The B.E.A.T. Center opens in Toms River
Tuesday in Toms River three organizations came together to bring food, job training, and even pro-bono tax preperation for individuals and families struggling to make ends meet, especially four years post Superstorm Sandy.
The Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation, Peoples Pantry (INSPIRE NJ), and The Food-bank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties have opened up the B.E.A.T. Center (Bring Everyone All Together), and provides the platform for shore residents going through hard times to get help.
Among the services being offered are job training which includes culinary arts, healthcare and free tax preparation.
Hunger is a worldwide issue, but here in New Jersey many still recovering from Superstorm Sandy and tough economic times can come in and receive the help they are seeking.
Many of the statistics provided in a release of people and families going hungry in Ocean County include nearly 1 in 8 people collecting food and benefits. In addition 1 in 5 Ocean County residents live at low-income (200% of poverty) or poor (at or below poverty) levels which equals out to $15,000 for a family of four.
An energetic crowd filled the center as many community leaders spoke on what the center does and how it will continue to serve others.
Among the speakers was New Jersey native and Rock and Roll Icon Jon Bon Jovi, who is also the Board Chairman for the JBJ Soul Foundation.
"Dorothea and I just really believe that we could help to affect one person at a time by doing something that we love," said Jon Bon Jovi. "which is feeding people."
The Center will also be home to the second JBJ Soul Kitchen, where people who come in for dinner pay by making a small donation.
If they don't have the means to pay, they can volunteer and will receive a gift certificate for another meal.
"Superstorm Sandy brought a lot of focus here in Ocean County to people already in need," said Jon Bon Jovi. "These are the hard working, blue collar, middle class people who go to work everyday."
David Tepper, who is the founder of the David Tepper Charitable Foundation is also one of the individuals and groups providing funding support to the Center.
"It's a fantastic facility which will get people here to the pantry, people in need," explains Tepper. "Here and other places, if this works, this type of concept works to bring people through maybe could be expanded in other places."
Tepper believes the efforts given by those involved can make it successful.
"Some of the things that can happen here is...bring more people to have more services for people in need down here," said Tepper. "Not just the food but also some of the other services there not aware of."
The center is also an option for at-risk children to benefit from after school programs, people in need of food stamps, or other services needed to survive and fight through economic hardship.
"The fact that now families in need can sit down and have a dignified meal is incredible," said Pat Donaghue, Executive Director of The Peoples Pantry. "This entity, this building, is going to bring more services than we could of ever imagined."
The unfortunate reality of living in hard economic times not just around the world, but in your own community, is seeing people you know and love struggling to make ends meet.
Sometimes people in Ocean County go to bed without food.
"This (The B.E.A.T. Center), is needed and there's no reason why mother's shouldn't be able to sleep because they don't know if they'll be able to feed their children," adds Donaghue. "We see the impact we have. We're on track to distribute 1.8 Million pounds of food this year, so we know what we do."
Meanwhile Peter Unanue, Executive Vice-President of GOYA Foods says where they deliver and how much they deliver, depends on the need.
"This is not just a one time thing, we're contributing 1,500 pounds of food per week which equates to about 60,000 pounds a year," said Unanue. "The types of food we like to donate are healthy. So beans and rice are a great example. Beans are high in protein, high in fiber, and have phyto nutrients."
One man who grew up in Toms River is now working for The B.E.A.T. Center as a pickup driver.
Every morning Chris Rutherford collects food items from local vendors such as Stop & Shop, Wawa, BJ's, and Sams Club who donate to the Center on a daily basis.
"I didn't grow up with the most but I grew up with enough to be okay," said Rutherford. "It feels good to be able to give back to those who do work hard for what they have."
Anyone can attend the Center and if you have the means to donate, you may be helping a friend in need.
So what's on the menu this week?
Maybe a House Salad, then BBQ Chili or Eggplant Rollantini, with Vanilla Wafer Chocolate Mousse with Fresh Berries and Mint for dessert.