On March 12, Kathy Kelly, owner of Paranormal Books and Curiosities in Asbury Park, had an idea. Though Covid-19 forced her to close her Cookman Avenue storefront, maybe she could sell gift cards and donate the proceeds to help feed people within the community.
By March 19, with the help of locals Julie Andreola and Joe Grillo, the group was already getting food into the hands community members in need.
“I reached out to Julie and Joe because they just have such amazing skills, and they are so invested in our community. I essentially said ‘I have this little thread of an idea. What do you think?’” says Kelly.
Andreola, who has worked in nonprofits and fundraising for 10 years, and Grillo, development director of Sustainable Jersey and member of the Asbury Park School Board, picked up the idea and ran with it, creating a nonprofit called Asbury Park Dinner Table (APDT). Though the three business partners haven’t been in the same room since the APDT’s inception, they have managed to organize a system that has raised over $70,000 to put towards meals.
APDT has been almost completely social media driven. They team utilizes Instagram and Facebook to get their message out, create fundraising events and find sponsors virtually, thanks to Allison Kolarik, APDT’s social media director, who worked in social media for about seven years. She was in the process of moving before the stay-at-home orders began, and was staying at Grillo and Andreola’s home during the transition. Now, the three are quarantining together. “Her stay was meant to be about five days and we’re really fortunate that it’s been longer than that,” says Andreola.
When launching the organization, a focus on dinner was important to the group. Children and families that relied on free and reduced-price lunches through school programs still have access to grab-and-go breakfast, lunch and snacks through the schools. That leaves dinner unaccounted for, and that’s where APDT stepped in. But the meals aren’t meant solely for children and families, and are available for anyone struggling amidst the pandemic.
In addition to supporting the food-insecure, the group wanted to support restaurants in Asbury Park, many of which are in need of revenue. So they partnered with around 15 local restaurants and food-based businesses to prepare and deliver meals to various pick-up points around town. The five distribution points include three local churches—Second Baptist Church, St. Stephen’s Church and United Fellowship Baptist Church—as well as the Boy’s and Girl’s Club in Monmouth County and the Asbury Park Food Collective, a commercial kitchen owned by Sam Chung, co-owner of Mogo Korean Tacos.
Here’s how it works: “Private donors can donate directly to Asbury Park Dinner Table, which then turns around and purchases however many dinner meals the donation can fund. Then restaurant employees go and deliver those meals to one distribution points that we set up with local churches and organizations,” Grillo explains.
The funds donated directly to APDT are then distributed to participating restaurants based on need, cost and each individual eatery’s ability to produce.
Folks who wish to support specific restaurants included in the program can also order directly from the restaurant itself. “One of our goals—in addition to feeding people in Asbury Park—is to help our restaurants keep doing what they do,” says Andreola. When ordering from a specific restaurant partnered with APDT, a customer can add any number of meals to be donated to their bill. “We have had people call a restaurant and say, ‘add 150 meals to my order,’ which added over $1500 to their tab,” says Andreola. “It’s been incredible.”
No matter which way a supporter decides to donate, the outcome is the same. Local restaurants get a fair price for preparing and delivering the meals, and anyone in need of a warm, hearty dinner can pick it up, free of charge. At the distribution points, volunteer oversee the meal pick-ups from a safe distance. They monitor to make sure everything goes smoothly and no one takes more than their fair share, but overall, anyone can come and pick up a dinner—no questions asked.
“We believe we’ve tapped into something that maybe not a lot of people knew existed, and that’s food insecurity,” says Grillo. “And now we’re looking at the long term, even post Covid, to see how to sustain this for the long run.”Click here to leave a comment