The first event, launched in 1992, had its humble beginnings as a spaghetti dinner held in St. Anselm’s Church where, Father Bob Kaeding served as Pastor. He is the Founder and a board member of The Center. Father Bob said that “need” is what motivated him to establish The Center.  “At the time, HIV/AIDS was affecting so many people.  I was challenged by friends who asked – what can we do to help?  I decided to offer services and applied for funding. That’s how we opened The Center.”

Mark McDonald, Broker Associate of Space & Company with Brenda Hamlet Credit: Jean Michel
Linda Rebbel, Director of Development of The Center Credit: Jean Michel

The Center in Asbury Park held its 32nd annual gala, Center A La Carte, on May 17th at the Berkeley Oceanfront Hotel.  Twenty-five restaurants presented food samples and treats to the five hundred ticketed guests who turned out to support The Center. 

Participating eateries included Ada’s Gojo, Barrio Costero, Pepe Events, Catering by Jeannie, Matiz Shore House, Moonstruck, Reyla, Nothing But Bundt, Mauka Indian Cuisine, Mutiny BBQ, Deal Lake & Co., Robinson Ale House, Lola’s, MOGO, TJ’s Pizza, Crown Fried Chicken, Hink’s Turkey Farm, Chocolate Moonshine Co., G Cheesesteaks, 24 Karrot Spread, Silk Catering, and Buena Serra from Red Bank, said Linda Rebbel, Director of Development at The Center. The Asbury Park Cotton Candy Co., Buttermee Pancakes, Amici Gelato & Cafe were also there to delight guests. Restaurants also donated their servers to support the event.

Ms. Rebbel said, “We raised approximately 61k last year and our goal this year is 150k!” The money raised at the event will go towards maintaining the support services it provides for people living with HIV/AIDS.

Tempting treats on display to be sampled by guests at the gala Credit: Jean Michel

Three decades later, the dinner event is The Center’s largest and most successful fundraiser.  This evening of 2024 began with music by Paul Marino as guests sipped cocktails during the VIP cocktail hour.  An online auction offered fine art and photographs (two by Danny Clinch of Transparent Gallery) gift baskets donated by area businesses which included NY Yankees tickets and merchandise. A 50-50 raffle provided additional entertainment and donations. 

At the time (1992), HIV/AIDS was affecting so many people.  I was challenged by friends who asked – what can we do to help?  I decided to offer services and applied for funding. That’s how we opened The Center.

Father Bob Kaeding

Later, throughout the main event, guests sampled small plates of food from each restaurant, and sipped drinks from the cash bar while listening to the sounds of Carlotta Schmidt and The Bold.  Deborah, an employee of Moonstruck, came as a supporter. “I have attended the Gala for 32 years,” she said. “I love the glamor of the Berkeley event. I worked here too, in 1986, and it was still glamorous.”

Gourmet aficionados from Barrio Costero of Asbury Park, stand by to serve delicious food to guests Credit: Jean Michel

The Center, established in 1992 is a volunteer-based not-for-profit organization. The Center follows a housing-first model to at risk and status neutral community members.  This approach is based on the belief that if people have safe housing, they can deal with issues of substance abuse, mental health and employment.  

Harold, a longtime gala attendee says, “I am here to support the Center. I think this is a great help to others. I have been coming to the Gala since 2002.   His friend, Will, agrees. “I’ve been here three or four times. I like to support The Center. It’s great food and good people.”

Father Bob added, “People are always more human when they help each other.”

Carlotta Schmidt and the Bold entertains gala goers with rhythmic guitar and vocals Credit: Jean Michel

Currently, The Center provides studio apartment accommodations for thirty people.  The Center also provides hot meals and frozen meals to residents.  The Center also has a day room program, where community members who qualify might find snacks, pantry bags, hygiene kits and referrals to necessary services.  These services include case management for life-saving support and a new intensive outpatient treatment program to help those in recovery. 

Brenda Hamlet is a journalist covering trends in the media and arts. Brenda lives in Asbury Park and teaches writing at Kean University. Her contributions will focus on the state of the Arts in Asbury Park.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *