TOMS RIVER — In the eight years since a group of friends, all facing daunting challenges in their lives, began a partnership with a mutual pledge to "pay it forward," the organization now known as Friends Helping Friends of New Jersey has raised over $600,000 for Ocean County-area families in need.

"If anyone's ever thought that they just, as one person, couldn't do enough, this organization has been set up so that they can contribute to making a difference in other people's lives," co-founder Shawn Vice said, adding that FHF has soldiered on even after the losses of two people from that original group.

Over nearly a decade now, FHF has helped about 20 local families, a tradition that continues this year with the upcoming annual Golf Outing and Gala Gift Auction. Three families will be the beneficiaries this time around, some of them even nominated by prior recipients of the organization's help:

  • the Zane family, with mother Jill facing major health issues and mounting medical bills while caring for son Caden, who also has had medical problems;
  • Hope Renda, a 27-year-old expectant mother battling non-Hodgkin's lymphoma;
  • the Goff family, with brothers Keith, 9, and Sean, 7, suffering from different ailments at the same time their mother, Tracy, was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer.

The gala event will be held Thursday, June 15 at Woodlake Country Club in Lakewood, in conjunction with the Coastal Jersey Parrot Head Club, which has been recognized by its namesake Jimmy Buffett. Vice said the gift auction offers everything from Dunkin' Donuts gift cards to TVs, jewelry, sports tickets, and Hawaiian vacations.

As Vice sees it, the ever-expanding scope of these annual events, and outreach to the families they benefit, are natural extensions of FHF's basic mission.

"This organization was started, and continues to come, from the heart and soul, and all of the people who have decided to pay it a little bit forward," he said.

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Friends Helping Friends has been one of the staples of "What's So Great About the Garden State" since its inception. Check out our original coverage from 2011!

Patrick Lavery produces "New Jersey's First News" and is New Jersey 101.5's morning drive breaking news reporter. Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email

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