B.E.A.T. Center – Now the real work begins
The glamor of the Jon Bon Jovi press conference now a memory, organizers of the B.E.A.T. (Bringing Everyone All Together) Center begin turning it into reality. Once there, they say, a major part of their ongoing function will be to help drop-ins overcome food insecurity - something many never experienced until Superstorm Sandy.
The Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation is a principal support partner in the unprecedented initiative that adds a new branch to the JBJ Soul Kitchens of Red Bank and Union Beach, and combines them with the Neptune-based FoodBank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties and People's Pantry Relief Center - a Toms River grassroots effort to meet immediate hunger needs that formed right after the devastating storm of 2012.
The Foodbank maintains a collection site, the Pantry serves immediate, urgent needs and the Soul Kitchen offers meals in exchange for donations or work equity. Additionally, anyone interested in developing a trade skill can use the Kitchen to learn culinary arts.
Speaking with members of the core groups leaves no room for doubt that the Sandy now serves as a benchmark for much of the Jersey Shore. Everything is measured in terms of before, and after.
People's Pantry Assistant Director Edward Burke says that the storm brought many Toms River families face to face with the prospect of wondering what and where their next meal would be - a stark and traumatic difference from the lifestyles they worked hard to maintain.
"This allows us to bring it out into the open," Burke said, "make people understand that it's not poverty. It's working-class people, the middle class that's struggling, people who fall between the median income and the poverty line. There are no programs for them."
JBJ Soul Kitchen General Manager Lou Morreale has learned that identification of food insecurity is essential for those inside the support vehicle - and so they extend extra efforts in outreach.
"We don't wait for them to come to us. We look for them," Morreale said. "And there's a lot more need out there than any one of us can imagine. You've got single moms, you've got seniors who can't make it to the end of the month, people in foreclosure, people who've run out of money. Unemployment runs out, jobs run out. There are a million reasons why people are food insecure."
The trauma of sudden desperation acts like an open wound, and reassurance is the bandage. However, many people with their nerves scraped raw aren't quick to further expose their situations.
"You have to gain their trust, to show them that you do care. You want to give them dignity," Morreale said. "That's our biggest thing. Empower people, not enable them."
Sensiitivity to such issues stands a strong chance of informing the design that the complex will have, under the guidance of architect Paul Barlo of Brick Township.
"I'm a former trustee of the FoodBank, so I certainly know what it does and how it operates," Barlo said. "We looked at several sites, then we met with members of the People's Pantry and Jon Bon Jovi's Soul Kitchen, and worked through this collaborative effort."
Barlo currently serves as President of the Monmouth-Ocean Development Council (MODC), the shore's main arena for business operators, nonprofit leaders, grassroots groups, and state, county and local political operatives to find solutions for maintaining quality of life at the shore.
He says that his commitment doesn't stop when his designs are done. "We intend to be there well after the building is done, and see how we can help the communities of Monmouth and Ocean Counties," Barlo said.
Every dedicated hand - maybe yours, too? - takes us one step closer to reclaiming the Old Normal as the New Normal.