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Junior Alan Masters was a part of the TCNJ Honors Band

Meet Alan Masters, Our Very Own Willy Wonka

Gertrude Hawk chocolates are a staple delicacy within the walls of the high school. From crispy to caramel, virtually every NHS student has bought a bar of chocolate at least once in school. More specifically, everyone has bought a bar of chocolate from one specific person, dubbed as the school’s “chocolate guy” for the last three years.


Junior Alan Masters has been consistently selling chocolate since his freshman year. It first started as a means of fundraising for the music department’s trip to Florida in the 2021-2022 school year, and while some ceased their fundraising efforts after the fact, Masters took it as an opportunity to expand his empire.


“I started selling chocolate in my freshman year when [the music department] was like, ‘Hey, you should sell chocolate and fundraise for Florida,’” Masters said. “I was like, ‘That sounds like a great idea; what if I just became the best at doing that?’, so I said, ‘Bet,’ and I did.”


Masters is an avid participant in the realm of music, both inside and outside of the school’s music department. He started playing the cello in third grade at Radcliffe Elementary School; later, in fifth grade, he started on the trombone and continued until he started on the euphonium halfway through his freshman year in Concert Band. Now, he plays all three instruments—cello as a member of the Orchestra, euphonium in the Brass and Wind Ensembles, and trombone for Jazz Band.


These are not his only ensembles, however. In high school alone, he has, in totality, been a part of the Orchestra, Concert Band, Jazz Ensemble, Wind Ensemble, Brass Ensemble, the Boonton Jazz Band, the Rowan University Jazz Band, the 17 Big Band, the Lyndhurst Marching Band, the Nutley Marching Band, and the TCNJ Honors Band. Masters is the only person in Nutley to get into the top TCNJ Honors Band. 


Outside of music, Masters is also an active participant in the school’s athletics program. At different points in his high school career, he has participated in javelin, track, crew, and, most recently, pole vaulting. 


The process for acquiring a chocolate box within the music department is simple. Any student looking to sell a box must email Teresa Bonilla, the treasurer of the Nutley Music Boosters Association (NMBA) and chairperson of the Gertrude Hawk chocolate fundraiser, with the amount of boxes and selected flavors they want. From there, a meet-up point is established—whether it be at Bonilla’s house or elsewhere—and the student pays for the box while Bonilla provides the chocolate. 


One box of chocolate contains 48 bars and costs $96, each bar selling for $2. Of the $96, $48 is kept by the student in their student account for trip payments, music apparel, participation fees, or other music-related expenses. Neither the money made from the chocolate sales nor any other fundraiser is spent outside of the music department; the money stays in a student’s account until it is time for the funds to be used.


Previously, one box used to cost $48 and students would pay $1 per bar, but this changed sometime in the late fall of the 2022-2023 school year. The NMBA offers other year-round fundraisers—such as the ShopRite and Stop & Shop gift card exchanges and Can Shakes—but, it is the Gertrude Hawk fundraiser that has proven to be the most effective, and for good reason.


In the last three years that he’s been selling chocolate, Masters has made a considerable amount of money. When asked about the total amount of money he’s made, he said, “That’s really hard to calculate. Because of the price change, it’s hard to say how much I’ve made in total. I was shooting for a thousand dollars, not a hundred boxes, in my freshman year, so I want to say I made about a thousand bucks freshman year, then everything slowed down a ton. Give or take, in total, I’ve made about $3600.”


This $3600 only refers to the money he’s made for music. However, if a student graduates with money in their student account, that money rolls over into their sibling’s account if they, too, are a music student. In the case that there is no “next sibling” for this money to roll into; the remainder becomes part of the NMBA’s system. 


“I literally cannot spend all of the money I’ve made,” Masters said, discussing a downside of the amount he’s earned. “There’s not enough trips. There is no ‘next sibling’ for my money to roll into. It just goes into the system. Boosters will use my money.”


Though his chocolate-selling never faltered, his cause has shifted in the last year. For the second half of his sophomore year, Masters spent his time fundraising for the Boys’ Crew Team. 


