By NEIL SCHULMAN,
The Annual Night of Dreams is the biggest fundraiser of the year for Jersey Shore Dream Center in Neptune, and Saturday’s 9th annual event was by far the biggest, bringing in more than twice as much as the previous one. As of Monday, the tally was $110,000.
This is good news for the center because organizers say the center is helping more people than ever.
Township Committeeman Robert Lane joined the Board of Directors for the Dream Center during the pandemic to assist them. The center’s operations include providing food and baby supplies to those in need.
“During Covid, the needs doubled and tripled,” he said.
To make matters worse, they couldn’t hold Night of Dreams last year, as restrictions prevented the gathering. While they raised funds through other means, they were happy to have the charity gala return this year.
The most the event had raised in the past was $45,000. Sponsors, a gift auction, and other donations brought the event at Jumping Brook Country Club to at least $110,000, and not all donations had been tallied as of Monday.
Lane and others worked to get extra sponsorships and get the word out about the gala to make the evening so successful.
Mary Hillegass, Executive Director, explained why this funding is so important by describing the increasing services the Dream Center offers.
For those who are unable to get to a food pantry — a serious problem if you don’t have reliable transportation — the center has a mobile truck that makes stops to distribute food. It currently makes 22 stops every week, providing food for 300 people. That’s more than 2,200 pounds of food.
The center, as part of its community outreach, provides meals and special celebrations regularly. While many couldn’t take place last year, they’re bringing these back this year, with a meal planned for the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. People are served “restaurant quality food” that includes holiday favorites like turkey and ham. There are other meals for special events like a Valentine’s Day lunch and Memorial Day barbecue.
For the holiday season, they also have a toy drive and a Holiday Toy Shoppe, where the toys are set up like a store for families to pick from.
There’s a baby pantry also. Government supplements like SNAP do not cover the cost of diapers, which causes problems for parents struggling. “Can I buy medicine or am I going to buy diapers?” is an issue that many families grapple with, she said. And since childcare centers often require parents to bring diapers for the infants, if a mother can’t get diapers, she can’t use childcare, and can’t get a job, which makes it harder to get out of poverty.
The baby pantry generally provides 7,000 diapers a month, though at the height of the pandemic is was 10,000. It also provides other things, like formula, or toys for infants.
This year, they have started a women’s clothing boutique. It’s stocked with gently used fashions.
“We set it up boutique-style,” Hillegass said. “You actually get to work with a personal shopper.”
One of the goals of these programs is to treat the recipients with dignity.
This year’s Night of Dreams had a different theme than previous ones, sharing some of the stories of people they have helped out over the years. They told of “people who didn’t have anything and now have a job and apartment.”
Hillegass said that the sponsors this year for Night of Dreams really made a huge difference, as did the donation buckets passed around.