TOMS RIVER, N.J. – Jon Bon Jovi knows he can’t help society by curing cancer or splitting atoms. But he can use his celebrity to command the attention of millions of people, including some of the wealthiest and most powerful.
The Sayreville, New Jersey-born rocker and his wife, Dorothea, are joining with local charities and wealthy fellow philanthropists to tackle hunger and poverty in a shore town that was devastated by Superstorm Sandy.
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He and his Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation held a grand opening Tuesday for the B.E.A.T. Center, which stands for Bringing Everyone All Together. The centre in Toms River is designed as a one-stop facility to help people get food stamps, health care and culinary-related job training. It also provides meals for at-risk children and seniors.
Surrounded by crates of potatoes, apples and turnips and pallets of canned ravioli and green beans, the singer best known for rock anthems like “Livin’ On A Prayer,” ”You Give Love A Bad Name” and “Wanted Dead Or Alive” said hunger is something he can actually do something about.
“We didn’t need scientists to find a cure,” he said. “There are so many wonderful causes and so many passionate people that are addressing them. We have been inspired by so many of our in-need neighbours who have come seeking help.”
He and several others active with the centre said one of its main goals is not just to feed the lines at food pantries but to also permanently shorten them. The centre will house a second JBJ Soul Kitchen community restaurant, where diners pay a minimum $10 donation or do volunteer work for their meals. The first one opened in 2011 in Red Bank.
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Bon Jovi says many area residents are still recovering from Sandy and don’t have enough nutritious food to eat. But he says the need predated the storm in Ocean County, where one in five residents is low-income or lives below the poverty level of $15,000 a year for a family of four.
“This is happening across our nation,” he said. “When there’s 15 per cent of children going to be hungry at night in a nation like ours, that’s not an issue it takes a scientist to solve.”
Toms River was one of the hardest-hit communities during Sandy, which struck Oct. 29, 2012. The nearby Ortley Beach section was devastated, and many homes and businesses still have not been rebuilt as the fourth summer after the storm approaches.
Bon Jovi is partnering with the Food Bank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties, The Peoples Pantry and the David Tepper Charitable Foundation to provide $5 million in services to needy families in the B.E.A.T. Center’s first year of operation.
The centre joins other charitable endeavours undertaken by Bon Jovi, including the construction of 440 units of affordable housing for homeless or low-income families and donations to numerous Sandy relief efforts.