“If I didn't do [the Crew chocolate fundraiser], I probably would’ve raised an extra, like, I don’t know, $1200,” he said. “Including Crew sales, I probably made, or could have made, upwards of $5000, but that really depends. This is all estimated. It could be around $5000, or I’m getting to $5000.”


Masters did not just sell chocolate for the Boys’ Crew Team, but headed the entire fundraiser. He received the shipments of Gertrude Hawk chocolate and organized them into individual boxes for selling himself—an “upgrade” of sorts, as he said, from “going to someone’s house, getting chocolate, and selling it” to becoming the distributor.


“Do you know how beautiful it was walking into my living room and seeing just boxes of chocolate?” Masters said.  “My dad goes, ‘We’re running chocolate now?’, and I go, ‘This is a great time’.”


Despite his success, not every student or club has been able to raise large sums of money through chocolate sales. Some have found the fundraiser as more of a struggle as anything else.


Senior Enea Vogli, a member of both the Boys’ Crew Team and the Robotics Team, voiced his concerns regarding the fundraiser’s effectiveness for other groups. “When [the Robotics Team] did the Gertrude Hawk chocolates, we had to pay around $700 for twenty boxes,” he said. “We had to sell them for two dollars a bar to make a profit, and we had no other fundraising methods other than bake sales . . . We had twenty boxes, and we had to sell them, but we couldn't do anything with them. So, there’s not really any point for us to work with them anymore.”

The NMBA’s ordering process shows a striking contrast to those of other activities.  “[Gertrude Hawk] requires that we purchase a minimum 32 or more boxes per order,” Bonilla said. “However, we do not order the pre-made boxes of flavors from the company. Instead, I purchase the different flavors that the company has available and I take the time to make the boxes myself so that each student can have the option to customize the boxes to whatever flavors they want to sell.”


This is why students within the music department must specify the quantity of boxes they wish to sell as well as what kinds of chocolate they want. If there are no specifications as to the student’s desired flavors, Bonilla gives them a standard variety box. Some of the most notorious flavors include dark chocolate lava cake, caramel, and, of course, pretzel.


“Everyone loves pretzel,” Masters said, shrugging as senior Pablo Arellano shuffled through his box in the public library searching for the treat.


“Pretzel is popular,” Arellano said as he broke a piece off of the bar to eat. “Most people, they run out of pretzel early, but I go to Alan, and every single time, he has pretzel. He has the stuff people want, and I think it’s partly because everyone knows he has chocolate, so he just runs out of stuff and gets new boxes quickly. I can always rely on my main man, Alan, to have what I need.”


Among eight or nine other students, Bonilla noted Alan to most often ask for chocolate. There are weeks in which he orders two boxes at a time; other weeks, he will order just one. Either way, the outcome is always the same: he sells out and leaves the people hungry for more. 


“You just have to know what people like,” he said. “Learn people’s favorite flavors.”


One of the reasons why Masters has found so much success lies in the fact that he is one of the only chocolate vendors accepting Apple Pay, a mobile payment service that allows Apple users to directly transfer money to another Apple user. This inclusion extends his chocolate service to students who typically lack in cash, allowing for a level of flexibility and convenience that cannot be found with other chocolate sellers. Yet, a problem is posed through Apple Pay; though the funds are benefitting Masters’ student account in the long run, he experiences a loss of personal funds in the short run. 


“I spend my own money to cover Apple Pay,” he said. “I’ve lost a lot of money because of it. I have to give in my physical money in order to get that money in credit to my school account, so there have been points in time where I just ran out of money.”


Despite this setback, Masters has shown gratitude for the opportunities chocolate has provided him in his in-school musical journey. “I’ve had every trip I’ve gone on be free,” he said.


These trips are not cheap, and it’s why the NMBA is so adamant on providing fundraising opportunities for their students. Depending on the mode of transportation—airplane or bus— trips can range anywhere from $800 to $1500. In his freshman year, the music department flew down to Orlando, Florida to perform at the Universal Studios Theme Park, accumulating a cost of about $1500. In his sophomore year, the trip was in Virginia and cost around $800. This 2023-2024 school year, for his junior year, the music department will be traveling to San Antonio, Texas with the purpose of competing, imposing a student cost of, again, about $1500.


