Asbury Park’s Mercy Center on a Mission to End Generational Poverty

The organization works to combat hunger and provide education, immigration services and more for families in need.

Volunteers at the Mercy Center in Asbury Park
Mercy Center's executive director, Kim Guadagno, center, with volunteers, from left, Mary Rottino, Jim McLoughlin and Barbara McLoughlin, helping out in the food pantry. Photo courtesy of the Mercy Center

The Mercy Center in Asbury Park wants to give its community a better life. The organization’s vision to end generational poverty in the greater Asbury Park area takes a three-pronged approach: empowerment, enrichment through services and support, and education.

“We provide food in a stigma-free way, and once we satisfy the emergency need for food, we shift our focus to making sure that the families—women and children in particular—stay together, with the help of 10 licensed social workers and advocates who speak Spanish, Creole and Arabic,” says former lieutenant governor Kim Guadagno, who serves as the nonprofit’s executive director. Guadagno says providing an excellent education is vital. The Mercy Center offers girls in grades four through eight tuition-free private school at the Sisters Academy of New Jersey.

According to Guadagno, one of the keys to the Mercy Center’s success is meeting families where they are. To that end, licensed social workers—all well versed on issues such as domestic violence, immigration, co-parenting and sexual assault—are available through the organization’s Family Resource Center. 

“I went back to what I was doing for 25 years before I got involved in any kind of political realm,” says Guadagno. “I found that after Covid, people needed help on the ground. So the Mercy Center and I clicked.” Before to Guadagno’s tenure, the Mercy Center had been under the leadership of the Sisters of Mercy, which operated the institution for almost three decades.

As for what motivates Guadagno, she says, “It’s all about service. The single thread of my 40 years of professional life is service. You find out that you can serve in a lot of different ways. There is nothing like having someone come into the pantry and say they are hungry—can you help me?—and the answer to the question is, yes.”

Guadagno also notes that the need for the center services is rising dramatically. In September 2021, Mercy fed 100 people through its food pantry. Fast-forward to fall of 2022, and that had increased to more than 3,600 people a month. Guadagno says this demand is due to families still suffering the lingering impact of Covid, high unemployment, record-high inflation, and the fact that Asbury Park is a food desert. 

President Joe Biden’s initiative to end hunger by 2030 was announced in late September and has committed more than $8 billion in private- and public-sector funding to address food insecurity. Guadagno says we should all do what we can to be sure that our children never go to bed hungry. “Anyone who wants to support that cause, please volunteer, do a food drive, or donate to places like ours so we can continue our work in ending generational poverty,” says Guadagno.

The Mercy Center also provides immigration services. “When families come to us, they need solutions. They can’t get benefits if they aren’t in the system. They can’t get in the system if they aren’t registered. We work to help them obtain all the resources they need,” she says. “As we look forward to the holidays, literally thousands will need our help.” 

Steve Adubato, PhD, is the author of five books including his latest, Lessons in Leadership. He is also an Emmy® Award–winning anchor on Thirteen/WNET (PBS) and NJ PBS. Check out Steve has appeared on CNN, FOX5 in NY and NBC’s Today Show, and his “Lessons in Leadership” video podcast with co-host Mary Gamba airs Sundays at 10 am on News 12+. Steve also provides executive leadership coaching and seminars for a variety of corporations and organizations both regionally and nationally. For more information, visit

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