respects at Austin’s funeral, sadly held on what would have been the final game of the season for Austin and his teammates (the game was rescheduled).

Kim, a longtime Jefferson Health New Jersey Emergency Department nurse, who recently became Jefferson NJ’s Bariatric Program Coordinator, says keeping Austin’s memory alive helps her move forward and give back to the community that cared about him so much. She thinks of projects in honor of her late son as “jobs” Austin has given her.

Efforts to remember Austin remain strong today through the Austin Muckenfuss Scholarship Fund. Established a year after his death, the scholarship fund is so robust — having donated more than $44,000 to WTHS in less than five years — that not even the COVID-19 pandemic could slow it down.

Every year, the scholarship fund hosts two main fundraisers — both of which fittingly have people play the sport Austin loved the most: football. One is the annual Austin Muckenfuss Memorial Game, held each November, featuring WTHS junior varsity and freshman football teams squaring off. The biggest fundraiser, however, is the annual Run AMUCK Flag Football Charity Tournament, with a gift-basket raffle and teams of all ages competing in the celebration of Austin’s life. Traditionally held each April, COVID-19 prevented this year’s game from happening. Fundraising efforts continued, however, through an online raffle sale of gift baskets and face masks decorated with angel wings between Austin’s name and football number (13), along with the words, “Remembered Forever.”

While Kim says the online raffle got an “overwhelming response” — especially after two local newspaper articles drew attention to their efforts — but she and her husband were still a few hundred dollars shy of their $11,000 goal. When area Papa John’s franchise owner and father of two Washington Township students Michael Carneglia heard about it, he decided to come through in a big way for the Muckenfuss family — donating $1,000 so they could reach their goal.

“We are so appreciative and it’s amazing how truly generous people are,” says Kim. “I told Michael we did not need that much, but he still insisted and sent the check anyway. Thanks to him, we have a head start on fundraising for the class of 2021.”

The annual scholarship, designed to help high school graduates better themselves through higher education or trade school, also supports those who have overcome adversity — as Austin did with a reading disability.

As Kim and Michael communicated, she was surprised to learn that Michael not only supported her scholarship fund, but also her Jefferson colleagues in Cherry Hill and Stratford. Since the start of the pandemic, the Papa John’s owner has delivered about two dozen pizzas, every other week, for frontline hospital staff from his Somerdale and Westmont stores.

“It is the least I can do to thank the nurses and staff during these unprecedented times,” Michael says.