Source: USA Today.com
Superstar rocker Jon Bon Jovi believes Sandy-battered Ocean County has not received its fair share of the resources necessary to help families recover from the storm.
That’s why Bon Jovi’s JBJ Soul Foundation decided to partner with two local charities to open a community center aimed at fighting hunger in a region still struggling with the aftereffects of the storm.
The B.E.A.T. Center, which stands for Bringing Everyone All Together, will provide a food pantry and hot meals for residents in need, and also help connect them with additional assistance, including food stamps, affordable healthcare, tax preparation and culinary training classes. It should open in three to four months.
The nearly 12,000-square-foot building will also house the second permanent location of the JBJ Soul Kitchen, a community restaurant where diners can pay for meals by making either a cash donation or by volunteering, and the new home of The People’s Pantry, the relief center that was born after Sandy and now serves 3,000 people a month.
“Bon Jovi said, “You’d be shocked to know these hardworking, middle-class people from the tri-state area who after the economic downturn couldn’t afford to keep a consistent, nutritious meal on the table.”
It was natural to open a community hub like the B.E.A.T. center in the county, he said, and in partnership with the FoodBank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties and the People’s Pantry, the site will provide access to a wide variety of services in one location.
“We have been working on this for over a year,” said Bon Jovi, a Sayreville, N.J., native who has a home in Middletown. He said that the JBJ Soul Foundation — which he chairs — always planned to offer job training and other social services as part of its mission statement to fight issues that keep families in economic hardship. But the Red Bank Soul Kitchen was too small to accommodate additional services.
There is also a “pop-up” Soul Kitchen location in Union Beach which is using the Union Hose Fire Co. 1 to serve meals.
“We realized the need for more active job training and other opportunities,” Bon Jovi said. “We have more of an opportunity to do that here. We also realized that in suburban New Jersey, transportation is often an issue. People don’t always have access to cars.”
It will cost $1.5 million to build out and fully equip the new center, and about $1.2 million a year to run it, according to FoodBank Executive Director Carlos Rodriguez.
The center, located in a leased space, is being launched with initial financial support from The David Tepper Foundation. Tepper is a hedge fund manager and founder of Appaloosa Management. “It’s an investment in the people here, and it’s an investment in your soul,” Tepper said.
For Toms River Mayor Thomas F. Kelaher, Tuesday was “a happy day…I’m looking forward to when this is a finished product and I can come here and have a meal with you folks,” he said.