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To celebrate the first anniversary of Mercy Center’s expanded food pantry, elected officials, Mercy Center board members, staff and volunteers gathered on Valentine’s Day morning to highlight Mercy Center’s major milestones of 2022.

Mercy Center’s Executive Director Kim Guadagno told the crowd that the nonprofit, serving neighbors in need in Asbury Park and the greater Monmouth County area, fed more than 35,000 people in 2022, significantly up from 1,558 people served the year before.

“Our numbers show that our neighbors are still struggling, and that Mercy Center’s expanded food pantry is critical in our community,” Guadagno said. “And as we celebrate Black History Month, it is fitting that Mercy Center publicly recognizes the inequities in our community and continues to improve the experience for those we serve.

“By adding new refrigerators and shelving last year, Mercy Center’s stigma-free “choice” food pantry was able to provide equality for our neighbors with an increased variety of foods, including more meats, dairy, and fresh produce. Handicapped ramps were also added to the food pantry last year making it fully accessible to all,” added Guadagno.

Immediately following the words outside at the podium, the “Food is Love” food and clothing distribution was held. Neighborhood families “shopped” for groceries in the pantry and were given special Valentine’s Day bags filled with chocolates. Across the street, a warehouse was filled with clothing, shoes, and coats for them to choose from for all members of the family.

“It is critically important to serve women, children, and families … and to serve the migrants. We had a gentleman in this bitter cold come to us in shorts and flip flops recently, and it is our mission to help people like that who truly need it,” said Mary Catherine Cuff, Mercy Center board chair.

“People need help today, not tomorrow. It’s the spirit of kindness, and it’s the mission of Mercy Sisters to give that kindness around the world,” said Sister Rosemary Jeffries, Mercy Center board member.

Sincere appreciation goes to United Way for donating personal care bags  filled with feminine hygiene products, toothpaste, toothbrushes, deodorant, lotion, shampoo, conditioner, and more.

Students at Mercy Center’s Sisters Academy of New Jersey also provided “Bundles of Hope” blankets with personalized letters for clients.

About Mercy Center

Mercy Center, based in Asbury Park, provides programs and services that empower, enrich, and educate. The nonprofit, founded by the Sisters of Mercy in 1986, helps people facing socioeconomic challenges realize their full potential, with a special emphasis on women and children. The goal is to break the cycle of generational poverty with kindness, compassion, and understanding. Mercy Center offers emergency services, including a food pantry, clothing and utilities assistance to help sustain families facing financial difficulties. The Family Resource Center is a “one-stop-shop” for resources, referrals, advocacy, counseling, and behavior modification services. Mercy Center’s Sisters Academy of New Jersey is a tuition-free middle school for underserved girls in grades 4-8.