When asked about how much he has left to fundraise for the Texas trip this school year, Masters said, “I’m done. I’ve been done. I have nothing left to pay for the trip.”


Selling chocolate has had more of an impact on him than others realize. Besides providing him with real-world experiences and skills in the world of business and the funds he needs to finance components of his musical education, selling has allowed him to become more sociable and comfortable with other people.


“I didn't talk to a lot of people in my freshman year,” he said. “Then, I had to talk to people because I was selling chocolate. I guess it made me more likable in the sense that I got better with people, and people got to know me more.”


Senior Hailey Choi, a friend of Masters’ since elementary school and fellow member of the Wind Ensemble and Orchestra, has commented on Alan's character. “He’s a really funny, loyal person,” she said. “He’s one of the people you click with a lot, easily.”


Choi continued to recall a time in which Masters’ chocolate business affected her experiences outside of the school. She said, “I’m pretty sure there’s been an instance outside of school where someone asked me, ‘Hey, do you know that kid that sells chocolate every now and then? Where is he?’, and I would say, ‘I don’t know who you’re talking about, but I kind of do, but I don’t want to say anything’ for privacy’s sake.”


Masters calls this a casual circumstance in his daily life. It’s not uncommon for him to get approached by people looking for chocolate off-campus; if anything, he’s used to it. 


“I get approached all the time,” he said. “I go into Bagel Boy, the employees like it, they buy it. The employees from the sushi place, the employees from ShopRite—really, everywhere, any place I’ve gone, I’ve probably sold at least one chocolate bar. I’ve sold at Margarita’s. I’ve sold in Ochado. I’ve sold at least one bar in a lot of places.”


Angelina Hamada, the Director of Bands, has had Masters as a student since his sophomore year. She serves as not only his conductor for Brass Ensemble, Jazz Ensemble, and Wind Ensemble, but also as his instructor for his Music Theory class. It is because of this that she has developed a fondness for him and her own understanding of him as a person. 


“Alan has a very strong personality,” she said. “He has a very firm belief in his values. He has a strong moral compass; it’s very specific to him, but he feels strongly about it. He’s a man of conviction. When he decides he’s gonna do something, he really goes and does it.”


Hamada has further developed a strong sense of respect for him as a result of certain actions he has executed in class and in outside rehearsals. “I think, throughout this year, I’ve realized just how smart he really is,” she said. “Getting to know him more and seeing how clever and quick he is with things, I see the ways in which he tries to help people out around him, and he does care about that stuff.”


When asked if there was anything she wanted him to know, she said, “Alan, I am grateful to know you. I am proud to have you as a student, and I really hope you stick with the band program throughout your time here because you are a key player in the Wind Ensemble and in the Jazz Ensemble.”


Currently, Masters has no plans regarding a departure from the band program. He plans on continuing with music until graduation—music, and selling chocolate.


“Chocolate taught me a lot of things, not even just about business and stuff, but, like, what to do,” he said. “It’s a good experience to have. It’ll probably help me in college. It’s been fun getting here. I’m probably gonna keep doing it until I graduate so I can write college essays about it.”


Yes, Masters does plan on writing his college essay on his chocolate expertise. The idea came about early on in his career, as he said, “After some point in freshman year, I was like, ‘Wait, if I keep doing this, I could write a killer college essay. So, why not?' I kept going, and I’m going to write it.”


As a junior, Masters has started giving thought to his plans for his senior year and post-high school plans. He aspires to be a business major at Pennsylvania State University, more commonly referred to as Penn State, following his mother’s and his sister’s—Class of 2023 alum Gianna Masters—footsteps. 


But the student body has nothing to worry about, not yet. Alan Masters’ chocolate enterprise will continue on for another year and a half, and when his time comes to graduate, there is no doubt that his Willy-Wonka-style legacy will be remembered for years to come.