By ED SALVAS
ASBURY PARK – The Center in Asbury Park observes another milestone this month: the 20th anniversary of its oldest and largest fund-raising event, Center a la Carte.
The event takes place on Fri.,May 17 at the Berkeley Oceanfront Hotel and will have 500 guests sampling the food of 20 area restaurants, according to Rev. Robert Kaeding, Executive Director and founder of The Center, which provides assistance to people with HIV/Aids. In addition to the food, Center a la Carte will have an open bar, D. J. and a gift auction. Proceeds from the evening go toward operation of the Center at 806 Third Ave., Asbury Park.
Looking back over the past two decades, Father Bob as he’s known, recalls the first fund-raiser for the Center, held under a tent at St. Anselm’s Roman Catholic Church in Tinton Falls where he was the pastor. It was called the Centerthon and was a pasta dinner.
“Basically, it was spaghetti and meat balls,” he recalls.
That led to other Center “thons” including a walk-a-thon, bike-a-thon and a skate-a-thon. The event eventually moved to Convention Hall in Asbury Park and this year to the Berkeley.
The Center still participates in an annual AIDS Walk and that event takes place this year on Sun., May 5 at five locations in the state, including Asbury Park, Atlantic City, Morristown, Newark and Ridgewood. Father Bob says the AIDS walk is a collaborative effort among the state’s leading HIV/Aids service and support programs.
When Father. Bob started The Center in a small office on Mattison Avenue in Asbury Park in 1992, the AIDS epidemic was taking the lives of young men a an alarming rate with little in the way of assistance available. They had access to good medical care but lacked things that were considered necessary for a basic quality of life. They needed things like transportation, home visits and hygiene products.
In 1999 the Center purchased property on Third Avenue, just off Main Street and in 2005 the Center House opened with 25 fully-furnished studio apartments providing assisted living for people who are HIV positive, low income and usually homeless.
Since opening the doors in 2005, Center House has been home to about 70 people, mostly men, but there have been some women as well, some of whom have died, and others who have been able to move out on their own, found jobs , even married and established families. Father Bob said one of the original Center House residents still lives there. At Center House, residents receive three meals daily if desired, and help managing their medications that fight the many “opportunistic diseases” that often strike patients with a compromised immune system.
While Father Bob Kaeding works full time at the Center, he continues to serve the Diocese of Trenton as Pastor of the Church of the Precious Blood parish in Monmouth Beach, and this year celebrates the 40th anniversary of his Ordination into the Priesthood. More information on Center a la Carte and the 2013 New Jersey Aids Walk is at www.TheCenterinAP.org.