After 31 Years Still Growing in Asbury Park

At Kula Farm, volunteer Jennifer Barrett and frequent Kula customer Eileen Holly of Ocean Grove had some herb filled banana bread.

By JOANNE L. PAPAIANNI

Giving Tuesday is a day to give back to the community following the shopping frenzies on Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Interfaith Neighbors, which has been a part of Asbury Park and Neptune for the last 31 years, participated in the event at all four of its locations with specials, giveaways and tours of its facilities.

At Kula Cafe on Springwood Avenue there were breakfast and lunch specials offered. Customers were also treated to free hot chocolate.

Diners who walked into the sun-soaked cafe were immediately greeted by server Isaiah Torrez. After they were seated he presented each customer with a Kula Cafe mug filled with a to-go menu and a magnet.

He also handed out cards instructing people how to make a donation for the Giving Tuesday event.
Isaiah said he interned at the cafe as a student at Academy Charter School and has been working there full time since July.

Laverne Cavasso of Ocean Township says she visits the cafe once a month and did not realize it was Giving Tuesday.

But Cavasso said she remembers when Interfaith Neighbors began and her parents were helped by the Meals on Wheels program run by the organization.

“I love their philosophy, I know how it’s run; plus the food’s good,” she said. “ This place, (the cafe) it just expands on their whole philosophy.”

Cynthia Bottita of Ocean Grove, who was there for the first time said, “I am ecstatic to be here.”

Rosemary Wright, also of Ocean Grove, is a regular customer.

“I love the sunlight, I love the food. I come to the farm too,” she said.

Wright, who ordered the apple walnut salad, also made a donation in her sister’s name in lieu of a Christmas present.

“We all said we don’t need anymore things, so we decided to make donations in each other’s names,” she said.

Wright said she took an herbal gift-making class at Kula Farm next door and said, “The class was great, I feel healthier just being here.”

Bottita, who ordered the Volcano Wrap, said she used to mentor at the Big Brothers Big Sisters in Essex County and said she would like to begin volunteering at IFN.

“It’s wonderful for the kids,” she said.

Next door at Kula farm herb filled banana bread was served along with a healthy immunity tonic made with elderberry and chicken mushrooms.

Also a volunteer had pre-painted small rocks which customer could then adorn with inspirational sayings.

They could take them home or leave them at the farm to be placed in the garden for decoration and to spread the inspiration.

In addition to the cafe, farm and Meals on Wheels, IFN has expanded with five additional programs including Affordable Housing, Neighborhood Revitalization; SOAR; Rental and Mortgage Assistance and BDC Home.

Founded in 1988, IFN is a non-profit, whose initial mission was to address homelessness.

There are now over 45 religious congregations of all denominations, corporations, trusts and foundations who support their programs.

Interfaith Neighbors has worked with partners to build 43 houses in the area including eight in Neptune,  one in Long Branch and the rest in Asbury Park, according to Stephanie Ferrier, Senior Development Officer.

The organization is developing a mixed use, 20 residential unit project, Park View AP, in the Springwood Ave. corridor.

The first phase of the project has started and is expected to be done by the end of 2020.

IFN began as a rental and mortgage assistance program and still services about 350 families per year, helping them if they fall behind and need help keeping their homes.

IFN also owns the building that houses Kula Cafe and the Asbury Park Senior Center where it rents out eight apartments on the third floor.

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